LOS ANGELES – If it’s summer, it must be time for Shakespeare in the park. Cue the players from L.A.’s Independent Shakespeare Company, the city’s largest free Shakespeare festival which each summer makes its home at the Old Zoo in Griffith Park.
“She Stoops to Conquer” opened the season last night and will run through July 27. “MacBeth” will have its premiere on July 5, running through August 31, and “As You Like It” will run August 1 through September 1.
A comedy written not by the Bard but by 18th-century Irish playwright Oliver Goldsmith, “She Stoops to Conquer” follows wealthy countryman Mr. Hardcastle, who arranges for the marriage of his daughter, Kate, to Charles Marlow, the son of a wealthy Londoner. Marlow is comfortable around women from humble origins, but tongue-tied among the upper crust, so Kate “stoops to conquer” by masquerading as a maid to win him over.
“For the last ten years, we have had the extraordinary privilege of performing free Shakespeare in Los Angeles,” artistic director and principle performer Melissa Chalsma said in a statement. “Knowing that we are the first experience of Shakespeare (and even live theater) for so many young people is an honor, and we feel a responsibility to make the experience engaging, challenging, and memorable.”
To that end, the company offers audiences a pre-show workshop for each title, as well as a salon series of lectures and classes at the company’s winter home in nearby Atwater Village.
Support for the company comes mainly through donations and fundraisers like last spring’s “Vaudeville in the Park,” which guest starred actor John C. Reilly and the company’s house band, Dr. Pinch and the Pinchtones.
With humble beginnings in 1998, the Independent Shakespeare Company originated on New York’s Lower East Side but relocated in 2001 to Los Angeles, eventually finding a permanent home in the city’s Barnsdall Park. With only 14 people attending the group’s first performance, crowds grew to over 12,000 by 2009, necessitating yet another move, this time to their current location.
Last season the company had their biggest year yet, performing to over 38,000 patrons.