Yard time with the Bard

Theater department sets up stage in front of Old Main.


Matt Doroff

Old Main stands backdrop as a night of theater unfolds on the lawn. Students watch the performances while the light of the rising moon glows behind.

Rikka Bakken, Senior Reporter

A cool summer night and the light of the clock tower set the stage as a medley of Shakespeare plays came to life last Friday night.

Directed by junior Grace Barnstead, “Shakespeare on the Lawn” was a student-run compilation of skits from comedies and dramas of the Bard, performed in front of Old Main by students and alumni. After hearing about a similar event held at Concordia, Barnstead was eager to try an outdoor performance at Hamline, and since the theater department will be putting on Hamlet this fall and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (which Barnstead described as an absurd comedy about Hamlet) this spring, another round of Shakespeare seemed an appropriate way to open the season.

“I think that Shakespeare gets a bad rap…he’s always found as really stuffy and really boring,” said Barnstead “I love Shakespeare. I like reading it, I like performing it, I like directing it—it’s awesome. I wanted people, especially first-year students, to be exposed to a Shakespeare that wasn’t boring.”

Barnstead and her crew of performers seemed to have succeeded in that endeavor. The dramas drew the audience in, evidenced by their frequent “ooh’s!” and the delivery of the comedies did not disappoint the crowd gathered on the lawn as their laughter floated across campus.

The event managed to pique the interest of first-years Lila Kise, Gayle Michael and Hannah Keller, who agreed that even though they didn’t necessarily always grasp the language, the quality of the acting made the storylines understandable.

“I’m not sure which play it was, but I liked the third one,” said Kise. “I thought the acting was really good, and since it wasn’t one I was familiar with I want to go back and read it now.”

That play was the second scene from Richard III, a choice that both Barnstead and senior Belle Allan were nervous about as it is a more obscure play.

“I was worried about [the Richard III scene] up until I did it,” said Allan, “and as I was walking away…I heard people snapping and going ‘ooh!’ and I thought ‘Oh thank God!’”

Allan played Lady Anne in that scene, who was her favorite character she portrayed that night. Allan said she and Barnstead wanted to make sure that Lady Anne came off as a strong female, even as she’s being utterly manipulated into marrying the man she knows murdered her husband.

In addition to the challenge of presenting a set of plays full of difficult language and emotions, the very nature of the event was itself a challenge. As junior and stage director Kacie Coyne pointed out, you never know what’s going to happen outside.

“The most difficult part was being outside,” said Coyne. “[We] all had good projecting voices…but the thing about being outside is you yell, and it just goes away. There’s nothing for it to bounce off of.”

This was an obstacle that Barnstead and company prepared for as best they could.

“I basically yelled at them a lot to be louder,” said Barnstead. “We rehearsed a lot…on Old Main Lawn, which got us some weird looks but that was fine.”

To combat the sound issue without the use of microphones, Barnstead tried to keep the audience in the middle of Old Main Lawn and as close to the action as possible. Kise, Michael and Keller who sat near the front said they were able to hear most of the words.

Though the night fortunately featured clear skies and mild temperatures, the weather did not fully cooperate according to Coyne.

“The wind kept almost blowing down our setup [backstage],” said Coyne. “We had taped a lot of things, and the curtains ended up acting as sails. We didn’t have enough weight on the bottom, so that was fun.”

Wind noise was another possible problem that the performers were concerned about. Senior Jacob Krohn, who portrayed Gregory in Romeo and Juliet, Malvolio in Twelfth Night and Edward in Richard III, said that for this performance especially, being flexible and ready for anything in case of uncontrollable environmental factors was vital.

Being outdoors also kept the sets simple, which Barnstead didn’t view as a problem.

“I don’t think Shakespeare needs a lot of set pieces,” said Barnstead. “I think that’s sort of the beauty of it; anyone can do Shakespeare anywhere, because it’s really about the language and the physicality.”

Deciphering the language and getting at the emotions driving their characters was a task that the actors and actresses had to complete this summer. Barnstead and Krohn both agree that if the performer doesn’t understand the emotion behind Shakespeare, the audience won’t either.

“One of my favorite moments was actually somewhat recent,” said Barnstead. “Jacob Krohn…was doing his monologue for [Twelfth Night], and I could just really see it click for him. He really understood what he was saying in that moment…and that was really cool to see because he just changed completely the way he was performing the monologue.”

Before this summer, Krohn had never experienced Twelfth Night and Malvolio before.

“[Malvolio] is such an interesting character because before that scene, he finds this letter from the princess, and thinks that he’s going to move up in the world,” said Krohn. “It’s portraying him almost getting that but knowing it’s all a facade orchestrated by Sir Toby and his gang to mess with him that makes him really interesting.”

After this year’s success, Barnstead says that the department will be holding an outdoor performance again, though Shakespeare will probably be given a rest.