William Shakespeare, history’s preeminent playwright, has gotten the Hudson County treatment every year for the past 19 years.
The Hudson Shakespeare Company, with a home base at St. Mary’s High School on Second Street in Jersey City, annually performs productions of Shakespeare’s plays outdoors during the summer, and offers several productions (Shakespearean and other titles) during the spring at high schools.
With a core group of 10 actors that expands to 13 for some presentations, the company has scheduled productions outdoors this summer in Jersey City and Hoboken.
Upcoming is the battle-of-the-sexes comedy “Much Ado About Nothing,” this Monday, July 19, at Sinatra Park on Sinatra Drive on the Hoboken waterfront. Next month comes “The Tempest,” at Sinatra Park on Aug. 2 and 9 and at Van Vorst Park on Montgomery Street in downtown Jersey City on Aug. 20. All performances start at 7 p.m. and are free of charge.
“You have to be prepared for people walking by with barking dogs, or skateboarding.” – Jon Ciccarelli
In some ways, the outdoor venues suggest one of The Bard’s most quoted lines: All the world’s a stage.
“Many times, actors are used to working in an intimate, indoor setting, but in this situation, if they are good actors, they can take what happens in the moment,” Ciccarelli said. “You have to be prepared for people walking by with barking dogs, or skateboarding.”
The play’s the thing
Performing under the sky and stars, the Hudson Shakespeare Company continues a tradition that dates back to performances during the 16th and 17th century.
The company was formed in 1992 by the late L. Robert Johnson, a Jersey City native who brought his knowledge and love of performing Shakespeare to Hudson County after seeing there was no theater group devoted to performing the literary maestro’s works. Johnson passed away in February.
Ciccarelli said the company has remained successful because they developed a following through their e-mail distribution list, and because of the attendees themselves.
“We even have a few groupies,” Ciccarelli said. “If someone sees us in Fort Lee, they may come also to Hackensack or drive all the way to Jersey City.”
Ciccarelli added, “I also think the attraction is a nice evening out to see productions with a lot of sword play, a lot of action.”
And Ciccarelli noted that “great word-of-mouth” also comes from seeing the rehearsals that the actors do in Van Vorst Park in Jersey City in the weeks leading up to the performance, usually in full costume.
He estimates that an average of 50 people attend the performances, where they are treated not just to a full-blooded rendering of some of the greatest plays in the English language – but sometimes the unexpected.
“One year, we were doing ‘Comedy of Errors’ and in a scene where one of the actors played drunk and talking boisterously, someone’s German shepherd starting barking and would not stop,” Ciccarelli said. “Being that he was a good actor, he incorporated the barking into the scene and told the dog to ‘Be Quiet!’ ”
Patrons are encouraged to bring a lawn chair or blanket, and in case of rain, the production will be moved to an indoor location if available or will be cancelled.
For more information, call (973) 449-7443, or visit hudsonshakespeare.homestead.com.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com.