Every summer is a whirlwind for the actors and actresses of Montana Shakespeare in the Parks. The twister recently tore through Park County, with the travelling theater company stopping in Powell and Cody.
This summer, a team of 11 thespians set out from Bozeman, Mont., for a tour of five states. The crew will put on 76 performances before the summer ends. They travel with no technical crew – the sound, stage and costume work is all done by the actors and actresses.
“It really gives you an appreciation for what goes into producing a show,” said Tina Muñoz Pandya, who plays Mistress Paige in “Merry Wives.” “I did our laundry this morning.”
Between mid June and the beginning of September, there is rarely a night when the crew is not on stage performing. This summer’s pair of plays were “Henry IV Part I” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” The shows were presented on alternating nights.
One interesting consideration for each summer is the time period in which each play is presented. Almost all of Shakespeare’s plays date back to the 1600s, but their timeless nature allows SITP organizers to experiment with setting.
“His themes and problems are universal,” said Miles Duffey, who acts as a road manager for the troupe, as well as playing Master Ford. “They try and tie the story into some applicable period of time. For this one (“Merry Wives”), they went for the late 1950s.”
The other play presented this year, “Henry IV,” was set in the era of World War I.
Every stop for the crew begins with a stage setup, when their chosen venue goes from a grass field to a fully functional theater stage. Usually the construction is accomplished in about an hour and a half. The company’s stage is modular, breaking down into small-enough chunks to move in their trailer.
Sometimes minor rehearsals will take place, such as a fight call, where players will run through an on-stage fight scene to nail down their delivery. Most rehearsing took place long ago, starting May 15, with each presentation reinforcing the successes of the last.
Everyone in the cast takes on additional aspects of the production, not just acting.
“It’s exhausting in the best way,” said Steve Peebles, who portrays Falstaff. “That’s something unique with this tour.”
Performing as often as they do, the actors and actresses have ample opportunity to get familiar with their characters. Peebles has even more of an opportunity, as Falstaff, a recurring character of Shakespeare’s, appears in both plays.
“What I love about Falstaff is that, even though he isn’t necessarily a good moral person, he is straightforward with who he is,” Peebles said.
As demonstrated in their appearance in Cody, the crew also gets pretty adept at presenting all-weather theater. Just an hour before curtain, rain was coming down in sheets, leaving the players to put trash bags on the microphones and squeegee off the stage.
As the clouds still loomed, the actors and actresses waited for the sun to break through.
“This is nothing,” Duffey said. “We’ll pull it off.”
The clouds broke through and the show went on. After the presentation, SITP was headed for Worland to present “Henry IV.”