By Rachel Dunphy
The Vermont Shakespeare Company (VSC), a theater troop based in the Champlain Islands, performed for the first time in the Burlington area on the weekend of Aug. 17 as part of their fifth season of “Shakespeare in the Park.” This season’s production was “The Tempest,” a tale of love and vengeance on a mystical island. It is widely believed to be Shakespeare’s last play.
As the program name would suggest, the play was put on outdoors. The director of the show, John Nagle, and his wife Jena Necrason, the artistic director and actress, founded the VSC together in 2005 and chose Oakledge Park for their Burlington performances because, “We could have an amphitheater-like space but also have the backdrop of the lake and trees, as well as nearby restaurants and parking.” They feel that Shakespeare’s plays are perfectly suited for outdoor performance, especially “The Tempest,” which heavily utilizes natural imagery and takes place entirely outdoors.
There was no stage set for the show. The actors performed at the base of a natural slope, beginning in early evening and continuing the action of the play as the sun set slowly and quietly behind them. Most of the audience was too enraptured even to notice as the natural light waned and was subtly supplanted by theater lights behind them.
The play was uniquely interpreted with Celtic themes, with elements of Celtic art in the costumes, set, and original music, and the use of Gaelic language. It was also strengthened by the presence of off-stage characters, all of whom surrounded and actively observed the action through the play, and by the live music created by musical director Joanne Maffia.
In total, the VSC’s summer season consisted of seven shows (eight were scheduled, but one was cancelled due to rain) and is largely considered by both audiences and company members to have been a great success. “We moved an entire production to a second location, had our overall largest audience attendance of any season, got wonderful press, and the audience’s responses were wonderful. We feel our Burlington debut was exactly what we had hoped,” reported Nagle. The company feels they had a great introduction to this area and looks forward to “Vino and the Bard,” an event combining wine tasting and Shakespeare that they hope to put on in Burlington this fall.
The VSC is very ambitious and optimistic about the future. They hope to eventually transform the summer season into a month-long festival that “[becomes] a thriving, nationally recognized destination event… while continuing to bring thoughtful and accessible classical theater to Vermont theatergoers.”