‘Midsummer’ in Ellsworth, experiment under the stars

Posted July 29, 2009, at 6:24 p.m.

The sprites and fairies will invade Ellsworth this weekend when The Grand stages William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the gazebo in Union River Park.

The show, co-directed by Ben Layman and Heather Astbury Libby, is a fundraiser designed to earn seed money to bring back locally produced theater at The Grand. The organization, known throughout the region for its high-quality musical productions, discontinued live shows because of financial constraints several years ago.

Layman, 34, of Bangor had roles in a lot of them. Earlier this year, he decided the best way to bring live theater back to Ellsworth was to do live theater. That was long before the summer rains.

One of the biggest obstacles Layman and Astbury have faced is climate. The ground at the natural amphitheater in the park has been soaked by the seemingly endless wet weather in June and July.

“The forecast for this weekend is good,” Layman said Wednesday. “But the ground probably still will be wet so people need to bring lawn chairs instead of blankets.”

Plans are to perform outside unless it is raining, he said. If there’s a downpour or thunderstorms, the show will move inside to The Grand.

Theatergoers in the Bangor area have looked forward to seeing Shakespeare outdoors for nearly 20 years. Penobscot Theatre Company for a decade or so performed on the Bangor waterfront. For the past five years, Ten Bucks Theatre Company has presented a Shakespeare play at Indian River Park in Brewer. It also has pre-formed on the grounds of the Woodlawn Museum in Ellsworth.

Ten Bucks, however, was unable to mount a production this summer. So, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in Ellsworth appears to be the only outdoor Shakespeare production being staged in the state north of Portland.

Layman, who also is directing a children’s show this summer in Ellsworth, performed in an outside Shakespeare production in Eastport years ago. But he has never before directed a Shakespeare play or a show outside let alone a production with a cast of 30 ranging in age from 6 to 60-plus.

“The most challenging thing about doing the show have been the logistics of doing a show outside,” Layman said Monday during a rehearsal break. “That and coordinating a cast of 30 people.”

The cast includes a father-son duo from Bangor, Steve Robbins as Peter Quince and Zack Robbins as Puck. The last time the elder Robbins performed outside, he said during Monday’s rehearsal, was in “The Music Man” in Bangor the summer Zack was born. Now he’s 25.

“It’s only the second or third time we’ve ever worked together, but it’s exciting,” said Steve Robbins, 62, who has appeared in many musicals at The Grand.

Zack Robbins played Puck on the Bangor waterfront in the late 1990s in a PTC creative arts program production.

“Aside from the weather,” he said, “the biggest challenge is just projecting outside and getting the audience really involved in the show. But it’s very exciting to have this opportunity. Shakespeare was meant to be performed outside. This show especially should be performed outside and in the woods.”

The only challenge to working with his dad, according to Zack Robbins, is that they are each other’s toughest critics.

More outdoor shows in Ellsworth could be in The Grand’s future.

“This is an experiment,” he said Wednesday. “It’s an experiment to be doing Shakespeare and it’s an experiment to be doing it outside. If it’s successful, we may think about doing another show outside in the future.”

jharrison@bangordailynews.net

990-8207

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IF YOU GO

What: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” by William Shakespeare

Where: Union River Park, Ellsworth

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1, and 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 2

How much: Pay what you wish

What else: 667-9500, www.grandonline.org

N.B.: It is recommended that theatergoers bring lawn chairs rather than blankets — and don’t forget the bug spray

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