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Shakespeare Theater Company Makes Queens its Stage

By Smriti Rao | July 9, 2012 7:05am
Theater fans can get their Shakespeare fix this summer with free plays across ten parks in Queens.
Theater fans can get their Shakespeare fix this summer with free plays across ten parks in Queens.
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Hip to Hip Theater Company

QUEENS — Theater fans with a hankering for "Hamlet" won't have to trek to Central Park to get their fix.

Starting July 25, they can watch Shakespeare for free at different venues around the borough—including Flushing Meadows Corona Park and Sunnyside Park.

More than 4,000 fans are expected to watch local Queens Theater Company Hip to Hip’s productions of the Bard’s plays this year, organizers said.

“If you go to Manhattan, you’ll see a troupe on every other street performing Shakespeare,” said Hip to Hip’s 37-year old artistic director and Sunnyside resident Jason Marr, who started putting on the free plays with his wife Joy in 2007.

“But in Queens, there’s nothing similar to what we are doing now.”

This year, audiences will be treated to the Bard’s shortest and longest plays — "Comedy of Errors" (90 minutes) and "Hamlet" (edited from 3 hours to 2).

Marr started the production company, which includes performers from Manhattan and Queens, after noticing that despite a large population of actors in Astoria and Sunnyside, the area was underserved in terms of theater. 

What started out six years ago as a neighborhood production of “As You Like It” for Sunnyside has steadily grown to attract an audience of thousands, the theater company said.

“We’re slowly raising our profile,” said Sunnyside resident Marr, who also teaches acting as an adjunct professor at Marymount College in Manhattan. “This year, we’ve made bigger inroads to get our word out.”

The popularity of the free shows has also pushed the company to expand its repertoire — from more popular shows like "Romeo and Juliet" and "Taming of the Shrew" to the complex tragedy Hamlet.

“Now that we have a core audience, we are ready to tackle more challenging plays,” Marr said.     

While Anne Hathway may not be on the playbill, fans can expect to see seasoned Broadway soprano Evangelia Kingsley, whose past work includes the musical "Light in the Piazza" and "Coram Boy" and Joel Leffert, whose acting credits include playing Shapiro in Tennessee William’s play “Not About Nightingales.”  

Wearing tights and doublets in the sweltering heat and touring parks in the summer might put some actors off, but Marr said it was a love of Shakespeare that glued the company together.

“It’s not an easy thing to do…but the plays are so good,” said Marr, who plays Hamlet this year.

It’s not just the bard that inspires the crew to slog it out through hot summer nights but also legendary theater director and producer Joseph Papp, who is credited with starting New York’s Shakespeare Festival in 1954 — a forerunner to today’s Shakespeare in the Park.

“He was very dedicated to taking plays to the people,” said Marr. “It’s been a real inspiration to us."

Though the productions in Queens might not dazzle like the multi-million dollar extravaganzas in Central Park, Marr said he was still confident of reeling in local fans. 

"Small companies typically show up and put on a play...we stay committed to those values."  

Hip to Hip’s Productions of Shakespeare in the Park runs from July 25-Aug. 18. For a full schedule of the plays, go to the website www.hiptohip.org.