The play's the thing in Volunteer Park

Hang out with musketeers, mad Scots, ladies disguised as gentlemen and shipwrecked sailors on a magic island. That's right, the Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival will make its return this weekend.

Once again, Theater Schmeater, Wooden O, GreenStage, Young Shakespeare Workshop and Troupe du Jour are converging on Volunteer Park for a full weekend of entertainment. For even the most casual theatergoer, the weekend promises a lot of fun with the classics for audiences of all ages.

"When you compete with the beauty of nature, you have to have very visual storytelling," said Vanessa Miller, who plays Lady Macbeth in Wooden O's production of Shakespeare's Scottish play. "We encourage small children to come to the show. I remember that the second year [of Wooden O's plays in the park], we were doing 'A Comedy of Errors' and a pair of 3-year-old twins saw it. They could follow the basic plot [the "errors" come from sets of twins switching places] and they loved it."

Miller has been with Wooden O since the company was formed in 1993. Each summer, the troupe presents the Bard's plays in parks throughout King County.

Keeping with their tradition of doing a tragedy and a comedy, Wooden O will present "Macbeth" and "Twelfth Night" this year.

For "Macbeth," Wooden O director Sheila Daniels wanted to convey a sense of the play's medieval world and the windswept moors and chilly castles of Scotland.

There's a lot of drumming, that sets the tone, and scaffolding, to give it that sense of loneliness, and "Twelfth Night" sees the return of many veteran Wooden O actors in this comedy about a young lady, Viola, masquerading as a man and courting another lady for her employer.

GreenStage also picked a Shakespeare comedy for their entry, "The Tempest." One of Shakespeare's final plays and often seen as his retirement announcement, shipwrecked sailors encounter enchanted spirits, a wizard and his daughter.

Returning students from the Young Shakespeare Workshop, a non-profit organization, will present "As You Like It," the Bard's romantic comedy set in the Forest of Arden. Like "Twelfth Night," there's a lady dressed as a gentleman and some confusion before it all resolves happily.

New to the festival, Troupe Du Jour plays with Shakespeare's favorite themes in Bryan C. LaPorte's "An Elizabethan Serial." In LaPorte's play, a young woman with theatrical ambitions pretends to be a boy playing a girl. Add a romantic interest, a ghost and a meddling widow to the mix, and the whole thing sounds like something that Will would have enjoyed.

For their summer outdoor fun, Theatre Schmeater picked Alexander Dumas' most famous swashbuckler, "Three Musketeers."

"I love it when the hero swoops in and saves the day," said director Beth Peterson.

David Richmond's adaptation of the novel captures some of Peterson's favorite Musketeer memories.

"The plot focuses on getting the queen's diamonds back from Buckingham and foiling Lady De Winter's villainy," she said. "And there's that terrific opening when D'Artagnan first arrives in Paris and challenges all three of the Musketeers to a duel, one after the other."

To cast the play, Peterson looked for actors who were comfortable with swordplay and "really speak the dialogue of the period."

The show is not just about the boys and their toys, said Peterson. She emphasized that villainous Lady De Winter is "one of the great female characters in literature."

Like the rest of the participants, Peterson and her actors have had many discussions about the "elements" that can intrude on outdoor shows.

"Park shows have the built-in difficulty of being slaves to the weather," Peterson said. "But there's other stuff too. When we were rehearsing outside, we had a jogger who just ran right through a scene. So we had to decide what to do if something like that happens."

The decision was that the Musketeers, being very polite gentlemen, will doff their hats and bow to intruders in keeping with the period.

All the participants hope that the audiences will come and sample more than one play. "The more theaters at the festival the better," Miller said. "It's such a pleasure to work with the other companies and pool our resources and strengths. And we're all really different. We all have our different way of approaching theater, of telling a story."

And if a gentleman in a feathered hat bows to you, you're in the scene! Sit down and enjoy the show.

"The Three Musketeers" plays July 15, 16, and 17 at 4:30 p.m at Volunteer Park. Theater Schmeater will also do repeat performances of "The Three Musketeers" through Aug. 6 at Volunteer Park. For a complete list of times, see their Web site at

GreenStage's "Tempest" can be seen at 7 p.m. on July 16 and at 2 p.m. on July 17.

Young Shakespeare Workshop's "As You Like It" can be seen at 11 am on July 16. Troupe DuJour's "Elizabethan Serial" plays July 17 at noon. Wooden O's "Twelfth Night" can be seen at 2 p.m. on July 16 and Wooden O's "Macbeth" plays at 7 p.m. on July 17.

To find out more about the festival as well as links to the companies involved, check out Signs will be set up in the park to direct audiences to the performance spaces.

Rosemary Jones writes about arts and entertainment for the Capitol Hill Times. She can be reached at

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