Nashville's 28th season of Shakespeare in the Park opened last week. I haven't missed one since 1999. With that 20th century perspective, I can at least state with authority that the event continues to hold its own with Nashville audiences as a de rigueur annual outing — one where the kids get exposed to the Bard, eating and drinking is done picnic-style, and the entire experience happens (usually) in ideal midsummer weather.
Oh sure, incessant cicadas and LifeFlight helicopters and ambulances on West End still punctuate the night air on occasion, and nowadays you can add the low hum of the multiple food trucks that ring the rear perimeter of the Centennial Park band shell. The host, Nashville Shakespeare Festival, still offers an automatic free evening of theater, though for several years now the Fest has been soliciting on-the-spot contributions — suggested $10 — and wandering volunteers looking to fill up tin cans with cash have become a fixture. But all of this is what we call ambience.
As for the theater, I've never been convinced that open-air performance is the best way to experience Shakespeare, especially in the 21st century, when it seems like promoters of the live Bard have to work double-time to compete with so many entertainment forms, not to mention the dizzying array of delivery devices that obsess people so. (Richard III on your iPad Air 2?)
The common trick to creating a grabbier form of live Shakespeare is to find a new setting or time period or framing gimmick for the play at hand. This year, first-time NSF director Nat McIntyre shoehorns Henry V into the American Civil War, where the tensions on a divided Tennessee farm find the family, slaves and soldiers performing the Bard's well-known history play — according to the program note — "in order to cope with their circumstances."
Megan Fox and Dave Barry
Walton Goggins for Fox. Claire Danes, if you squint, for Barry.
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