Free, outdoor Shakespeare in Dover Aug. 30. Performances in September around the region.
Shakespeare didn’t have a horse trailer to haul his productions from town to town. But, his plays were free and open to the public. That’s the-world’s-your-stage type of idea that Kyler Taustin, co-founder of Brown Box Theatre Project, wanted to bring to his hometown in Berlin, Maryland.
“There was a financial and geographic barrier that limited people back home from seeing professional theater,” Taustin said. “I was inspired to start this company with the hopes of breaking down those barriers.”
From Aug. 29 to Sept. 21, the Brown Box Theatre Project will be performing Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure throughout Delmarva. The production will return to one of their favorite locations, The Green in downtown Dover, on Aug. 30.
The free, outdoor productions start at 7:30 p.m. each night, and the company welcomes lawn chairs and blankets for optimal viewing under the stars.
While many people have probably read Shakespeare’s plays in school, Taustin said that even the most skeptical audience member can deepen their appreciation for Shakespeare by watching performances of his work.
“Allowing it to be free and public is linked to that idea of Shakespeare being for everyone, as it was in that time,” said Taustin, who directs this production.
Even though Measure for Measure was written more than 400 years ago, Taustin and his creative team believe that the play can speak to today’s audiences
“I think the play offers a lot of insight into the human experience, specifically as it relates to power dynamics and how we address gender inside of power structures,” Taustin said.
One of Shakespeare’s less often produced plays, Measure for Measure explores what happens when the most powerful people, the highest officials in the court, come face to face with corruption. In one moment, a political leader asks a woman to have sex with him in exchange for her brother’s life, which Taustin said is eerily reminiscent of the #MeToo era.
“I think that’s a powerful conversation and one we should continue to have, no matter what your beliefs are when it comes to the political divide of the United states,” he said.
The set designer for the production, Abby Shenker, recalled how this imbalance of power affected her vision for the scenery.
“The image that I was most drawn to was the scales of justice,” Shenker said. She described her set as a series of platforms that help visualize the increasing levels of power among the characters.
The entire company, including the nine-member cast, the director, an electrician, sound engineer, tour manager and stage manager, work together to set up and tear down the set, lighting and sound production each night.
Shenker described a magic to this type of traveling theater.
“There’s something that pops up that wasn’t there before, and it disappears just as quickly,” she said.
This is Brown Box Theatre Project’s ninth year of touring Shakespeare throughout Delmarva and New England. The company opens their show in Boston, travels throughout New England for three weeks, then performs in this region for four weeks.
Shenker said each year they learn something new, especially when it comes to coping with unpredictable weather.
For example, the design team now makes sure to water seal their paint to avoid damage, a lesson they learned after their naturalistic scenery of As You Like It dripped away to reveal the sparkling glitter from a previous production.
Often outdoor venues will offer an indoor option if bad weather does occur. If not, the show will move to a rain date or be cancelled. If the Dover production of Measure for Measure is cancelled, audiences can visit one of the 16 other performances in the area.
Each performance is funded differently, between grants, donations and contributions from the host town or city. In Dover, grants from the Delaware Division of the Arts and the Delaware Parks Department support the free production.
While the company may face challenges with weather or funding while they tour, Taustin said that the opportunity to bring theater to often overlooked communities is rewarding.
“Any negativity that we face and any challenges that we face are balanced out and completely overpowered by the gratitude and appreciation we receive from our audiences,” Taustin said.