This week marks the 10th year anniversary of the origin of Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks. PSIP was founded in 2005 by Jennifer Tober – who continues her work with the organization as Artistic Director today – with the primary goal of “providing the Steel City with excellent, energetic, entertaining and free Shakespeare.” Recent productions have included As You Like It in September 2014 and Romeo & Juliet in September 2013.
One of the things that makes Pittsburgh’s outdoor Shakespeare unique from similar festivals and production in other U.S. cities is the inclusion of a series of events that are not necessary theater-centric (some have an only tangential relationship to the works of Shakespeare). Some of this year’s events include: a fundraising dinner complete with an auction; a “Shakespeare happy hour”; a scavenger hunt and a Shakespeare trivia contest.
The play remains the thing, however. The highlight of the week was a full production of King Lear, which Jennifer Tober answered some questions about (while also elaborating on the “Week of Will” as a whole).
TP: This year’s full production is King Lear. Why this play, and what do you think it means to the Pittsburgh theater community to be able to access free Shakespeare?
JT: We chose King Lear because we love the play, and we wanted our friend and wonderful actor Ron Siebert to play King Lear. The director, Jeffrey Chips, has wanted to direct Lear for a while, and it just seemed right for this season (our 11th). It is a tragedy, of course, so we encourage audience members to bring a very large bottle of wine along with their picnics. (kidding). Lear is about dementia, family feuds, betrayal, familial loyalty, and about the love between a father and his daughters. Things timely for all of us in some way or another. Access to free Shakespeare should be a requirement – a budget line item – in every US city. There is nothing better than outdoor Shakespeare.
TP: Unlike the free Shakespeare events/festivals in some other cities, Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks includes many events that are not necessarily theater events or are directly related to the work of Shakespeare. What does PSIP hope to accomplish with these different kinds of events?
JT: We have recently become very ambitious what with our “Week of Will” – ending on April 27th with our BYOB Bring Your Own Bard reading night at the Te Cafe in Squirrel Hill. We try to reach as many audience members and other artistic companies as we can, and we love to collaborate with groups such as Poets Corner, Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project and Steel City Shakespeare. We also like to take Shakespeare and theater to surprising public places – Mellon square downtown, Franktuary, Social, the Shakespeare statue….we believe that art can and should happen everywhere.
TP: What do you hope will come out of this year’s PSIP, and what do you anticipate will change in future years?
JT: We hope for a patron to step forward and write us a very big check. Kidding! We hope to create a fantastic production that is seen and enjoyed by scores of people, to reach new audience members (including kids, who almost always love and understand our shows), and as always to foster a love for who we believe to be one of the greatest playwrights of all time. We hope to keep mining the plays for richer, deeper aspects; and of course, to grow our funding base as we forge ahead into our 11th season and beyond.
**Unfortunately due to technical difficulty, photos will be added at a later date.**