On a summer evening in Vermont, the immortal words of William Shakespeare float across a backyard. The players in this scene are not amateurs. They are none other than professional actors performing famous scenes from classic Shakespearean theater on the private lot of a personal home. The audience for this play is small. There are just six spectators. But that’s ok. The actors’ goal is to keep Shakespeare alive amidst the pandemic. So far, so good.
Jena Necrason is part of the Vermont Shakespeare Festival. She throws herself into the role of Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Her husband John Nagle follows, performing the famous soliloquy from As You Like It: “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.”
Actors with the Vermont Shakespeare Festival were preparing for rehearsals and performances of The Merry Wives of Windsor when COVID-19 swept across the world. They wanted to gift their community with theater in the midst of these unprecedented times. With a little creativity, the actors figured out how to bring theater to backyards with their program “Shakespeare to You,” or “Bard to Your Yard.” (William Shakespeare was a brilliant poet and playwright, nicknamed “The Bard.” That’s an old term used to refer to a talented minstrel or poet.)
“The idea is just a single person going up to a yard and ringing the doorbell, wearing a mask, stepping back, at least six feet apart, delivering a live Shakespeare monologue or sonnet as a way of connecting in a real, face-to-face, live way,” says Nagle.
“Instead of having to retreat and say ‘Well, we have to wait, there’s nothing we can do right now except things that are virtual or online,’ we wanted to find a way to actually continue to play live,” says Necrason. She believes theater ignites conversation, connection, joy, and hope.
Aspiring audiences can order a performance on the Vermont Shakespeare website. They can even choose from among a dozen Shakespeare selections. The performances are free of charge. Just a note––the performers don’t wear costumes except for the notorious Elizabethan ruffs around their necks.
(Jena Necrason performs from Shakespeare in a backyard on June 25, 2020, in Burlington, Vermont. AP Photo/Wilson Ring)