For the first time since its founding in 1996, there will be no Free Shakespeare on the Common this summer.
Commonwealth Shakespeare Company announced Friday that its scheduled outdoor production of “The Tempest’’ has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The production will be presented in July 2021 with the same cast and design team, “as scheduling allows,’’ according to the announcement.
CSC had adopted a wait-and-see posture for weeks, even as other high-profile outdoor events have pulled the plug, including the Boston Pops’s Fourth of July concert and fireworks display and the Tanglewood festival in Lenox. Founding artistic director Steven Maler said in a statement Friday that CSC had remained hopeful the show could go on, but that the company’s "first priority is the health and safety of our staff, artists, and the community; and despite the generally positive public health trends, it’s become clear that there is no path forward to produce an event this summer on the scale of Shakespeare on the Common.’’
Maler added: “Though I sharply feel the loss of the summer we were planning, I see it as a pause — one that hopefully allows a deeper, richer production next summer and a chance for us to redirect our energies to areas of greatest need and opportunity.”
In March, with uncertainty swirling around all of the performing arts, CSC announced that the company would pay the actors, designers, stage managers, and core production and technical staff involved with “The Tempest’’ even if the production was canceled. Friday’s announcement reiterated that “production staff and artists engaged for the production will be paid this summer despite the postponement.’’
The “Tempest’’ news is the latest blow to a summer theater landscape that has been upended by the coronavirus, which is also threatening the fall theater season. Gloucester Stage Company, Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, and Williamstown Theatre Festival have all canceled their summer seasons, and Beverly’s North Shore Music Theatre has pushed back the start of its season to late September.
The Free Shakespeare on the Common productions have been a reliably popular rite of summer. Staged under open skies on Boston Common near the Parkman Bandstand, they typically draw more than 60,000 spectators during runs that last several weeks. Many Bostonians have gotten their first taste of Shakespeare from CSC’s productions. With the price of theater tickets out of reach for many, audiences have gotten to see some of the best actors in New England for free.
Starring renowned Shakespearean actor John Douglas Thompson in the lead role of Prospero, the usurped duke turned island sorcerer, “The Tempest’’ had been scheduled to begin performances July 22 and to run through Aug. 9. In addition to Douglas, “The Tempest’’ was to feature Nora Eschenheimer as Miranda, Prospero’s daughter; Nael Nacer as Caliban; Remo Airaldi as Antonio; John Kuntz as Trinculo; Fred Sullivan Jr., as Stephano; Michael Underhill as Ferdinand; and Richard Noble as Alonso.
In lieu of "The Tempest,'' CSC will explore pop-up live and online performances as well as other programming and activities, according to Friday’s announcement.