About Shakespeare in the Parks
|The Tempest, Poker Jim Butte, Birney, MT|
July 2009The mission of Montana Shakespeare in the Parks is to make quality, live theatrical productions of Shakespeare and other classics accessible to communities in Montana and surrounding states with an emphasis on underserved, rural areas who would not otherwise have this opportunity. All performances are offered free, making Shakespeare in the Parks available to everyone. The company's oldest educational program, Shakespeare in the Schools, complements the education of young people by providing a complete production of one of Shakespeare's plays along with workshops that enhance their understanding and appreciation of Shakespeare's works. In 2008, the Company introduced MONTANA SHAKES!, a program designed specifically for elementary schools which provides an entertaining and interactive introduction to Shakespeare at a time when students are most receptive to learning. All three are professionally produced theatrical outreach programs of Montana State University's College of Arts and Architecture.
HistoryTaming of the Shrew, Poker Jim Butte, Birney, MT
July 1974Montana Shakespeare in the Parks (MSIP) opened its first season in the summer of 1973. The amateur acting company was comprised of a mixture of students and community members and was founded by Dr. Bruce Jacobsen. The company performed Shakespearean scenes only and the season consisted of thirteen performances in seven cities in Montana. The goal was to bring Shakespeare directly to the people of Montana who would not otherwise have the opportunity with an emphasis on underserved rural communities. The following summer, two full productions (The Taming of the Shrew and The Merchant of Venice) were mounted by a paid professional company and staff. The season doubled to include 26 performances in 18 cities and the Montana Shakespeare in the Parks Company as we have come to know it was born.
Since that time, MSIP has performed over 2,250 times to nearly three quarter of a million people becoming a mainstay of Montana culture. The company's contribution to the cultural fabric of Montana and its unique ability to serve the most remote rural areas of the region has been chronicled by Montana PBS, NBC Nightly News, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and many others. In 1991, the company was named the recipient of the Montana Governor's Award for the Arts, the highest honor that can be bestowed on an arts organization in our state.
In 1993, MSIP launched its first educational outreach program in response to a growing interest from schools throughout the state. Shakespeare in the Schools (SIS) has grown from an initial pilot project featuring a presentation of Shakespearean scenes by a team of only two actors literally performing in front of “two sticks and a banner&rduo; to a full 75-minute production of a Shakespearean play performed by eight professional actors, complete with full costumes and set. SIS offers a 10-week tour to middle schools and high schools in communities throughout Montana and northern Wyoming. The company's educational mission is to expose students to Shakespeare as he intended; in a live theatrical performance. Post-show workshops complete the experience by helping students to better understand his language and themes and how they are relevant and vital to today's students. SIS is the only professional theatre company that brings an educational Shakespeare program directly into Montana's schools and serves over 10,000 students, teachers and community members each year with an emphasis on small, under-served rural communities.
In the spring of 2008, MSIP initiated a 3-week pilot project specifically designed for elementary schools entitled MONTANA SHAKES! This program introduced Shakespeare's language to K-5th grade students in an interactive, non-threatening, entertaining format with a 30-minute play featuring scenes from A Midsummer Night's Dream performed by a company of three professional actors. Following the performance, students took part in a “talk back” session with the acting company before breaking into age appropriate hands-on workshops in the areas of design; using a costume trunk and puppetry, verse; in a workshop entitled “Green Eggs and Hamlet” and a stage combat/movement workshop that complemented the performance the students had just experienced with clowning techniques. Based on the extraordinary success of the first season, in the spring of 2010 the company remounted it as an 8-week tour serving 40 elementary schools in Montana and northern Wyoming. The response again was enthusiastic and the tour is now an annual event.
From its humble beginnings in 1973, Shakespeare in the Parks has grown from a limited summer tour by a very small company of dedicated artists with an annual budget of less than $15,000 to a year round touring company managed by five permanent staff members and a small army of seasonal employees whose annual budget is now nearly $700,000. The company serves the entire state of Montana as well as communities in the surrounding states of North Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho and Washington and has become one of Montana State University's best known and most effective outreach programs.
A message from the artistic director...Artistic Director, Joel JahnkeYears ago, as a new artistic director, I was urged by the company to visit some of the smaller communities on tour because, they said, “these places are the heart and soul of what Montana Shakespeare in the Parks is all about.” One early visit was to Birney, Montana, a remote community in Eastern Montana, population 17, sandwiched between the Custer National Forest and the Cheyenne Indian Reservation. After a six hour drive from Bozeman across increasingly dusty roads, I crested the hill and laid eyes on this remarkable place. There were two small kids sitting next to the mailbox, clearly waiting for something with delicious anticipation. When asked, they told me they “were waiting for the Shakespeare”. I knew then that I was a part of something greater than myself and very special indeed.
I return to Birney whenever I can to see our performances there on the top of Poker Jim Butte and am continually amazed that quality Shakespeare performances can be taken directly to the people in such a remote and beautiful setting. And Birney is just one example of what happens every summer in sixty or so communities under the Big Sky. We are dedicated to bringing high quality work by talented artists, who see something greater than themselves, to the greatest audiences in the world who otherwise would not have this amazing opportunity.
If you've seen Montana Shakespeare in the Parks, you know what I mean. If you haven't, I invite you to do so. You'll be glad you did. I'll look forward to seeing you, somewhere down the road, “waiting for the Shakespeare”.
Montana Shakespeare in the Parks
Featured Alum:Original Music Andrew Hansen
Andrew Hansen has been writing music since he was 7. His music was first heard in the MSU Underground Theater production of "Minute Waltz" in 1990 and in MSU student...
MSU mascot, Spirit the Bobcat,
MSU campusAs the State's land-grant institution, a major component of Montana State University's mission is to serve communities by integrating learning, discovery and engagement and there are few programs that exemplify MSU's outreach effort better than Montana Shakespeare in the Parks. With three separate tours that encompass the entire state from border to border and beyond, Shakespeare in the Parks serves literally the entire state of Montana with programs for citizens from ages five to ninety-five. Shakespeare in the Parks is proud of its long history of service to the region and equally proud to represent Montana State University with these quality professional theatrical outreach efforts. Go Bobcats!