Shakespeare in the Park: A Summer Tradition

The Colonial Theater and TRIST host Shakespeare in the Park

shakesparkSLIDESummer: The season that brings to mind beers on the patio, camping trips with the family, and epic tales of magic, manipulation, and romance … okay, maybe not so much the last one, but it could be time to mix it up and take in some culture. This summer in Rhode Island, two theater companies are bringing you Shakespeare in the Park, a tradition that goes back more than six decades. You may have seen Henry IV performed by TRIST in the park in Providence earlier this month, but if you didn’t, there are few more opportunities at opposite ends of the Ocean State to experience the work of the world’s most beloved playwright. The Colonial Theater will present Twelfth Night, or What You Will, at Wilcox Park in Westerly and the RI Shakespeare Company is staging The Tempest at Sandywoods in Tiverton.

The first incarnation of Shakespeare in the Park in the US was put on by producer and director Joseph Papp in the mid-1950s. The program developed from a series of free theater workshops in New York City, eventually morphing into full-blown performances. The plays were first held in the East River Park Amphitheater, but after a few seasons, moved to Central Park in 1957. The Delacorte Theater in the park, where the free performances are still staged, was completed in 1962 and kicked off that year with The Merchant of Venice starring George C. Scott and James Earl Jones.

After the smashing success of the New York edition, outdoor productions of Shakespeare began popping up all over the country and cities in every corner of the US have since caught the fever. The Rhode Island versions of this institution are a stellar addition to the state’s varied theater offerings.


On the weekend of July 11th, the RI Shakespeare Company, which recently underwent a name change to become What Cheer Shakespeare, will bring outdoor theater to Sandywoods Center for the Arts for the third summer in a row. The Tempest is the story of the Duke of Milan turned sorcerer, Prospero, and his daughter, Miranda, who have been stranded on an island for 12 years after Prospero was deposed by his conniving brother, Antonio. Prospero, in the beginning of the play, foresees that his brother will be on a passing ship and magically generates a huge storm to wipe him out. Although the start sounds violent, The Tempest draws heavily from the romance genre, and it doesn’t end in a huge bloodbath like so many other Shakespeare plays.

When you’ve seen The Tempest and are ready for more, take the trip to Wilcox Park in Downtown Westerly for The Colonial Theater’s performances of Twelfth Night. The play, set in Illyria on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea, also begins with a shipwreck. Viola, the heroine, manages to reach the shore, but is separated from her twin brother Sebastian. Meanwhile, nobleman Orsino yearns for the unattainable lady Olivia. This comedy, thought to be written in 1601, has everything you want from Shakespeare; hilarious hijinks, painful, unrequited love and women dressed as men. The performance will mark the 23rd season of free Shakespeare in Wilcox Park, so come be a part of history!

If you’re in the mood to enjoy the outdoors and participate in an American tradition, come experience the kind of heightened drama and confusing language that only Shakespeare can provide. Bespeak yourself and attend what will forsooth be events most grand!

The Tempest: Sandywoods Center for the Arts is located at 43 Muse Way in Tiverton. The performances will be held on July 11th and 12th at 7pm. Admission is $25 per carload and $15 for drivers with no adult passengers and walk-ins (kids are free). BYOB and food.

Twelfth Night: Wilcox Park is located at 44 Broad St. in Westerly. Performances will be held Tuesdays to Sundays at 8pm all summer, until August 17th. Admission is free.