By STEVEN HOWELL Press-Republican
---- — MONTREAL — A starry sky and playful prose — pull up a park bench because the Bard is back in town.
Repercussion Theatre presents “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” its annual Shakespeare-in-the-Park summer staple with performances beginning tonight through Sunday, Aug. 4.
Repercussion Theatre artistic director Paul Hopkins chose “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for two main reasons.
“It’s our 25th anniversary,” Hopkins said. “And we started with that play.”
Repercussion Theatre first debuted back in 1988.
“And it’s pretty much the play that invented Shakespeare-in-the-Park.”
Hopkins said Shakespeare-in-the-Park productions first began in London’s Regent’s Park in the 1930s.
“Their stage was built outdoors surrounded by shrubbery and trees grown into the set.”
The play seems to mimic real life.
“The whole concept is that city people go into the forest, just like people coming into the park for the play — mixed with a little bit of magic,” he said.
Repercussion Theatre’s production offers a traditional take, detailed costumes, a cast of 11, a full set and the directing prowess of Montreal native Amanda Kellock, who studied theater at John Abbott College, Concordia University and the University of Ottawa. Kellock enjoys a passionate history with Repercussion.
“She saw her first Shakespeare-in-the-Park production when she was 12 years old right here in Montreal and fell in love with it,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins said Kellock, who has also worked locally directing works for Geordie Productions and the Centaur Theatre, became an actor within the company and has since directed six works for Repercussion Theatre.
“It’s very exciting to have her back,” he said.
Hopkins said that perhaps the biggest challenge he faces is to keep things running efficiently. Cost plays a big factor for this steadfast theater troupe as Repercussion productions never charge for admission.
“We have a youthful crew who work from 10 to 12 hours a day while on the road,” Hopkins said. “It all comes down to an enthusiastic pool of workers who make it happen.”
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” makes its debut tonight and tomorrow with two shows at the McGill University campus downtown. In all, the company offers 25 performances at 19 venues throughout the province.
One production on Thursday, July 11, is held high atop Mount Royal Park.
“Yes, it’s pretty much at the top of the mountain,” Hopkins said.
The stage is set up just behind the chalet. After the play, attendees get a great view of downtown.
“It should be a very special venue,” he said.
The company also performs nearby at the Mount Royal Cemetery on Tuesday, July 16.
“They were totally welcome to bringing us in,” Hopkins said. “It’s a cemetery, but it’s a gorgeous spot.”
Hopkins said not to worry.
“You’re not sitting next to the gravestones,” he quipped.
In addition to a Shakespeare-in-the-Park, mountain and cemetery, Repercussion offers a Shakespeare-in-the-Garden, with two performances at the Redford Gardens located in the Gaspe region of the province.
A bit closer to home, the play is presented at a new venue in Knowlton in the Eastern Townships.
“And that will be a Shakespeare-at-the-Beach,” Hopkins said. The play is presented at Douglass Beach on Lac Brome on Saturday, July 20.
Just across the border, Hemmingford’s Recreation Centre hosts the play on Sunday, July 14.
“That one’s really close, so you shouldn’t miss it,” Hopkins said.
The Shakespeare-in-the-Park audience isn’t always the typical theater-goer, Hopkins said.
“I think that’s a great thing. That’s what we’re all about — being accessible and introducing live theater to people who don’t normally have that opportunity. My hope is that the audience member who may not know a lot about Shakespeare comes to see a show and walks away saying, ‘I got everything. I really enjoyed it.’”
Hopkins offers a few suggestions for a great night out. First, get there a bit early — at least 30 to 45 minutes before curtain call (performance times vary, so check the website).
“Bring comfortable lawn chairs, a small side table, a blanket and a full picnic basket,” he said. “Enjoy yourself in the park, get good seats, bring scrumptious food, good friends, relax and enjoy the show.”
Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at iTunes.com.IF YOU GO WHAT: "A Midsummer Night's Dream." WHEN: Tonight through Sunday, Aug. 4. WHERE: For venue locations, dates and times, call (514) 931-2644 or visit www.repercussiontheatre.com. ADMISSION: Free, but donations are accepted.