Much Ado

MT shakspeare in the parks cooke city

Shakespeare in the Parks brings the action to Montana.

Our outdoor spaces have the power to connect us in more ways than we think: to our community, to our physical goals, to nature—and also to the arts. Picture this: it’s a warm, summer evening. You and your companions stroll over to the local park, picnic blanket and basket in hand, ready to indulge in an evening of wine, snacks, a fiery Montana sunset, and yep—a live, professional performance of Shakespeare. Thanks to local nonprofit Montana Shakespeare in the Parks (MSIP), this is the reality for communities throughout the state, all summer long.

MSIP tours the state and surrounding regions from June through September, bringing the famed tales of William Shakespeare to life. Founded by Bruce Jacobson in 1973, MSIP started as an acting program at Montana State University, where a small group of actors toured through a few communities to perform scenes from Shakespeare plays. These events were a huge success, and the organization began hosting full shows shortly thereafter, and is now traveling to over 110 communities for middle- and high-school programs, as well.

Rain or shine, the crew sets up each outdoor stage as they tour around the region, improvising with each landscape and with summer’s erratic weather conditions.

This summer marks the 52nd season of MSIP, and throughout this half-century, they have stayed true to their original mission: to ensure that all Montanans, especially those in rural and underserved communities, can experience high-quality, professional theater, free of charge. Every summer, this laudable goal comes to fruition as the company tours extensively, performing in a variety of public outdoor spaces—from the MSU Duck Pond to the Roosevelt Arch in Gardiner. They perform amidst the Beartooths in Cooke City and Silver Gate, in Makoshika State Park, and in many rural towns that fall between.

MT shakspeare in the parks cooke city

“These outdoor events across Montana represent the convergence of cultural arts and environmental appreciation,” says associate artistic director, actor, and tour manager Riley O’Toole. “Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed outside. Shakespeare speaks so much about nature, there’s so much talk about what’s going on in the heavens,” he continues. “Our set designers make choices that highlight these things.” The natural theatrical settings provide a picturesque stage for tragedies, comedies, and histories alike, making these 400-year-old texts spring to life in a way that enhances the community experience, but also honors the original vision of the plays.

Rain or shine (no lightning, though), the MSIP crew sets up each outdoor stage as they tour around the region, improvising with each landscape and with summer’s erratic weather conditions. “The way the audience interacts with nature is as much a part of the experience as the play itself,” O’Toole points out, as he reminisces on performances he’s done with thick smoke, snowflakes falling from the sky, and when a great-horned owl hooted in the background during the show.

Shakespeare in the Parks invites community members to slow down during the bustle of the summer season, and come together to embrace the power of live theater among our outdoor spaces. MSIP not only preserves the cultural heritage of Shakespeare, but also reinforces the bond between community, art, and the environment, proving that indeed, “All the world’s a stage.”

The 65-community summer tour of Hamlet and The Winter’s Tale kicked off in Bozeman on June 12. Find the full schedule here.