This weekend, as the sun sets, Shell Lumber and Hardware’s bustling yard will be transformed into an Elizabethan theater for William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a tale of love, betrayal and lots of magic.
The play is being presented and performed by Shakespeare Miami, a nonprofit professional theater company, now celebrating its ninth anniversary, dedicated to promoting literacy, culture and passion for the arts through free performances of Shakespeare’s works.
This year, the company’s annual Shakespeare in the Park series features several performances of The Tempest at Shell Lumber, ArtsPark at Young Circle in Hollywood and The Barnacle Historic State Park in Coconut Grove. Blankets, lawn chairs, picnic baskets, coolers and such are welcome. The three performances at Shell Lumber take place Friday through Sunday at 8 p.m.
“It’s a love story, but it’s also funny, funny, funny,” said Colleen Stovall, Shakespeare Miami’s founder and producing artistic director. “And the words are just beautiful.”
Back in 2011, when Stovall staged her first play at Shell Lumber, she couldn’t imagine pulling off Romeo and Juliet in a lumber yard. Former Shell Lumber co-owner Andy Haase, an English literature major, convinced her.
“Andy said the proportions of the inner lumber storage area were similar to that of an Elizabethan Coaching Inn,” Stovall said. “And when I stood there and looked around, I realized he was right. It’s a magical performance space.”
Shell Lumber, which also occasionally hosts concerts and fundraisers at its lumber yard and can accommodate 300 people, has become a regular spot for Stovall and her company. The challenge is adapting to the different space capacities. The lumber yard is small in comparison to the large amphitheater at ArtsPark in Hollywood, where the challenge is creating a more intimate theater setting.
Regardless of the location, Stovall said audiences can expect an authentic theater experience, featuring handmade period costumes, original music, fog machines, and sword fighting choreographed by Joey Costello of the Heroes for Hire company.
It’s a community effort, each venue providing the stage materials, some seating and lighting. Stovall receives funding through a small community arts grant from the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and a handful of sponsors.
“There are some people really putting their money where their mouths are as far as supporting the arts,” Stovall said.
She searches for talented actors with Shakespearean training or learning potential who can bring to life Shakespeare’s legendary characters. This year’s cast of 18 is a mix of local and international actors, including kids.
The visiting actors are Edward French, a London-based actor who plays the spirit Ariel, and Tess Brenner, a musical theater actress from New York as Miranda.
“This has been a dream role of mine since college. And performing outdoors adds a whole other visceral element. Shakespeare’s plays talk about the earth, the air. You really experience that here,” Brenner said during a rehearsal at The Barnacle, which has a spectacular view of Biscayne Bay.
Stovall’s adaptations of the classics stay true to Shakespeare’s words, but the characters get a little makeover. In The Tempest, for instance, several of the principal roles are female instead of male — Prospero is now Prospera.
“Viewing the relationship between Prospera and her daughter, Miranda, through the lens of a mother rather than a father, brings a sense of playfulness and fun to the role,” Stovall said.
French is grateful for the opportunity and freedom to play Ariel, an undefined, ethereal figure. As a young actor, he’s often cast to play the role of leading man, or one of the lovers.
“It’s nice to be on the spirit side. The spirits move more freely, they have magical elements, a mischievous energy,” French said.
Shakespeare Miami will also put on a special performance of The Tempest at 10:30 a.m. Friday, Jan. 30, at The Barnacle, designed for middle and high school students as part of its education outreach mission. Several scenes are performed and then broken down into discussions on historical context, writing style and director’s choices, as well as a beat box session and other fun activities. Teachers must sign up ahead of time.
Stovall was inspired to create Shakespeare Miami by the memory of one of her high school teachers in her native Detroit, Ruth Tharp, who rewarded her best students by taking them to the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada.
Her teacher’s only request was that one day her students would pay it forward.
“I believe theater is a great equalizer, a way to tie families together. I believe in the power of it,” Stovall said.
If You Go
Shakespeare in the Park series presents ‘The Tempest.’
When: Friday-Sunday, at 8 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 p.m.)
Where: Shell Lumber and Hardware, 2733 SW 27th Ave., Miami
Notes: Blankets, picnics welcome. Bring your own lawn chair or rent one for $3.
When: Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (park opens at 6 p.m.)
Where: ArtsPark at Young Circle, 1 Young Circle, Hollywood
Note: Blankets, picnics, lawn chairs welcome.
When: Friday & Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (park opens at 6 p.m.)
Where: The Barnacle Historic State Park, 3485 Main Highway, Coconut Grove
Notes: Blankets, picnics, lawn chairs welcome. A $2 per person donation to The Barnacle is suggested.
All performances are free and open to the public. No ticket required.
Information: Send e-mail to email@example.com.