Travel back in time during a performance by Syracuse Shakespeare-In-The-Park.

It all began during a lunch conversation more than two decades ago, when two couples, who both adored Shakespeare, realized there weren’t many opportunities to see his works performed outdoors in the Elizabethan tradition. So, they decided to create one. In 2003, Syracuse Shakespeare-In-The-Park presented its first show, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, in Thornden Park.

To this day, it is the only organization in Central New York that focuses exclusively on the famed playwright and poet.

“Our mission statement revolves around preserving Shakespeare’s language and making it accessible and available,” said Dan Stevens, the producing artistic director for Syracuse Shakespeare-In-The-Park. “We spend a lot of our preparation on being authentic with regard to both the use of language and the techniques of staging, so that what our audience in 2024 will experience is as similar to the Elizabethan experience of 1602 as we can make it. It helps us that we’re doing it outside, not in a school auditorium. The original plays were performed outside with all the ambient noise, with the crowd getting up and moving around, with a very elementary set. In the tradition of Elizabethan theatre, the actors bring the show on with them, and when they exit the stage, the show leaves. Nature is our scenery, and the sun provides our lighting.”

In the beginning, Syracuse Shakespeare-In-The-Park presented one show each summer. Now it does two: a tragedy the first two weekends in June and a comedy the second two weekends in August.

“We try to select something that references Shakespeare in some way, the period in which he lived, or his rivals,” said Stevens. “We gradually work our way through the canon; we try to do the more popular plays more frequently, but we would like to produce them all at some point.”

Syracuse Shakespeare-In-The-Park’s choices for 2024 are Hamlet and The Two Gentlemen of Verona (there is a short description of each in the box on the right). Both are free to the public, but donations are welcome. And be sure to bring a folding chair or a blanket to sit on.

“It’s a unique local opportunity, and I encourage everyone to check it out and see some of this classic literature being performed,” said Stevens. “It’s a lot more fun to watch it than it is to sit down and read it.”

Syracuse Shakespeare-In-The-Park.
Photo provided by Shakespeare-In-The-Park

Syracuse Shakespeare-In-The-Park’s Summer Shows

June 7–9 and 14–16
Up first is Hamlet, selected because of its popularity (Syracuse Shakespeare-In-The-Park did shorten it from four hours to a more manageable two hours and 15 minutes). The June show is typically performed on the grass, about 20 yards from the audience. “This creates a sense of intimacy,” said Stevens. “The actors can hear the reactions of the crowd.”

The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Aug. 2–4 and 9–11
For its second show, Syracuse Shakespeare-In-The-Park will present The Two Gentlemen of Verona, thought to be Shakespeare’s first play. “It doesn’t have the maturity of his more familiar scripts,” said Stevens. “There’s a lot of low comedy, a lot of word play, and a lot of clowning.” So, to make the show entertaining to its 2024 audience, the organization enlisted a former Ringling circus clown to teach the performers.

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Courtney Kless is the Editor in Chief of Family Times. Courtney is originally from Maryland. She earned her Master’s degree in Magazine, Newspaper and Online Journalism from Syracuse University. Courtney began her career as a sports journalist, then spent several years working in higher education, before joining the company in August 2019. She enjoys traveling, reading and hiking, and recently adopted a Labrador Retriever, Bailey.

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