Backyard Bard actors perform an abbreviated Shakespeare play at Seattle's Volunteer Park. Credit: Tiffany Doerr Guerzon
Backyard Bard is back! A program of Seattle arts organization GreenStage, Backyard Bard presents abbreviated versions of Shakespeare plays — free and outdoors — in various Seattle parks. Family-oriented shows are performed by just four actors, each one portraying multiple roles. The actors are accompanied by a guitar-playing minstrel.
This year's Backyard Bard plays are “Twelfth Night” and “The Tempest,” both directed by Ken Holmes. The shows last about an hour each and are appropriate for all ages.
Our family saw both plays during a Sunday matinee at Seattle's Volunteer Park.
“Twelfth Night” is a fun tale about mistaken identities and a love quadrangle; reliable Shakespeare themes. “The Tempest” takes place on an island, where an exiled duke and his daughter have become stranded. The duke learns magic and conjures a storm to wreck a passing ship, which brings more characters to the island. Fairies, monsters, magic, romance and comedy ensue.
Because the “theater” is a grassy field, the “stage” is right in front of the crowd. Sitting so close to the action obviously delighted the kids in the audience, and made it easier to see the actors’ facial expressions.
The actors change roles quickly by running behind a screen to switch costumes and they often interact with the audience. The same four performers act in both shows: Emily Huntingford, Marena Kleinpeter, Marissa Wyll and Rachel Taggart, each playing several roles. In typical Shakespeare style, actors portray both male and female parts. The composer-musician who plays the minstrel is Anamaria Guerzon.
Backyard Bard is a fun, kid-friendly introduction to Shakespeare and a great way to see a play — free, outdoors and with your whole crew.
Tips for families
Arrive early. There was a big crowd at the opening Sunday, and parking can be harder at smaller parks.
Pay attention to the announcements right before the play to find out where the restrooms are located.
Bring a blanket to spread out or low-backed chairs to sit in. If you bring higher chairs, plan to set them up at the very back so you don't block others' views.
Kids may not understand all of the dialog due to Shakespeare's old-fashioned and poetic language, but they will understand the physical comedy. We received a program that contained a short synopsis of both plays, and it helped to read them over beforehand.
We found the atmosphere very casual and family-friendly. Kids got up and moved around we saw lots of folks enjoying their picnic dinners. Bring your own picnic or snacks; there are no official concessions offered.
If you go...
Dates and times: Backyard Bard shows play select Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Aug. 14, 2021. Check the full schedule online.
Locations: The shows rotate through a wide range of Seattle Parks, including small neighborhood parks such as Salmon Bay Park, and larger city parks such as Volunteer Park. The schedule link clearly displays dates, times and locations.
Cost: Performances are free but bring some cash if you'd like to donate; they pass the hat after each show. GreenStage is a non-profit arts organization.
More Shakespeare in the Park: GreenStage also offers Shakespeare in the Park, a full-length Shakespeare play performed free at a few area parks. This summer's feature is "A Midsummer Night's Dream," directed by Taylor Davis. Shows run through Aug. 14 with multiple performances at Seattle's Volunteer Park, Lincoln Park and Magnuson Park, plus one performance on the Eastside at Fall City Park (Aug. 6) and one performance south of Seattle at Normandy Park's Marvista Park (Aug. 7).
The GreenStage performance calendar displays dates, times and locations of both Backyard Bard and Shakespeare in the Park shows.
South Sound Shakespeare in the park:
Metro Parks presents a free Shakespeare plays in Tacoma parks. "The Comedy of Errors" features slapstick physical comedy the kids will enjoy. The shows run 7–9 p.m.; no ticket or registration needed, just show up.
Free family-friendly summer performances: