Indy Shakes Presents Free “As You Like It” In White River State Park
Indianapolis Shakespeare Company (Indy Shakes for short), formerly the Heartland Actors’ Repertory Theatre, offers a modern take on Shakespeare’s classic comedy—sans the stodginess.
If you came for the pumpkin pants, As You Like It director Ryan Artzberger is sorry to disappoint you.
“There will be no pumpkin pants and tights in As You Like It,” says the veteran Shakespeare actor and first-time director. But beer? Strongly encouraged. And not just your run-of-the-mill suds—a special Sun King “As You Like It” Belgian-style Blonde Ale, available from the brewery’s beer truck.
And with a legion of food trucks, a gentle Indiana breeze, and a gorgeous White River sunset backdrop, if they’re not careful, even Shakespeare skeptics might enjoy themselves. The Indianapolis Shakespeare Company’s free production of Shakespeare’s beloved comedy, running July 27–29 at 8 p.m. in White River State Park, is a strictly non-straitlaced, modern-dress affair.
But what if I’m too stupid for Shakespeare?
Indy Shakes producing artistic director Diane Timmerman understands. The acting and voice virtuoso spent her first college Shakespeare audition baffled by the Bard’s “thee”s and “thou”s.
“It was dreadful,” she says. “I had no idea what I was saying.”
But then she had an epiphany: Shakespeare’s “fancy, highfalutin, complicated” language? Not so different from her own.
“Once I realized that I could understand it, and that anyone can understand it, then it became my mission to share that with everybody,” she says. “Once you unlock the key of Shakespeare, it becomes a joy to play.”
It’s that joy that’s at the heart of Indy Shakes.
Although the professional actors of the Heartland Actors’ Repertory Theatre, now in its 11th season, began by producing contemporary plays in 2006, they soon discovered their true passion: free summer Shakespeare. After going Shakespeare-exclusive, HART rebranded to Indianapolis Shakespeare Company in April to better reflect the company’s focus (and after one too many mix-ups with the Heartland Film Fest).
Despite the name change, the core tenet of HART remains: free, accessible community theater.
“Nine to 14 percent of our audiences over the past several years have been first-time theatergoers,” Timmerman says. “People who otherwise couldn’t afford to take their whole family out to the theater, or who might think Oh, Shakespeare’s not really my thing, find our festival atmosphere very inviting.”
The production makes extra efforts to be accessible, says Artzberger, the Indiana Repertory Theatre veteran and Juilliard alum making his directorial debut on the White River stage. Though he’s in his first go-round as a director, he’s no stranger to As You Like It. He’s acted in three productions of the play, which he says has given him a thorough understanding of the play’s nuances, from soliloquies to songs.
“Even people who maybe don’t quite know what one or two of the words mean, they know what the person means,” he says. “It’s like if you watch an argument in a language you don’t speak—you can tell what’s going on.”
Timmerman can attest to that.
“I have friends who don’t like Shakespeare, or who think Shakespeare’s boring, but when they come to an Indy Shakes production, they’re like, ‘Oh, I understood that; that was hilarious!’” she says.
And if this isn’t your first time around the Bard block? Shakespeare aficionados, rejoice—Timmerman promises Indy Shakes will stick to the wordsmith’s original language. But that doesn’t mean audiences will be mosquito chow four hours after sunset.
“We cut it down a bit because we found that running times are too long for contemporary audiences,” Timmerman says. “We like to keep our productions under two hours.”
So spread your wicker baskets on a blanket on the grassy lawn, or settle into one of the free beach chairs. Grab a beer, and relax under the summer stars. Oh, and don’t forget sunglasses—Timmerman says the sun shines directly in the audience’s eyes as it sets over the White River.
And don’t worry if you miss a pun or two.
“Only Shakespeare scholars know every single word of Shakespeare,” Timmerman says. “But if it’s played well by talented people who really understand what the language means, then everybody understands it.”
Indy Shakes will stage three performances of As You Like It in White River State Park July 27, 28, and 29 at 8 p.m. (pre-show music and food trucks begin at 6 p.m.). Timmerman recommends arriving before 7:30 p.m. to snag the best lawn seats. Premium table seats are available for $15 for the Thursday preview performance and $25 for the Friday and Saturday dates.