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Six short scenes from Shakespeare will ‘fleet the time’ at Bird Park

The Gazebo Players performed Shakespeare's "All's Well That Ends Well" in 2019 at Bird Park in Walpole. The community theater group will perform excerpts this year from six different plays in a free program called "Shakespeare in Shorts."Dan Busler Photography

Here’s the game plan for “Shakespeare in Shorts,” an innovative approach to live outdoor theater at Walpole’s Bird Park, according to the Gazebo Players of Medfield: “Wander around the park and watch as many different scenes as you like to get a flavor of all that Shakespeare has to offer.”

The community theater group, whose members live in various local towns, has been performing at the Trustees of Reservations property in Walpole since 2002, with the exception of 2020. Asked why the troupe chooses to perform — for free — at Bird Park, member Steve Small replied, “Who wouldn’t want to perform on the beautiful stone stage at the Music Court?”

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This year the group will stage excerpts from six Shakespeare plays — four comedies and two tragedies — on Saturday, July 31 and Sunday, Aug. 1, from 4 to 6 p.m. Each short scene will be performed at a different location in the park, and audience members are invited to move from site to site. Each scene lasts approximately 10 to 15 minutes, and all scenes may be viewed within two hours.

The park will provide maps of the scene locations at the Music Court (that stone stage) and at each performance spot.

Not only will the performances be “shorts,” some of the actors will be wearing them as well.

“I will,” said Steve Small, who will wear the same costume in which he performed in the group’s production of “The Taming of the Shrew” some years ago along with his wife, Cynthia. The play’s plot centers on a famously abrasive, but comic and ultimately harmonious, courtship.

In addition to “Taming,” the outdoor production will offer excerpts from “Hamlet,” “The Comedy of Errors,” “The Tempest,” “Macbeth,” and “Twelfth Night.”

Like other summer performing arts programs this year, the innovative show grew from the uncertainties of advance planning during a pandemic

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“Gazebo Players had to decide what to do this summer in March, while the pandemic was still raging and it was unclear when performance restrictions would be lifted,” said Small, the group’s treasurer and Bird Park liaison. “We decided there was no way to mount a full production this year. Even if restrictions were lifted by July, there was no way we were going to be able to rehearse in the public schools starting in May as we have done every other year.”

Staging scenes from shows produced by the community theater troupe permitted subgroups of two to four actors to direct and rehearse themselves. Performing scenes separately (and simultaneously) would serve to divide the full audience into smaller units for COVID safety spacing.

The format also allows directors and actors of previous productions to choose favorite scenes and roles for an encore performance. The scenes run from 10 to 15 minutes. The repeated enactments give time for audience members to stroll from one setting to another. And the park is roomy enough to allow the scenes to be staged far enough apart to prevent noise interference between them. The productions will run six to eight times in the course of the two-hour scheduled time frame. In total, Small said, 13 performers will take part.

“Like much of Shakespeare’s dialogue,” Small said, “there’s a double meaning — short pieces, short pants.”

The only potential show-stopper is weather.

“If it rains we have to cancel,” Small said, because there is no practical alternative to the outdoor setting.

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“Shakespeare in Shorts” is free. Bird Park’s largest parking lot is located on Polley Lane and the park advises people to use 135 Polley Lane for their GPS. Those who need a level entrance are asked to use the lot next to 3 Pleasant St. or the one at 55 Rhoades Ave.

For more information about Francis William Bird Park, visit thetrustees.org.

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.