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As You Like It: Optimist Theatre Performs in New Space


It's summer and time for Shakespeare in the Park. The Optimist Theatre has a new production - and a new home.

Optimist Theatre has presented Shakespeare in the Park for Milwaukee audiences for the past three summers. This summer finds them performing in a new space: the amphitheater in Kadish Park.

“One of the things actually about the space that I really like,” says actress Kristen Hammargren, “is that it’s outdoor theater, but it’s very intimate.”

The company started in 2010 with The Tempest, the company has also produced Twelfth Night and Macbeth. Until this year, the plays were performed at Alverno College. The troupe can now call Kadish Park their new permanent home.

Tom Reed, Optimist’s associate artistic director, says this could not have happened without BMO Harris and a grassroots movement. The company does not charge the audience for tickets, so donations were made behind the scenes.

Reed says that the audience gets to look at a beautiful view of the city and have the opportunity to interact with the actors. He wants to make the play audience-centric, hoping to captivate the audience and help them understand what exactly is going on in the play.

The actors face a couple of challenges when performing at the amphitheater. There is no backstage or wings for the actors to prepare and change. They are also not amplified, which is something that makes the play more authentic to how it was performed originally.

"It’s going to a production where one of the unique things about it is the audience is going to see a lot of the nuts and bolts, the behind the scenes things that happen," Reed says.

On the bill this year is As You Like It – a story of banishment and forgiveness, mistaken identity, and true love in the Forest of Arden. It is directed by Reed and stars Hammargren as the heroine, Rosalind.

As You Like It previews tonight at 8 in Optimist’s new home in Kadish Park and will run the next two weekends. All performances are free.

Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.