The Scranton Shakespeare Festival returns to its roots in this milestone year.
After several years of indoor performances and last year’s radio play-style shows, the festival heads back outdoors for its 10th anniversary season. All of this year’s shows will take place at the Scranton Iron Furnaces, 159 Cedar Ave.
“Performing outside does bring its own problems, but there are also just so many irreplaceable experiences that happen outdoors that you can’t create in a theater,” said Michael Bradshaw Flynn, festival founder and artistic director.
The festival originally operated like a traditional “Shakespeare in the Park” event, presenting outdoor shows at Nay Aug Park, University of Scranton and even PNC Field, but gradually moved indoors at venues around the city. Because of the pandemic, organizers transformed last season into radio plays released as podcasts.
Outdoor shows mean actors must surrender a bit of control, Flynn said, but with that comes spontaneity in their performances and a beautiful connection with the audience, which is more visible from the stage than it would be indoors.
“When you’re outside, that communion — that essential phenomenon — that’s happening between audience members and performers is all the more exciting. … That’s exciting to get back,” Flynn said.
As in past years, the season includes a mix of Shakespearean works and other pieces. It kicks off Wednesday, June 30, with the musical “Ragtime,” which runs through Saturday, July 3. Following will be Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” from Friday, July 9, through Sunday, July 11; the musical “Into the Woods” from Thursday, July 15, through Sunday, July 18; Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” from Friday, July 23, through Sunday, July 25; and the world premiere of Sergei Burbank’s play “Conversion Rate” on Wednesday, July 28, and Thursday, July 29.
The festival also will present all of this season’s shows in a repertory weekend, Thursday, July 29, through Sunday, Aug. 1. The festival’s youth ensemble, led by Lizzie Gumula, then will present the musical “Peter and the Starcatcher” on Thursday, Aug. 5, and Friday, Aug. 6, at 7:30 p.m.
“Midsummer,” which the festival presented its inaugural season, marks the first time it will repeat a show. When choosing the season lineup, Flynn said, organizers looked at what pieces would complement that play and “Hamlet.”
“That was a really exciting experience to program these really strong, moving pieces that I really think, especially after this very difficult 17 months, give us some assistance and catharsis (and) can help us process feelings of grief and isolation,” he said.
“Conversion Rate,” meanwhile, joined the lineup as the winner of the festival’s Scratch Night, held earlier this year. Actors performed excerpts of the finalists’ plays, which judges and an online audience then voted on to decide what would end up in the festival.
“It’s great to cultivate new voices and to get new voices out to the community,” Flynn said. “It’s a very interesting piece.”
Audiences will see many returning faces on stage, with a mix of local performers and others from around the country. Flynn, who grew up in Scranton, said “Ragtime” especially includes many people from the community. (That show’s original Broadway production also has a local connection: Wilkes-Barre native Santo Loquasto designed its costumes and was nominated for a Tony Award for his work.)
“It’s been really great making art with people that you see in the neighborhood but also people that you’ve never met before,” Flynn said. “It’s been pretty exciting.”
Many Northeast Pennsylvanians are working behind the scenes, too, with Flynn and Simone Daniel directing “Hamlet” and “Midsummer,” respectively; Maura Malloy directing and choregraphing “Into the Woods”; and Stephen Murphy serving as music director for “Ragtime” and “Into the Woods.”
LaToya D. Martin, meanwhile, will direct and choreograph “Ragtime.”
Shows will take place on a raised platform that “will make it a little bit easier for people to see their performances,” Flynn said. Audiences can bring blankets and chairs, and since the show will go on unless lightning or other risks arise, Flynn recommended packing umbrellas and ponchos, too, if it looks like rain. A concession stand will sell snacks, drinks and more.
Admission remains free, but donations are accepted. To book tickets, visit scranton shakes.com/tickets. Guests also can reserve on-site handicap accessible parking spots when ordering tickets, but spaces are limited.
Organizers also recommend checking the festival website for the most up-to-date information about coronavirus-related policies before attending.
Flynn looks forward to presenting live theater once again, calling the festival a “beautiful opportunity for people to just listen to the this stunning material.” Past festival participants plan to visit, too, to reunite “with company members gone by” from the dozens of performances presented over the last decade, he said.
“All those faces … have helped build this thing,” Flynn said. “I’m really looking forward to those who can return and celebrate what we’ve been building all this time.”
Caitlin Heaney West is the content editor for Access NEPA and oversees the Early Access blog in addition to working as a copy editor and staff writer for The Times-Tribune. An award-winning journalist, she is a summa cum laude graduate of Shippensburg University and also earned a master’s degree from Marywood University. Caitlin joined the Times-Shamrock family in 2009 and lives in Scranton. Contact: email@example.com; 570-348-9100 x5107; or @cheaneywest