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Amy Roeder, director of Bangor-based Ten Bucks Theatre Co.’s production of “The Taming of the Shrew,” which opens outdoors this weekend Brewer, feels that doing William Shakespeare during the summer of 2020 is entirely appropriate — especially given that their show will be the first fully produced live theater to be performed in Maine since the pandemic began.
More than 400 years ago, while Shakespeare was alive, all of England was living under the shadow of a contagious disease — the bubonic plague, which came and went for centuries. Shakespeare makes references to plagues regularly, and society back then went in and out of quarantine all the time, as diseases flared up and down.
“We know that theaters have been shut down before because of the plague. Shakespeare writes about plague all the time. This is not new to theater. We’re part of a continuum. Theater endures. Shakespeare endures,” Roeder said. “It makes the entire process of doing this show seem much more meaningful.”
Like every other theater company in Maine, Ten Bucks went on hiatus in March in order to slow the spread of COVID-19, with many companies offering virtual performances over Zoom and other platforms.
By May, however, Ten Bucks board members decided that it would be possible to produce their traditional outdoor Shakespeare this year, with audiences of 50 per show, and with social distancing guidelines in place. With 2020 being the company’s 20th anniversary season, it was important to company members that the show would go on — safely.
“We are used to having to take things day by day,” said Julie Lisnet, board treasurer and a founding member of the company. “With outdoor Shakespeare, we have to plan for weather every time. This time, we’re planning for the virus. If Governor Mills has to shut things down again, we’ll plan for that, too.”
Getting creative with rehearsals and with staging was a challenge for Roeder and for fight choreographer Angela Bonacasa, given that “Shrew” is such a physical play — a comedic romp about the courtship of the assertive Katherina (played by Aimee Gerow) by the manipulative Petruchio (Nathan Roach), with a total of 18 cast members.
“There are no fewer than three times that they say in this play, ‘Kiss me, Kate,’” Roeder said. “And we just can’t do that. So we had to get really clever about how we were going to execute those things.”
“It’s certainly been a challenge to choreograph action that is normally done up close. There was a lot of back and forth about the story that we were trying to tell, and how to do that with our hands tied, sometimes literally,” Bonacasa said. “It’s required all of us to think about violence and storytelling in a way that we haven’t focused on before, and that’s not a bad thing. Inconvenient at times, maybe, but not bad.”
While “Shrew” will not be the very first theater to be performed live in Maine since the pandemic started — Bucksport-area playwright Laura Emack staged her one-act play “Broken Bridges” for three nights earlier this month at Fort Knox in Prospect — it will be the first time an established Maine theater company returns to its normal slate of productions.
Well — only sort of normal. “Shrew” is a comedy written in Elizabethan times and set in 16th-century Italy, but the realities of 2020 are almost impossible to escape.
“There are two little moments in our show that have a bit of a tip of the hat to the coronavirus reality,” Roeder said. “A little bit of, ‘We all know what’s going on here.’”
“Shrew” will be performed over three long weekends at three different locations in the greater Bangor area, including at Indian Trail Park in Brewer, July 16-19; at Hirundo Wildlife Refuge in Old Town, July 23-26; and at Fort Knox State Historic Site in Prospect, July 30-Aug. 2. Performances are at 6 p.m., and rain cancellations are announced on Facebook at 1 p.m. the day of the show.
Tickets, which are $15, can only be purchased online, and there will be no paper programs. Socially-distant seating will be arranged by ushers, and the show will be performed without an intermission, in order to prevent lines from forming at the bathroom. Audiences must bring their own blankets or chairs and food and drink, as there will be no food vendors at the performances this year. Masks must be worn when entering and exiting the venue, though they do not need to be worn during the performance. A full list of safety guidelines and tickets can be found on the Ten Bucks website.