Lights go up as the sun goes down behind the vineyards, setting a scene that is simultaneously Elizabethan and Oregonian. Each summer, crowds gather on picnic blankets to drink wine and watch local theater at its finest.
Since 2009, Willamette Shakespeare has brought the works of William Shakespeare to Oregon wine country, providing free classical theater to the public by performing at local wineries. This year the non-profit theater company partners again with Portland Actors Ensemble to present The Winter’s Tale, directed by Kristin Heller, for its 2017 season which opens this Friday, August 4 at Stoller Family Estate.
According to the troupe’s president and Newberg local Jim Halliday, the idea for Willamette Shakespeare started from humble beginnings as a collaboration of friends.
“Daniel and Sydney Somerfield discussed the idea over dinner one night with my wife Karen and me in our home,” Halliday recalls. “Daniel directed our first show, As You Like It. Sydney starred. I acted two roles and designed and built the set. That was nine seasons ago. Now we average an audience of about 2,500 people each year and the quality of these performances is topnotch.”
While the first season of plays were performed at Stoller Family Estate in Dayton and two city parks, Halliday says the ability to leave the sets up overnight caused organizers to pursue other wineries for shows—and the vineyard venue stuck. The productions no longer build elaborate sets, but emulate the style of a traveling troupe using tents and partner with the Portland Actors Ensemble for performances at various local vineyards. This year’s shows will occur at Stoller Family Estate in Dayton, Montinore Estates in Forest Grove and Ponzi Vineyards in Sherwood.
“All of these venues are beautiful in their own right and the atmosphere is festive and fun,” Halliday describes. “The audience starts arriving at least an hour before ‘curtain’ to claim a space and many people bring picnics. Outside alcohol is not permitted but there is always food and wine from the resident winery for purchase.”
This year, audiences can expect both tears and laughs as actors performs The Winter’s Tale, one of Shakespeare’s final plays, filled with a complex plot of love, death—and even wild bears.
“The Winter’s Tale is not performed very often probably because it is considered a ‘problem play,’ Halliday explains. “The ‘problem’ is that the first half is a tragedy and the last half is a comedy. This is the play where Shakespeare figures out that the best way to get rid of a character is with the stage direction ‘Exit, pursued by a bear.’
The Winters Tale, various locations – Fridays and Saturdays 7pm, Sundays 6pm
For more information and a schedule of performances, visit willametteshakespeare.com