A touring Midwest theater company is continuing its goal of bringing William Shakespeare to audiences of all backgrounds with a free Pekin performance of the comedy “The Taming of the Shrew” in early June.
Stone Soup Shakespeare, a nonprofit Shakespeare company, travels throughout the Midwest performing free and family friendly Shakespeare shows. It will perform “The Taming of the Shrew” at 6 p.m. on June 3, at Mineral Springs Park in Pekin.
Set in the Wild West for this interpretation of the famous play, “The Taming of the Shrew” follows Bianca Minola, who finds her life linked to her stubborn sister Katherina’s trials and tribulations in love as Bianca cannot marry until her old sister marries first. Beautiful Bianca has her pick of suitors; however many find her sister Kate to be too much. When marriage looks hopeless for Bianca, a stranger finds Kate fascinating, and suddenly, Kate may have found her perfect match in love.
“I find that the more I work on his plays the more intricate and delightful the stories become,” said Julia Stemper, artistic director and actress with Stone Soup. “I want to share the fun I have with his words with others.”
Stemper’s idea for a touring Shakespeare company took shape in graduate school, she said. She enjoyed exploring the “Romeo and Juliet” balcony scene so much that she wanted to see what the full play would look like.
“I literally asked my parents if a bunch of friends and I could crash for three weeks to rehearse and put on a play and if they would please feed us,” said Stemper. “They said ‘yes.’”
And Stone Soup Shakespeare Company was born.
It’s important to the company to bring theatre to audiences not otherwise familiar with Shakespeare’s work. Director Eric Mercado became involved with Stone Soup Shakespeare because of his love for the stories but also because he “loves that Stone Soup is focused on bringing (Shakespeare’s) works to communities who may have little access to professional theatre.”
Stemper wants to stay true to the initial goal of forming the company.
“Shakespeare’s stories were meant to be performed,” Stemper said. “They aren’t museum pieces. They are living stories with complicated and fun characters. They are fast paced and cobbled together. They are messy and not always tied up neatly. That’s real. Life isn’t tied up.”
The company performs Shakespeare’s works with a twist, adding a new setting complete with props and characteristics specific to that setting. For “Taming of the Shrew,” the company chose the Wild West after working with a group of seniors in Nashville, Tenn., who suggested the Wild West would make an interesting setting for the play. The suggestion resonated with the company.
“There is a hyper masculine culture in the world of the play that is mirrored in the Wild West,” said Mercado. “So it is an ideal fit for the play and right in keeping with the theme of our season ‘For the people by the people.’”
The company also emphasizes the importance of storytelling and connecting Shakespeare’s works of long ago to audiences today. While “The Taming of the Shrew” features a Wild West setting, the company looks for ways to make every show accessible to all audiences.
“We look for a setting that is bold and identifiable, which makes it easier for audiences to be transported and makes the world of Shakespeare’s more tangible for them,” Mercado said.
Stone Soup likes to approach “Shakespeare’s writings as if they were new scripts, looking at them with fresh eyes and how they impact today’s audience,” stated the company’s website, www.stonesoupshakespeare.com.
Mercado enjoys this approach and it was part of his interest in joining the company as a director.
“The company approaches Shakespeare’s plays as if they were new works, which is exciting for me as a director, because I get to reimagine and rethink these classic works,” he said.
Some skeptics of Shakespeare may think of him as just material for the classroom, but Mercado believes that is not the case.
“Shakespeare was written to be performed,” Mercado said. “His work is challenging to read, even for us, but when you see it brought to life onstage, it offers you a whole new experience of the text.”
Shakespeare teaches us about real life, Stemper said.
“These stories teach us about love and war and family and problem solving, and we need that,” she said.
Stone Soup’s show is free, but the company encourages people to bring a nonperishable item for donation as all shows partner with local food banks.