Wheaton, Ill. – Wheaton Park District and Wheaton College has collaborated for Shakespeare in the Park since 2012, and while a production for this year is on hold due to construction in Memorial Park, the show will go on.
For many years, Wheaton College’s Arena Theater put on theater projects in the summer that combined the efforts and talents of current theater students and professional alumni. However, they wanted to expand those efforts and talents into Shakespeare in the Park as it exists today.
“I was driving by Memorial Park one really pretty day in the summer and was just struck at how great it would be for outdoor theater,” Wheaton College Program Director Andy Mangin said. “Not long after that, I presented at a function featuring the arts at Wheaton College and I happened to sit next to [former] Mayor Gresk at the dinner. He and I talked about this idea that I was beginning to think about and he said I needed to go to the Wheaton Park District.”
The Wheaton Park District saw the same vision for what this project could become. The college had a willing group of graduates and students, and a great partner with the park district, but it was still just an idea.
In 2012, they embarked on our first production, “As You Like It”, which was directed by Mark Lewis with music by Maggie Ritchie.
“We rehearsed that first summer with no idea what the turnout would be,” Mangin said. “We hoped 50 of our closest friends would turn out to see what we had done. We had hundreds that first night. We were scrambling to move speakers back so more people would be able to hear. Then, even more the next night. And it has been that way ever since.”
Since that first production they have sought to serve their students, the college and community with productions that they hope would make the Bard proud. Not only have they found an audience that is receptive to their work, but they’ve been able to create additional elements such as the pre-performance puppet show.
This year’s construction in Memorial Park – which includes a modernized band shell, a new path layout, a new larger Pétanque court that would also provide a location for tents during special events, and a designated memorial location – will begin around the same time that Shakespeare in the Park normally takes places, so Arena Theater will be taking the time to plan their 2020 performance and the many performances to come.
“Shakespeare in the Park is by far one of the most unique endeavors of the Wheaton Park District,” Superintendent of Marketing and Special Events Kristina Nemetz said. “Cultivating the arts in Wheaton was a long time goal of our Executive Director, Mike Benard. Through our partnership with Wheaton College we are able to bring an extremely high level of professional theater to Memorial Park. This event’s large local support and positive impact is one of the many things that highlighted our need to renovate and modernize Memorial Park. It will be a very big night for us when Wheaton College Arena Theater does their curtain call on our new band shell.”
Wheaton’s Shakespeare in the Park will be back at Memorial Park in August 2020.
Written by: Gina Catalano