Early in the rehearsal process for the Freeport Shakespeare Festival production of “The Tempest,” director Julie George-Carlson brought the cast to the outdoor stage at L.L. Bean and asked everybody to lie down, facing the sky.

“Close your eyes and listen,” she told them.

They heard many things: the sound of the wind in the trees, the slow grumbling of cars on Main Street, the chatter of shoppers outside the store.

Above all, they heard the call of the birds in the trees.

The moment was an exercise in immersion. George-Carlson wanted the actors and crew to acquaint themselves with the idea of performing outdoors and to become familiar with the natural and man-made environment that will be their home for the next week. She wanted them to be comfortable, at ease and loose.

The production of “The Tempest” is the inaugural offering of the Freeport Shakespeare Festival, a first-year effort that organizers hope will set the stage for an annual tradition.

The free show opens under the trees of L.L. Bean’s Discovery Park on Tuesday and runs through Friday night. It will begin in daylight and end in the dark.

It should be a spectacle — a faithful rendition of the Shakespeare classic with a large cast of professional actors, an original set with accents by light artist Pandora LaCasse and larger-than-life puppets created by the Figures of Speech Theatre.

All the elements of live theater will be at play, along with the uncertainty of the weather, the noise of Freeport, the mosquitoes — and yes, the calls and cries of resident birds.

“All along, there was never a question that it had to be outdoors and had to be free,” said George-Carlson. “Virtually all other Shakespeare festivals have an outdoor element to them, and we knew from the outset that we had to have that as well.”


In this summer of swelter, there is nothing hotter than Shakespeare.

In addition to Freeport, Fenix Theatre Company offers a lively, hilarious and free version of “Twelfth Night” at Deering Oaks in Portland with an A-list cast of local professional actors.

The Theater at Monmouth has two Shakespeare plays in repertoire this summer, and Acorn Productions has scheduled four “Naked Shakespeare” sessions at the Inn on Peaks Island through early September.

In Brewer, Ten Bucks Theatre closes its run of “Romeo and Juliet” at 4 p.m. today, outdoors at Indian Trail Park.

David Greenham, producing artistic director at Monmouth, says there is no more Shakespeare available to audiences now than before, but people seem to be more interested in it because of the spectacle that Shakespeare inspires.

“I think there is renewed interest in larger-cast plays,” Greenham said. “Budgets have caused a lot of regional theaters to have smaller casts and smaller-cast shows. There is something exciting about big productions, and something fun about the stage being full of people and lots of things to look at and to see and hear.”

Greenham especially applauds companies like Fenix and the Freeport festival for making Shakespeare available for free.

They have to do a lot of fundraising to pull it off, and he salutes them for their noble efforts.

“From my point of view, the more Shakespeare the merrier,” he said. “It’s really worthwhile, and I don’t feel like you have to know or feel comfortable with the Elizabethan language to know what’s going on. The language is such that the sounds of the words lead you to understanding. If you allow yourself to be bathed in the words, you can figure it out.”


In this age of Twitter and text messages, a renewed interest in hearing language well spoken is most welcome, said Rob Cameron, Fenix’s executive artistic director.

His company prides itself on presenting Shakespeare that is accessible for all people. At Deering Oaks, people show up with picnic dinners and lawn chairs, and lounge on a sloping hill that wraps around the performance area. There is no stage. Instead, Fenix uses the park’s wading pool as its set.

The 13 actors emerge from the trees and linger within view of the audience when they are not in a scene. It’s casual and fun, and conducive to a vibe that prepares the audience for anything.

Dogs come and go, sometimes walking right through the set. At one point during a performance early in the run of the show, actor Sally Wood walked to the back of the audience to cradle her baby when she was not performing. It’s a no-pressure atmosphere for a high-quality performance.

“We really try to include the audience as much as we can,” said Cameron, adding that the tradition of audience interaction goes back to Shakespeare’s days. “People can get up and chase their kids, answer their cell phones. It’s very unpretentious.”

Fenix has a budget of about $4,000 for “Twelfth Night.” That money comes through fundraising and sponsorships, and the company passes a hat at the end of the show. Supporters also may donate through the company’s website.

The outdoor aspect of the play forces some limitations. Cameron and director/actor Bryant Mason have whittled “Twelfth Night” down to about 90 minutes. It begins at 6:30 p.m., enabling people to leave the park while there is still daylight.

The nearest portable toilet requires a hike to the other side of the park. The actors perform without amplification, so some of their lines are lost to traffic, planes and other interferences.

It’s not perfect, Cameron acknowledged. But it is free.


The Freeport production of “The Tempest” will be less subject to uncertainties. Discovery Park is set up to accommodate large audiences — as many as 1,000 people are expected to attend each night. The actors will be amplified and will perform on a formal stage with an original set.

George-Carlson has a budget of $80,000 for this show, and is sparing nothing. She has a 17-member cast, a six-member children’s ensemble and a small percussion orchestra. She commissioned original music for the show, as well as the creation of puppets to round out the cast.

Many of her actors are local professionals. The sole actor from away is Dennis McLernon as Prospero. He is affiliated with the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, and has committed to Freeport for next summer, when he will direct “Twelfth Night.”

The Freeport Shakespeare Festival is an ambitious project, and George-Carlson is pleased with the support she has received from the community.

“The community has really gotten behind this,” she said. “Our donors and volunteers are committing to something they have never seen before. They are putting their trust in us for something that is going to change the face of the community. But we are a completely unknown element.”

Beyond becoming an annual event, George-Carlson hopes to turn it into a true festival, with multiple titles performed each year. She would like Freeport to become a destination for great theater in addition to its status as a retail magnet.

“The Tempest” will be presented in two acts, and will clock in at about two hours, plus an intermission. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is the weather. But even that is not a major concern. Because the play is set on a mysterious island, a little fog or rain could enhance the experience.

“We’re ready to go,” George-Carlson said. “Everybody is poised to succeed. We have set the bar really high. If this is our litmus test, we will pass with flying colors.”