Shakespeare in the Streets Comes to Clayton This Weekend
St. Louis Shakespeare Festival returns this Thursday, Sept. 18 though Saturday, Sept. 20, for the third annual Shakespeare in the Streets production, where local residents join professional actors to present a neighborhood-specific adaptation of a Shakespeare play. This year’s play, “Good in Everything,” was adapted from, “As You Like It,” by actress/playwright Nancy Bell. The story was partly inspired by Clayton’s historic voluntary desegregation program, which began in 1983 and went on to became the model for all suburban St. Louis school districts.
The subject of the play and the Shakespeare work it will be based on is determined only after months of research by Bell, who in this case spent a great deal of time at Clayton High School talking to students. In Bell’s story, a group from Clayton travels to St Louis city and experiences personal growth and unexpected romances as the two cultures encounter each other for the first time. At the end, the group returns to Clayton inspired to make both worlds better. “Clayton is like 90 percent white, but if you go into the high school it’s like the UN,” Bell says. “It’s incredibly diverse. The students are extremely idealistic and focused on social justice, equity, and changing the world. I was inspired by that.”
Bell, who also wrote the first two Shakespeare in the Street productions—“The New World,” performed on Cherokee street two years ago and last year’s Grove production, “Old Hearts Fresh,” (which garnered Bell the St. Louis Theatre Circle Award for Outstanding New Play)—says she’s encountered the issue of race and of class in each of the three neighborhoods she’s researched, so those issues naturally become part of the stories. So did the events in Ferguson affect her newest play?
“When Ferguson happened, we were just going into rehearsal and we did a lot of soul searching. Do we deal with Ferguson directly in the play? Should we make the reason why people are going into the city from Clayton relate to Ferguson? We ultimately decided the play as it was already…you know, it’s a romance between a young black man who lives in the city and a young white woman who lives in Clayton, and that was enough. So we didn’t have to make a special statement, we had already made the statement we wanted to make and we were going to follow through with it.”
Ultimately though, “Good in Everything” is a feel-good story that aims to entertain its audience. To that end, the hour-long free play also features live music by a string quartet from Clayton High School, as well as video projection mapping designed by St. Louisan DJ Raven Fox that will help create much of the magic that occurs in the story, such as when a character disappears in a puff of smoke, the air fills with paper airplanes, and when a goddess comes out of the sky at the end, so audiences can expect some thrilling theatrical experiences.
Shakespeare in the Streets shows are designed to be positive celebrations of St. Louis. “We have to really celebrate the beauty of the good things that are happening in our city, especially now,” Bell says. “It’s just something that we need and it’s something art can do.”
The free performances, Sept. 18-20, take place on Central Avenue, which will be closed to traffic from Forsyth to Maryland from 6-10 p.m. nightly; show time is 8 p.m. Parking will be available on the surrounding streets. Patrons are encouraged to bring their own chairs as seating will be limited. On Friday, Sept. 19, a discussion moderated by Focus St. Louis will follow the performance. For more information, visit the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis website.
Follow Christopher Reilly on Twitter @ChristoReilly