‘Guerrilla’ Shakespeare in John Hinkel Park

Puck in the “guerrilla” A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

A group of UCLA acting students, who have been living communally in Berkeley for the summer, will stage a “guerrilla” performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream this weekend at the amphitheater in John Hinkel Park.

The group of 24 actors and crew are hoping to bring Shakespeare back to its roots by performing for free in an open-air setting.

“We’re doing the whole thing uncut, which is not done very much any more,” said Sam Gibbs, the director. “Our goal is to get Shakespeare out to the people.”

The group, which calls itself The Free Theatre, also aspires to be as democratic as possible, said Gibbs. Any member of the ensemble who comes to a rehearsal is invited to give feedback and suggestions.

“They can help shape the show,” said Gibbs. “It’s a communal decision making process.”

Parts of the play will be set in “a surrealistic version of the modern Bay Area,” said Gibbs. The part in the forest will be set in the “subconscious of the Bay Area.”

To get audiences in the mood for Shakespeare’s play about the marriage of the Duke of Athens, Theseus, and the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta, the cast will serve dinner at 6:30 pm, immediately before the 7 pm opening. “It’s not so much of a ‘nutritious’ dinner but an atmospheric dinner, to develop the world of Athens,”  said Gibbs.

The group is mostly made up of current and former students in the UCLA acting program, although there are actors from different programs as well. The group started rehearsing A Midsummer’s Night Dream two months ago in LA, said Gibbs. About three-quarters of the group moved into a house on Grant Street at the start of the summer. To stir up interest in the play, the actors dressed up in costumes and strolled down Shattuck Avenue last Saturday, handing out flyers about the performance.

The play will be performed tonight, tomorrow and Sunday at 7 pm at John Hinkel Park. (Dinner is a half hour earlier.) On Wednesday, July 28, the play will be performed at 7:30 pm at the Dunsmuir-Hellman Historic Estate in Oakland. It will return to John Hinkel Theater on Thursday, July 29 and Saturday July 31.

The group is looking for a place to stage a sunrise performance on July 30

The park was built on land donated to Berkeley in 1918 by John Hinkel, a local capitalist and philanthropist who lived on Channing Way.

For more information, visit The Free Theatre’s Facebook page.

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  • Jane Tierney

    So happy to see theater again performed in this park. Annette Bening once performed here, among other notables. This is a gem of a park that deserves revitalization. A terrific place to go on hot days (yeah, I know we don’t get that many.) The amphitheater and the waterfalls are a gift to every Berkeley resident. Check it out!

  • Diane

    @Jane: The Shotguns perform here every summer. And there’s also opera there. So it does get lots of use to stage events.

    This looks cool though…

  • Jane Tierney

    There was construction work in the area that prevented use for some time. I was referring to that, I should have made it more clear. We see Shotgun every year.

  • Thank you, Francis D., for posting about this. The show was sparsely attended and, as much as I enjoyed the intimacy, it deserved a larger audience. These kids have got something. It’s a great rendition of the play.

    Without wishing to give too much away, I’ll say this: Midsummer Night’s Dream is kind of a romp. It includes, famously, a “play within a play” that lampoons and also, subtly ennobles the dramatic arts. This performance frames the play in a dramatic improv. — the “dinner” (fruit, bread) served beforehand, the off-“stage” performance during intermission, the director-cum-character, and the after-performance mingling.

    As audience for Midsummer’s, arriving we are encouraged to begin imagining ourselves guests at the wedding, so that when the play within the play within the play arrives – Shakespeare’s script about the strengths and ludicrous aspects of theater hit home.

    The love tangle among our troubled four young people contains some great ensemble work and individual performances to bring out some dark feminist humor and poignancy.

    There is some broad, bawdy, campy sexuality wielded deftly and mostly with a sharp point but in a few instances and running gags that are just (good) cheap laughs adding punctuation to the flow.

    Music is effectively used throughout, sneaking in and out of conscious attention without distracting, giving most of the entire show a rhythm and emotional contour.

    The full space – stage, audience seats, and surrounding parts are used to great effect. Especially acoustically but also visually it’s a very 3D performance that rewards sharp attention to noise from all direction and motion in the periphery of one’s vision.

    It’s a very physical performance with some segments having a strong dance element, others mild violent passion, and both with insistent sexuality.

    Basically, it works very well.

    Flawless show? No. I noticed about two scenes that, in my opinion, could use some polish – they’re just reading the script rather than weaving it into the larger structure they’ve built. And while the intensity of the performance was, overall, great – I can’t help but think that a larger audience would have charged them up more and to good effect.

    Anyway, one of the best nights out I’ve had in a long time. And, as one of my companions smiling said: “Worth every penny.”

  • Andy Sowers

    Master Lord,

    Your sharp eye is much appreciated
    For sometimes things get understated,
    Misconstrued, or underestimated.

    People doubt that plays from ages past
    Have any bearing on our current mass
    Of Hulu-Hoops and U-Tubes knotting fast.

    To FREE them from their viral addiction,
    We bring a form of stranger fiction
    And words like yours are ammunition.

    Thanks, and Gramercy too…

    Eternally yours,
    -Thisbe ;-)

  • Thank you.

    I can not match you in verse
    or speak in rhythm or such rhyme
    just whistle at the art diverse
    across this wood we meet in time