In his play King Lear, William Shakespeare wrote: “In jest, there is truth.” There’ll certainly be plenty of both—plus a bit of tragedy (it’s Shakespeare after all)—at the Saratoga Shakespeare Company‘s annual outdoor theater festival, Shakespeare in the Parks. Now in its 19th year, Shakespeare in the Parks performs the works of the Bard in Saratoga’s most popular parks and outdoor destinations. And for this year’s series, Shakespeare in the Parks will be doing its first-ever performance of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, King Lear, in addition to a fresh interpretation of The Tempest, Shakespeare’s mysterious tale of shipwreck and magic.
The outdoor theater festival will kick off with performances of The Tempest at the reflecting pool near the Hall of Springs in the Saratoga Spa State Park on Friday, July 19 and Saturday, July 20. This will mark the company’s first performance of The Tempest in almost a decade, and for the production, the troupe has employed a lot of local talent. “This year we have far more professional artists than ever before gracing our stages,” says Lary Opitz, a Skidmore drama professor and one of the founding members of Saratoga Shakespeare Company. That list of artists includes 17 members of Actors Equity, one of the country’s largest and most respected labor unions for theatrical performers, and the company has teamed up with some big-name, Saratoga-based partners such as the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and Radial Arts.
For the main event, King Lear will open on the Alfred Z. Solomon Stage in Congress Park on Tuesday, July 23 and run for two weeks through Saturday, August 3. All ten performances of Lear begin at 6pm (there will be no shows on Sunday or Monday). “Over the years, we’ve presented mostly lighter fare, and we felt it was time to challenge ourselves with King Lear,” says Opitz, who will be portraying the title role, which is one of Shakespeare’s most verbose, with nearly 700 lines of dialogue. “Besides, at the age of 71—and as I think about retiring in the not too distant future—I’m beginning to understand the role better than ever before,” says Opitz.
Saratoga Shakespeare Company is Saratoga’s longest-running professional theater troupe, having been founded in December 1999, with the mission of presenting accessible and professional Shakespeare productions. The company’s first show was Twelfth Night in 2000 at Congress Park, with Opitz appearing as the flatulent and freeloading drunkard Sir Toby Belch.
All performances for the company’s 2019 season are free and open to the public. However, inclement weather is a game-changer: rain at showtime means a no-go for any of the scheduled performances. “The greatest challenge, by far, is the weather; we lost five performances [to it] last year,” says Opitz. In spite of the meteorological difficulties, Opitz says that the herculean effort of putting on Shakespeare plays in the park, especially productions as big as Lear, is well worth it. “Seeing the faces of the audience while performing outdoors in daylight, just as Shakespeare’s original actors did, is a great joy,” he says.