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Shakespeare returning to the Park

SSTC performing ‘12th Night’ in German Park

Lee Zion will play Feste the Fool in the production of Twelfth Night. This is the second time he has played Feste, a role he loves. Zion is even able to incorporate his ukulele in the show. Asked about his dream Shakespeare role, Zion said he would like to play Dogberry and Don John in a production of “Much Ado About Nothing.”

NEW ULM — On the 26th night of June, Shakespeare in the park will return to New Ulm’s German Park Amphitheater with a production of “Twelfth Night.”

Shakespeare in the Park production was once a tradition in German Park. Productions of Bard’s plays were regularly performed in the park by Martin Luther College (MLC) in May, but the productions have been absent for the past few years. Now, State Street Theater (SST) is reviving the tradition. It is the theater’s hope this will become an annual event performed in the new German Park amphitheater.

This year’s production will feature the comedy “Twelfth Night,” a fast-paced, quick-witted play featuring mistaken identities, misplaced love interests, and practical jokes.

Performances will take place at the German Park amphitheater Saturday, June 26 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday, June 27 at 2 p.m. In case of either temperature above 90 degrees or rain, the performances will be held at State Street Theater.

The return of Shakespeare in the Park will be a festival occasion. On Saturday before the 2 p.m. performance, SST will host the “Boar’s Head Pub & Eatery” in the German Park Pavilion, located amid the floral garden. At noon, food vendors and local performers will be available at German Park to provide free entertainment and food for purchase.

Sisters Josie Ringhofer (left) and Addy Ringhofer (right) try on costumes for the Billy and The Kids production of Twelfth Night. The sisters were having fun in the play, but Josie said it was a little awkward because she is playing Duke Orsino and Addy is playing Olivia who is secretly in love with Orsino in the play.

At 1 p.m., performers from the Billy and the Kids summer theater workshop will present their rendition of Twelfth Night. Food vendors will continue serving food until the conclusion of the intermission of Twelfth Night.

Grounds activities are free and open to the public, food and beverages are available for purchase and tickets must be purchased to view the performances of Twelfth Night.

The production is directed by Michael Koester. He is also playing the role of Malvolio. Koester said the idea to restart the Shakespeare in the Park program came about in part due to the COVID pandemic. The pandemic had put a halt to all theatrical performances and many have been anxious for a return.

“I missed the theater,” Koester said. “I knew MLC did it once before and I thought to try it in the amphitheater. “

The benefits of doing a play in a park are the location is open-air and safer for audiences during a pandemic. Koester explained when they were planning the production, no one knew what COVID regulations would look like in late June. By planning an outdoor production, SST could plan on more forgiving COVID restrictions. Audience size would not need to be as limited.

Jacob Haugen and Elijah Friese try on costumes and hats for the production Billy and the Kids production of Twelfth Night. As the cast is small, both actors will play multiple characters requiring multiple costume changes. They will literally be wearing several hats during the show.

Koester said there are new challenges with putting on a play in a public park. Sets and props cannot be set up in advance and left in German Park. The stage has to be assembled and taken down between performances. Twelfth Night will have a minimal set design, but with an outdoor stage, it is a challenge to hide characters before the entrances and after their exits. There are no stage curtains or wings to conceal characters not in the scene.

The production will need to bring a series of walls to the amphitheater to create a temporary backstage. There will be a few additional pieces of comedy related to the set design that Koester would not spoil. He hinting that during his monologue as Malvolio, there will be some humorous set work happening behind him.

Since this is an outdoor show, stage lighting will not be necessary. The natural light of the sun will provide everything this show needs. All performances are scheduled before dusk. The 7 p.m. show on Saturday should conclude before the sun goes down, but the new amphitheater has globes of light to provide enough illumination until the closing curtain.

The production will have some microphones, but the cast is told not to rely on them in case of an audio problem. The amphitheater does live up to its name. Koester confirmed there is a spot on the stage that perfectly amplifies a speaker’s voice.

Koester said directing an outdoor show has a learning curve. Koester said he thought getting the actors to speak the Shakespearian dialect would be the hardest part, but it is actually organizing it.

This is one of the reasons “Twelfth Night” was chosen to resurrect Shakespeare in the Park, Koester said he wanted to start with a comedy. It is also not as well known as some of Shakespeare’s other plays.

Koester said Lee Zion, who is playing Feste the Fool, has been incredibly helpful in the production. Zion is well versed in Shakespeare production and has played Feste before. Shakespearian language can be difficult for some. Koester said Zion has been a great help in working on the phraseology in the play.

Zion said he loves playing Feste. He will even incorporate his ukulele into his performance.

The return of Shakespeare in the Park will technically include two versions of “Twelfth Night.” SST has been hosting a summer theater workshop for students in 7th through 12th Grade. The students received a crash course in Shakespeare and will perform an abridged rendition of Twelfth Night before the main show on Saturday.

Koester is also directing the student version. For some of the students, this will be their first time on stage.

“It is a chance to teach them about props, stage direction and costumes,” Koester said.

The two shows do have overlapping casts. Elijah Friese and Jarad Gleisner will appear in both versions. Friese plays Malvolio in the student version and is part of the ensemble of the larger production. Gleisner plays Sebastian in both productions.

Gleisner said it has not been difficult to keep track of which version of the character he is playing.

“It is fun to see the differences between adaptation,” he said.

Gleisner is no stranger to performing adapted versions of Shakespeare. He previously participated in the Prairie Fire Children’s Theatre production of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream.” He said this version of “Twelfth Night” will be a little more challenging because the Shakespearian language will be used.

If this production goes well, there could be more Shakespeare in the park in the future. Koester is optimistic about holding more theater camps for underserved communities. He is hoping to one day to have a Shakespeare production done in American Sign Language or Spanish.

Advance tickets for “Twelfth Night” will be available for purchase at the New Ulm Chamber of Commerce, New Ulm Hy-Vee, and online at Eventbrite. Student tickets are $5 and adult tickets are $10. If seating is still available, tickets may be purchased at the play, student tickets then at $10 and adult tickets at $15.

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

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