From Page To Park: Parting With Sweet Sorrow
The cast and crew of the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival’s The Winter’s Tale have shared three weeks of rehearsals and 17 and a half performances since they gathered for their first read through at the end of May.
There was one complete rain out and one at intermission — but all in all, healthy crowds, nearly 23,000 people, for one of Shakespeare's lesser known titles. The final installment of the series From Page to Park explores what it means for a company to close a show.
It's a muggy 90-degree night, but, undeterred, hundreds of people tote coolers and lawn chairs into Southmoreland Park for the final performance of The Winter's Tale. Heart of America Shakespeare Festival volunteers in period garb flank the entrance, including Bill Morris.
“Hello, thank you,” Morris says to a patron who drops a bill in his basket. “The sticker lets us know we’ve talked to you.”
He adds that he’s worked several nights of this year’s festival and has been a volunteer for over ten years.
Exit, stage right
It’s often stressful to leave a job but it’s the life of an actor to do that all the time. Shows rehearse, gel, perform, and then disappear.
On the morning of that last performance, actors Jan Rogge and Bruce Roach take time for coffee and a bagel in a Brookside eatery. Both say that closing a show elicits a range of emotions that have already kicked in.
“I'm a little more sentimental. It's a little more precious,” says Rogge, who plays Paulina in the show. “I really want it get it so-called ‘right’ tonight. And the relationships, too, I've had. I'm not going to see these people in the same context again, so it's a little sad and yet, not sad. It’s exciting, too, because we feel really proud of what we've done.”
“I always go into a little bit post-show - not depression, that sounds melodramatic - but just a downer day, knowing that's finished,” Roach says on the day he plays Leontes for the last time with this company. “Theater is about community, and you build a community and then that community disappears at the end of whatever production that is. And you know that community is gone forever except in your memory.”
Bitter with the sweet
Backstage later that night, it's less than a half-hour before the final performance begins. Sidonie Garrett, the Festival's executive artistic director, is focused yet relaxed as she considers the emotions of this last night.
“It feels bittersweet,” Garrett says. “It's been six weeks of weather, beautiful glorious rehearsals indoors and then some beautiful nights in the park. And a few horrible rain storms and some bugs and some mud and great huge crowds and kettle corn - you know, it's been tremendous excitement.
“It takes a tremendous amount of energy. I'm looking forward to getting a little more sleep but I will miss the feeling of this company right now. It doesn't get much richer than this. The joy they have together. How confident they feel in their storytelling. Knowing we’ve had these huge crowds. There’s nothing more joyous than that but everything must come to an end.”
The play ends to a thunderous ovation and the audience departs around 11 p.m. A cast party then gets underway with gin, light beer, and a wine called Pursued by Bear - so-named for the play's most famous stage direction.
The next morning, the actors are no doubt sleeping in but the crew still has a lot of work to do.
Pulling up stakes
About three dozen people are in Southmoreland Park with one collective mission: return the park to what it looked like before the Festival. Technical director Chaz Bell is overseeing how the set will be taken down - what’s called in theater lingo “the strike.”
“It's going to be piece by piece so we start on one side of the set and start taking it apart,” Bell says over the sound of drills and pulleys. “Those (pieces) that are going to get recycled we'll put in one stack and things that are junk will go another stack. No part of this animal goes to waste."
Although some in the company will see the empty park and get nostalgic, Bell is not among them.
“I've done this long enough that I can't get attached to it or every strike will be really painful,” he says with a chuckle. “So for me, it's like watching a flower bloom. It has one moment where it's beautiful and gorgeous, and then goes away. But that cycle? It has to die so we can make new stuff.”
There's a line from another Shakespeare play that gets at the heart of what it means to close a show. As Juliet says to Romeo: “Parting is such sorrow/That I shall say goodnight till it be morrow."
KCUR's summer series, From Page To Park, explores the unexpected struggles and conflicts in the life cycle of 'The Winter's Tale'. Key cast and crew members share professional and personal journeys to create performances that speak to a diverse audience.