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Experience "Twelfth Night" At Shakespeare in the Park

August 25, 2016

Every August, the works of the world’s greatest playwright are brought to life on two summer evenings under the leaves of Memorial Park (208 W. Union Ave.) in Wheaton. Courtesy of the Wheaton Park District and Wheaton College Arena Theater, Shakespeare in the Park’s fourth year takes the stage at 7 p.m. on August 26 and 27 with "Twelfth Night." 

“There’s a shipwreck and Viola and her brother Sebastian are washed ashore of Illyria, and there, Duke Orsino is in love with Olivia, an elite noblewoman in town,” said actor Jeff Cribbs, drawing on his experience in the New York acting community as he plays Orsino. “Through a series of capers and love and missed love, all the right people end up with all the right people.” 

Every August, the Memorial Park band shell is transformed for two nights into the settings of some of Shakespeare’s most iconic works, from northern Spain in "Love’s Labour’s Lost" to the enchanted woods and noble lands of ancient Athens in "A Midsummer Night’s Dream." 

When the two organizations first planned Shakespeare in the Park in 2013, their attendance goal stood at 300 each night. Then about 2,000 patrons of the arts flocked to the park. 

“We had been working on this partnership for a long time, but we weren’t sure how many people were going to show up the first year of a new event,” said Nicole Kapala, Wheaton Park District Marketing & Events Coordinator. “And then we were floored by how many people came out. It was the best kind of problem to have.” 

One of the Bard’s several comedies, "Twelfth Night" introduced some of the more memorable lines in the English language, like “if music be the food of love, play on,” “journeys end in lovers meeting,” and “better a witty fool, than a foolish wit.” 

At the time of its writing between 1601 and 1602 and for long after, English theatre tradition held that adolescent boys must play female characters onstage. Shakespeare took advantage of this for comedic effect, having Viola (played by a boy dressed as a girl) disguise herself as a boy, take the name Cesario, and enter the service of Duke Orsino. 

“It has a lot to say about the complexity and the fervor of love, and how it isn’t always what you think it is. When you first enter it and have these feelings, you learn a lot as it really takes hold, and that is the exact arc of this play,” said Cribbs. “We learn a lot from the stories we tell ourselves. We learn a lot about ourselves in the stories that have been told for a long time.” 

Shakespeare in the Park employs a mix of student and professional actors, many of them College alumni, who often come from coast-to-coast to participate. 

“We have grads who are excited to come back,” said Andy Mangin, Wheaton College Arena Theater’s Production Manager and Technical Director. “The majority of the cast is actors who are professionals now or have been at some point in their past. I would put it up against a lot of other professional productions.” 

If this sounds better than most theatergoers’ image of plays in the park, it is. 

“I love doing Shakespeare outdoors,” Cribbs said. “It brings to life so much of the imagery and experience Shakespeare intended. It has people in a relaxed, comfortable environment—kids running around, lots of excitement—and as the lights go up and the sun goes down, it’s a magical evening. You can’t beat Shakespeare for a moment like that.”

Concessions will be available, with proceeds benefitting the DuPage County Historical Museum.

In the event of inclement weather, a rain date is scheduled for August 28.

To learn more, visit wheatonparkdistrict.com/shakespeare.