Ed Nahhat’s inspiration to start an outdoor summer Shakespeare festival came while walking through Royal Oak in the dead of winter 14 years ago.
“I saw bleachers under a streetlight and I thought, ‘Shakespeare in the park. That could happen in Royal Oak,’” Nahhat says. “Within three months I had a permit and within six months I had a show up. It really was received very positively in the community, so what turned out to be a one-year experiment has turned into a lifetime mission.”
Nahhat is the founder and executive director of the Water Works Theatre Company, which annually presents multiple events under the banner of Shakespeare Royal Oak. This year’s program features performances of the comedies “All’s Well That Ends Well,” running through Aug. 9, and “As You Like It,” running Saturday-Aug. 9, both in Starr Jaycee Park.
Both shows are abridged. “All’s Well That Ends Well” will run about two hours and “As You Like It,” marketed as a “daylight” show catering to families, will run about 80 minutes. Water Works artistic director Sara Wolf says both shows are a good way for newcomers to introduce themselves to Shakespeare.
“They can cut their teeth on it and see that Shakespeare is very approachable, very understandable and frankly, a lot of it is good for all ages,” Wolf says.
Nahhat and Wolf both note a common thread of strong female characters in this year’s shows, and actress Meredith Deighton agrees. Deighton plays Helena, the lead in “All’s Well That Ends Well,” who is given permission to marry her beloved, the French count Bertram, after doing a favor for the king of France. Deighton describes Helena as “one of the original feminists.”
“Bertram, who Helena is attracted to and wants to marry, is horrified by the idea that he’s being forced into marriage,” she says. “But it brings up the question of, well, what about all these stories where the prince comes in and slays the dragon and gets the girl? How does the girl feel?”
While the production of “All’s Well That Ends Well” will be set in mid-1910s England, emulating the time period of “Downton Abbey,” “As You Like It” will take full advantage of Shakespeare Royal Oak’s outdoor setting. Actress Anna Marck portrays Rosalind in “As You Like It,” who must flee the evil Duke Frederick after he usurps her father.
“Pretty early on we escape to the forest of Arden,” she says. “So rather than having to imagine the trees and all the creatures, they’ll be there. You won’t have to use much imagination.”
In addition to the two professionally produced shows, Shakespeare Royal Oak will also offer two week-long Shakespeare camps for young people: 3rd Show for high school students, running through Sunday , and KidsAct! for grades 1-8, running Monday-Aug. 7. Campers will learn to perform and produce Shakespeare, culminating in free public performances on Saturday and Sunday and Aug. 8.
Wolf says young people are often made to feel Shakespeare is “too difficult” for them, when that doesn’t have to be the case.
“If we have young people who are interested in Shakespeare, eventually we’ll have more adults who will be interested in Shakespeare,” she says. “It’s looking further down the line.”
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer
Royal Oak 2015
‘All’s Well That Ends Well’
8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 5 p.m. Sundays
‘As You Like It’
2 p.m. Sat-Sun and Aug. 8-9; 7 p.m. Aug. 4-5
Starr Jaycee Park
13 Mile, one block east of Crooks, Royal Oak
Student camp and other information: (248) 399-3727 or www.shakespeareroyaloak.com