Shakespeare troupe plans for safe July return to Stan Hywet

By Kerry Clawson - Akron Beacon Journal (TNS)

When Ohio Shakespeare Festival returns to its outdoor summer home at Stan Hywet in July with a revised production plan, one of the numerous “weapons” it will employ against coronavirus will be UV sanitizing wands.

The house manager will use the battery-operated wand to run over plastic chairs that may need to be moved in the audience and director/stage manager Tess Burgler will have another to use backstage as one way to sanitize props. That’s just one part of an eight-page arsenal of health and safety plans that the theater company has had approved by Stan Hywet and the Summit County Public Health Department.

Director Burgler said she believes OSF is the first company in the region to produce a live show outdoors since the coronavirus shutdown in March. Since the state approved the reopening of outdoor theater as of June 19, OSF has planned to forge ahead with producing the smaller-scale “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (ABRIDGED) [REVISED]” at the Stan Hywet lagoon area July 17 to Aug. 9.

“It’s exciting being the first. It’s intimidating,” Burgler said Thursday, stressing the company is committed to keeping audiences, cast and crew safe.

The three-actor comedy, a madcap spoof of all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in 97 minutes, is a departure from the original two-show summer season that OSF planned — “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in July followed by “Othello” ending in mid-August.

Now the single “Complete Works” production will have a four-week run of 16 shows, with 65 to 70 audience members admitted at each show. At less than 25 percent of normal seating capacity, that’s the number that will allow OSF to most easily social distance viewers over 5,000 square feet of outdoor space and the number at which the company will break even financially.

“The way that we are socially distancing the seats … we are painting a checker board on the ground of six-foot by six-foot squares” with four pre-sanitized plastic chairs inside each square, Burgler said.

Parties smaller than four will have extra chairs taken out of their square. Parties of up to a maximum of eight may occupy two combined squares of the checkerboard. Reservations may not be made for groups larger than eight.

“It’s not about large groups getting together. It’s about social-distanced smaller groups,” Burgler said.

The checkboard plan also will have empty squares around occupied squares to keep a socially distanced bubble on all sides.

Sean Joyce, Stan Hywet president and executive director, said his organization is looking forward to continuing its long tradition of summer Shakespeare as well as its partnership with OSF.

“We obviously had to change it up because of the size of the cast that’s allowed onstage” rather than producing a Shakespearean show with a large cast, he said.

“With an amazing backdrop of the cliff face and the lagoon area there, we can still have a decent number of people” in a socially distanced audience near the recently restored lagoon, Joyce said.

For “Complete Works,” gates will open at 6 p.m. for picnicking in checkerboard squares in groups that will be seated one at a time by the house manager. There will be no Greenshow before the main show, which will have an earlier start time of 7:30 p.m.

The 97-minute show will run with no intermission. Concessions, run by Stan Hywet, will be pre-packaged items.

In other health precautions, tickets will be sold by pre-sale only, online or by phone. Theatergoers also will do self check-in at the box office tent through scanning.

Tram rides from the box office tent to the lagoon will be only for those who need assistance. Employees will be masked and patrons are “highly encouraged” to be masked while entering and exiting the festival, Burgler said.

Free masks will be offered to those without masks. Hand sanitizer will be available at check-in and other areas.

The shows will have no on-site merchandise sales. Digital programs may be viewed on personal devices.

Audience members also will make a staggered exit and the cast will not conduct a meet-and-greet.

OSF’s outdoor set will look smaller this year, with just one story instead of the usual two-story Elizabethan style.

The goal for the company is to use this show as a learning opportunity to safely produce under coronavirus rules while offering OSF’s usual high-quality entertainment and not losing money, Burgler said.

Some shows will be offered on Tuesdays or Wednesdays during the run. For those who do not want to attend the show live, a streamed performance will be available for one night only in the final weekend of production, for a nominal fee. More details will be announced.

For reservations, which cost $30 general admission or $15 for under 18, see or call 330-374-7574.

Audiences will see some new ticket protections during COVID-19. If a show is rescheduled, buyers can accept a non-expiring gift certificate for 150 percent of the original ticket value, accept a direct exchange for rescheduled dates or request a full refund.

Ohio Shakespeare Festival has actors Natalie Steen, James Rankin and Ryan Zarecki living together in quarantine in preparation for “Complete Works.” Burgler and Zarecki are married, providing actor housing in their Akron home for the other two.

The company is also paying for COVID-19 testing for the actors and director.

The traditionally unmiked Shakespearean actors will not wear masks on stage so they can be heard. But they will socially distance on stage, which will only add to the spoofing humor in some of the show’s fight scenes, the director said.

If for any reason an actor doesn’t feel well on a given night, that show will be canceled. That’s the opposite of the historic mindset that most actors have.

During this time of coronavirus, “We also had to talk about and are very committed to losing that ‘the show must go on’ mentality that all theater people have” normally, Burgler said.

By Kerry Clawson

Akron Beacon Journal (TNS)

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