A storm is coming.
Fierce artistic winds sweeping through parks across York County will guide visitors to Prospero's island, a brave new world.
"The Tempest," with all of its grand magic and intrigue, is the latest of William Shakespeare's plays to grace the Theatre Under the Trees series. The program offering free performances in York County parks got its start in 1998 at DreamWrights Youth & Family Theatre with director Michelle Denise Norton. Fifteen years later, she's still developing new ways to share the Bard's tales.
"We do fairly fast-moving Shakespeare," she says, pointing out that the show runs less than two hours. "It's something you can bring the whole family to whether you're very familiar with Shakespeare or don't know it at all."
Dance, too: Adding to this year's high-energy show is a troupe of a dozen dancers under the guidance of choreographer Kim Greenawalt, 23, of Annville Township, Lebanon County. After playing Hippolyta in last summer's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Greenawalt got the call from Norton to help develop a way to add movement to express Shakespeare's magical vision for "The Tempest."
"I love doing Shakespeare, I love working outside," Greenawalt says. "It's a great experience; it really stretches you as an actor."
The experience stretches the director, too, challenging her to incorporate new elements to give audiences the richest experience possible.
"'The Tempest' is a play that's hard to do outdoors because there's so many opportunities for special effects" that can't easily be replicated in such an open space, Norton says. Having used a chorus to portray the storm that sets events in motion in a previous production more than a decade ago, she wanted to try something different this year. "I think it would be fun to direct a musical, and this is close. ... I've always respected movement as a way of expression."
For Greenawalt, drawing on her experience producing Shakespeare's "Cymbeline" in college as a silent show using only dancers is helping her give the children and teens in "The Tempest" the tools to make their performance flow naturally with the spoken parts of the play.
"It's really driven by what's in the text," she says. "I'm really encouraging them to improvise and just use their whole body to tell the story."
Telling tales: The story of "The Tempest" is one of magic and monsters, royal plots and romance, a shipwreck and a sorcerer. Theatre Under the Trees is giving the show a modern flavor bursting with notes of New Orleans jazz. Norton keeps the scene-setting uncluttered, a style she has picked up over years of testing various approaches.
"As time goes on, I try to impact the play less," she says. "We have a lot more faith in the audience's imagination."
She has faith, too, in the young actors' imaginations, their strong voices and their memorization skills.
Rehearsals are "fun because their scripts are out of their hands now, so we get to let them play with swords and practice falling," Norton says. "It's a lot of physical comedy. ... 'The Tempest' is really full of intrigue; it has big villains."
Because the shows are outdoors, attendees are welcome to bring a picnic dinner along, and restless youngsters are free to stand up and get the wiggles out. Theatre Under the Trees is a free, relaxed, family-friendly night out.
"Shakespeare wrote for everybody," Norton says. "He knew what audiences responded to."
Audiences can expect to be swept up by "The Tempest," she says.
"It's really an adventure this year."
Live theater outdoors
Theatre Under the Trees starts Friday, July 26, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 4. The free performances of "The Tempest" will take place at the following times and places:
--- 6:30 p.m. Friday, July 26, at Gifford Pinchot State Park
--- 5 p.m. Saturday, July 27, at Brown's Orchards and Farm Market
--- 6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 28, at Cousler Park
--- 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 30, at John Rudy County Park
--- 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 1, at Sam Lewis State Park
--- 6:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2, at Lake Redman in William Kain County Park
--- 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3, at Codorus State Park
--- 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 4, indoors at DreamWrights Youth & Family Theatre, 100 Carlisle Ave., York.
The performances are just under two hours in length. Heavy rain or extreme heat can affect the schedule for outdoor shows. Call the theater at 848-8623 after 4 p.m. on show days for any weather-related updates.
For more information, visit www.dreamwrights.org.
-- Reach Mel Barber at firstname.lastname@example.org.