The company has no facilities, no administration and no staff. Aside from storage space for sets and a bit of gear, Wilson says, SiSP is just a concept in the minds of its producers. The shows are staged in a neighborhood park; the public comes with blankets or garden chairs.
Outdoor performances are a challenge, Wilson admits, due to city noise as well as traffic. “So we have to be at the microphone, which we wouldn’t have to be on the inside,” he says. “The weather doesn’t always cooperate, but luckily we have a rain spot in the nearby Hope Lutheran Church. We tried a matinee performance a year without thinking that much of our seating area would be in full sun all afternoon. The public kept sneaking through the changing shadows of the park.
The advent of Doppler radar, he notes, has been very helpful. “We were in the middle of a performance a year ago when it became clear it was raining, but the Doppler said we should be able to finish – and put away – on time. We dodged the rain by about 20 minutes that night But it’s great to perform under the stars of a cloudless night sky with a little bit of chill in the air.
Galen Wilson has been producing and directing free outdoor drama in South Park since 2008. CONTRIBUTION / HANNAH RANDOLPH
Credit: CONTRIBUTED / HANNAH RANDOLPH
Credit: CONTRIBUTED / HANNAH RANDOLPH
About this year’s play and cast
After directing most of Shakespeare’s comedies, the group decided to look to something different this year. “We wanted to offer something light, fun, and just for laughs as the perfect balm for a community stressed by COVID,” says Wilson, who leads. “’Earnest’ corresponds to this bill. When it was first produced in London in 1895, critics called it bland because it lacked a social message. Maybe that’s why audiences loved him back then and have loved him ever since. “
Oscar Wilde’s best-known play is a witty prank about two high society friends: Algernon and Jack. Each of them invented a convenient imaginary friend. Algernon avoids unwanted engagements in London by rushing to the bedside of his chronically ill friend in the countryside. Jack escapes from his respectable country estate when he wants to party in London in the guise of Earnest, his non-existent and debauched brother.
Problems ensue when each falls in love with a young woman – Jack with Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen, Algernon with 18-year-old Jack’s ward Cecily – while each pretends to be Jack’s stray brother, Earnest. They discover too late that the true passion of women is for the name Earnest itself.
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Wilson says if Shakespeare in South Park isn’t Shakespeare this season, it’s definitely South Park. Six of the nine cast members are from the neighborhood; so is the whole production team. Brian Ressler (Algernon) returns for his seventh season. Amelia Merithew (Cecily) and Gabby Kennedy (Gwendolen) started their SiSP careers as child extras eight seasons ago; both are directors this year.
Amanda Korb makes her SiSP debut as the legendary imperious Lady Bracknell (“Never speak disrespectfully of society. Only people who can’t get in do so”). Elizabeth Horner (Miss Prism) also appears on stage for the first time after many years as the real mother of an actor. Newcomer Will Williams (Jack) has heard about South Park kickball friend’s auditions. SiSP veterans Scot Randolph (Merriman), who is also in charge of the set construction, complete the cast; Wayne Wolfe (Rev. Chasuble) and John Wysong (Lane).
Susan Robert, who has performed or directed several SiSP shows, appreciates that everyone is nice. “All the drama in this company is on stage,” she said. Korb says it has been a wonderful way to meet neighbors. “I’m not good at party chatter, but the play creates a natural way to get to know people,” she says. “The incredible amount of thought and creativity that goes into the production blew me away. Everyone contributes!
Co-producer Tonne directs an intermission of children from the South Park neighborhood posing as 19th century schoolchildren singing songs in English. The group will entertain audiences as the cast transform the scene from Algernon’s London apartment to Jack’s country estate.
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“The theater of the time (1895) was to get the public to think seriously about social issues,” notes Wllson, who says that the theater of all times succeeds by creating events that cause the characters to change their attitude or behavior. and encourage the public to do the same. “The shows draw audiences to identify with the characters, to love the hero, and to despise the villain. ‘Earnest’ doesn’t do any of these things. Its main characters are deeply flawed, but they are not meant to educate or inspire audiences. They are there just to entertain us and make us laugh.
Part of the appeal of this year’s play is that it was written in 1895, towards the end of South Park’s 20-year building boom in which most of the neighborhood was built. “’Earnest’ and South Park are contemporary,” Wilson says. “Because South Park is such a historic district, we were able to get many props around the area, including a chair that in 1895 may have been in the same Dayton house we borrowed it from 126 years plus late ! “
HOW TO GET THERE
What: Oscar Wilde comedy “The Importance of Being Steadfast” presented by Shakespeare in South Park
When: 8 p.m. Friday September 10, Saturday. September 11 and Sunday September 12
Or: South Park Green, 601 Hickory Street, Dayton. In case of rain: Hope Lutheran Church, 500 Hickory St. Masks required inside.
Admission: Free with donations gratefully accepted
Seats: Bring your lawn chair or blanket and bug spray
For more information: (937) 222-7324, www.historicsouthpark.org Where www.facebook.com/shakespeareinsouthpark2021