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Shakespeare on the Common’s ‘Tempest’ faces stiff winds

A crowd takes in Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's "Love's Labour's Lost" on Boston Common in 2016.
A crowd takes in Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's "Love's Labour's Lost" on Boston Common in 2016.Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe/file

Commonwealth Shakespeare Company is facing extremely steep odds as it tries to figure out a way to forge ahead with its scheduled summer production of “The Tempest’’ on Boston Common.

“It is still on,’’ CSC spokeswoman Kati Mitchell said by e-mail in response to a Globe query. “We have been in contact with the Mayor’s office, and we are hoping to present a plan to them that would allow for us to do ‘The Tempest’ on the Common this summer.”

Mitchell added: “That said, we understand the conditions within which we are operating right now, and we are looking at a wide array of possibilities to reimagine what we present this summer.”

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Those “conditions” make the epic storm and shipwreck that open “The Tempest’’ look like … well, a stroll across the Common.

First, it is far from guaranteed that concerns over the spread of the coronavirus will abate enough by July 22 — when “The Tempest” is slated to begin performances — for Governor Charlie Baker to rescind or relax his prohibition on public gatherings of more than 10 people.

Even if Baker does permit larger gatherings, Mayor Martin J. Walsh is sending clear signals about the hard line he will take this summer when it comes to crowds. Last Friday, when he announced that no city-hosted festivals or parades will take place until Labor Day at the earliest, Walsh delivered this blunt message to organizers of other summer events: “If you have an event that brings crowds together in close contact like a concert, a road race, a flag-raising, you should start looking at alternatives right now. This is a public health decision and it’s the right decision.”

According to guidelines for the summer that were described to the Globe Tuesday by city officials, City Hall will not issue a permit for “a public event that could draw a large crowd.” In the past, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s Free Shakespeare on the Common productions have drawn more than 60,000 spectators over a period of several weeks.

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The city’s guidelines do stipulate that smaller public outdoor events “with appropriate social distancing may be considered on a case-by-case basis, pending continued guidance from public health officials.”

The Free Shakespeare on the Common series is a labor of love for founding artistic director Steven Maler and his staff, who take pride in presenting top-notch productions to audiences who might not otherwise be drawn to Shakespeare or able to afford a night at the theater. This summer’s “Tempest’’ has shaped up as something special: Directed by Maler, it is intended to mark the 25th anniversary of Free Shakespeare on the Common, and set to star acclaimed Shakespearean actor John Douglas Thompson as Prospero, the island sorcerer.

Other high-profile summer events such as the Boston Pops concert and fireworks display have already been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.




Don Aucoin can be reached at donald.aucoin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeAucoin.