If you fell asleep in English class when your teacher made you read “Macbeth,” well, fie upon thee.

Away, I say.

Get thee hence to Westbrook’s Riverbank Park, where methinks you’ll find redemption at the Westbrook Shakespeare Festival. This weekend and next, the Naked Shakespeare company, presented by Acorn Productions, will hold outdoor performances of “As You Like It” and “Romeo and Juliet” in the park.

But soft! There is more, my liege.

The plays are free (verily, donations will be accepted), and will include a musical prologue featuring a guitar and mandolin playing music contemporary to Shakespeare.

The audience is welcome to bring a picnic or buy a boxed dinner from Blue Burrito, which is preparing food especially for the event. Other local restaurants, including Portland Pie Co. and the Frog and Turtle, will be offering specials afterward.

Betwixt the performances, at 3:45 p.m. May 15, 22 and 23, the touring ensemble of the Maine Gay Men’s Chorus will be in the park’s gazebo singing a preview of their upcoming June concerts “Bards and Boy Bands,” including a new theatrical work based on Shakespearean song.

Forsooth, ’tis beginning to look like the season of Shakespeare. The Freeport Recreation and Community Education program will be holding “Shakespeare Bootcamps” in June and July. The boot camps are two-week sessions that give children the chance to take acting classes and put on a Shakespearean performance for friends and family. That will be followed by the premiere of “The Tempest” Aug. 3-6 in L.L. Bean’s Discovery Park.

Michael Levine, producing director at Acorn Productions, said the idea behind the outdoor performances of “Romeo and Juliet” and “As You Like It” in Westbrook is to remove some of the barriers that keep people from going to the theater and vouchsafe them a more invigorating experience than they had in high school.

“Part of what we do is to engage the audience directly,” Levine said. “Instead of presenting to the audience, we actually converse with them and move around the audience, so it’s a very informal kind of atmosphere. Also, to be perfectly frank, by having it outdoors people can move on if they get bored. So they’re not trapped. We hope that will make people more likely to give it a shot.”

“Romeo and Juliet,” directed by Karen Ball, will be shown weekend afternoons at 2 p.m. This tragic love story has been abridged substantially to a 90-minute performance.

“As You Like It” is also a love story, but a happier one. The comedy begins when Orlando and Rosalind meet and fall in love, but neither realizes the other is smitten. The play is directed by Michael Howard and has also been trimmed, but not as heavily as “Romeo and Juliet.” It will run about two hours with intermission.

Sets and costumes will be minimized in the outdoor productions — not only for practical reasons, but so the audience can focus on Shakespeare’s words.

“The text is just really beautiful,” Levine said, “and if people will actually just listen to the text, it’s very enlightening about the human condition.”

The experience of an outdoor performance is just as fun, and sometimes as thrilling for the actors as it is for the audience.

“There’s definitely a sense of excitement, of doing something that’s a little more dangerous,” said Laura Graham, who will play Rosalind in “As You Like It.” “You never quite know what’s going to happen when you get out there.”

It’s also a great way to expose kids to Shakespeare.

Stephanie Ross, who will be playing Celia in “As You Like It,” directs the drama program at Massabesic Middle School in Waterboro and has seen firsthand what happens when children fall in love with the Bard.

Last year, when Naked Shakespeare produced “Richard II,” she said, kids actually started watching the play from the nearby playground.

“Really, with Shakespeare, it was not meant to be read,” Ross said. “It was meant to be seen.”

Levine beseeches parents to expose their younger children to Shakespeare, ere they are turned off by it when they’re older. It’s like exposing their malleable brains to a foreign language.

“It’s less intimidating,” Levine said, “and easier to handle as an adult, if you’ve already gotten your ear around it as a kid.”

Zounds! Prithee make plans to see the plays on the morrow.

 

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

[email protected]