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OSP kicks off season with The Winter's Tale

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Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park (OSP) begins its 31st year with a commitment to its past and plans for substantial changes.

The season launches June 4 with William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. It’s often called one of The Bard of Avon’s most difficult to classify works, and this marks only the third time that the company has performed it.

The decision to open with this play signals that OSP is reaching deep into Shakespeare’s corpus in order to expand its offerings and its fan base.

Expanding repertoire

“This is a transitional year for us, as we have moved [our offices] into The Paseo and we have dreams to move up the street and build a theater at The Plunge [building],” said Michael Gibbons, OSP managing director. “We will also offer a modern play this season that is really unlike what we have done before.”

The company bookends its season with Shakespeare works and closes with Julius Caesar, but its July shows are George Bernard Shaw’s You Never Can Tell and David Davalos’ Wittenberg. The latter is a modern play with Shakespearean elements: Its protagonist is Prince Hamlet, who is attending his senior year at the University of Wittenberg, thus making this story a prequel to Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

History or religion nerds will recognize the play’s namesake and the city in which it is set as a reference to the place Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation. In fact, Luther is one of young Hamlet’s instructors.

The piece, set in 1517, examines topics that are still relevant today, including religion, philosophy, free will and personal accountability.

Gibbons said Shaw’s You Can Never Tell “is very Downton Abbey-esque.”

“It’s a period piece with all of Shaw’s expected humor,” he said.

Closing the season with Julius Caesar is by design, Gibbons said, “just in time for election season.”

Union made

OSP has four Actors’ Equity Association union members. One of them, Rick Nelson, directs Wittenberg.

Including Equity members is an important step in becoming a full-blown professional theater company, Gibbons said. Shakespeare in the Park is one of the smallest groups to work with Equity, but he hopes to change that as it continues to grow.

The union guarantees actors a pay rate based on the company’s size. Non-union actors and design-production crewmen also earn points toward Equity membership, which also benefits students enrolled at Oklahoma City University and the University of Oklahoma who work with OSP.

“They can actually graduate from their program with their Equity card,” Gibbons said, “and that puts them way ahead of other recent graduates when they start trying to break into the business.”

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Print headline: Come, capitano, The long history of Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park helps steer it into new territory and a new season.

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