Ah, summer … beautiful weather, baseball and Shakespeare!
I spent the better part of my childhood in Santa Clara, growing up in a typical suburban paradise with lots of other baby boomers. The boys on the street that were around my age spent every summer day playing baseball. We played Little League until it ended in June, we played catch, we played pick-up games in the street, and we played baseball at our neighborhood park.
In the summer of my 13th year, the mother of one of my friends decided that she would become a sort of one-woman recreational guide, packing us into the family station wagon and taking three or four of us on outings. One of these outings was to see a William Shakespeare play at the Lifeboat Theatre on the Santa Clara University campus, where a newly formed group was staging a season of the Bard’s work.
I had never seen a Shakespeare play, but I was interested because it sounded interesting and because it was at night—and darkness prevented us from playing baseball. The play was not exactly light fare. We saw “King Lear,” one of Shakespeare’s last and darkest plays. But it was a magnificent occasion for me. I can still see that play in my mind. Other than baseball, I had never felt such a strong emotional response to anything before that night.
I was hooked right then and there. It was only fitting that as a freshman in high school I was invited by a teacher to be in the annual Shakespeare play—my first play. After four years in the US Navy, I attended the University of California. I saw an ad in the paper about auditions for the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival. I auditioned and performed in three of the four plays that season in the beautiful John Hinkel Park Amphitheatre. Shakespeare in the Park was magical and I was hired the following year to run the company.
I left professional theatre after producing 14 of Shakespeare’s plays and acted in four of them. I still have a passion for the Bard’s work, and for seeing performances in an outdoor setting—especially in a park. I consider it one of the joys of life. My story does have a point, though. San Joseans have an opportunity to experience this magnificent and unique art form here in July.
Shady Shakespeare Theatre Company will be performing its season opener, “The Twelfth Night,”easily the Bard’s most popular comedy, from July 5-21 at Willow Street Frank Bramhall Park (Willow Street & Camino Ramon). Shady Shakespeare Theatre Company has been around for more than a decade and it specializes in outdoor productions. You can find more details and get tickets at the company’s website.
Shakespeare in the Park is family entertainment at its best. It is a communion with nature and poetry and magic. Enjoy.
James P. Reber is the executive director of San Jose Parks Foundation, a veteran nonprofit entrepreneur and experienced special event planner and producer. He can be reached at [email protected] or 408.893.PARK.