Free theater with Shakespeare in Clark Park’s ‘The Winter’s Tale’

Kyle Cassidy

Most actors don’t worry about a thunderstorm brewing in the middle of their monologue. But for one Philadelphia theater company, a downpour is just one of many things that could go awry.

“That’s part of the magic and why I’m attracted to doing Shakespeare in Clark Park,” says Bi Jean Ngo, who plays two roles in “The Winter’s Tale,” coming to the West Philly park next month for the annual free performances. “Being outdoors is exhilarating because you don’t know what the weather’s going to be like.

“You don’t know if a dog or a toddler will run through the park. You don’t know how big the audience will be. Performing Shakespeare in Clark Park, I think the joy is not knowing.”

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“The Winter’s Tale,” which runs July 29 to Aug. 2, is a particularly special event for the theater company. It’s their 10th anniversary and they aren’t holding back. As well as the cast of local actors, the production includes a newly formed chorus of local children ages 5 to 11.

“We had a day where we asked kids to come in and sing a song for us or tell a joke,” says first-time Shakespeare in Clark Park director Kittson O’Neill. “We asked them to bring their party trick. We also did a lot of theater exercises. That was a chance for us to see what kind of skills the children have that they may not even know they have.”

O’Neill doesn’t want to give all the details away, but the kids will be using artwork to help blend the set in with the activity of the park – which hopefully isn’t too bustling or stormy on production days. But no matter what, the Bard’s show must go on.

“’The Winter’s Tale’ is both a tragedy and a romantic comedy,” O’Neill says. “The first half of the play is a very gripping family drama about jealousy gone horribly awry. That’s where you begin the story. The world of the play transforms into this funny, magical, and very bucolic world.”

Queen vs. the pickpocket

Bi Jean Ngo plays two very different roles in “The Winter’s Tale.”

“The challenge is to create two completely different characters and have the audience buy into it,” she says. “Hermione is this elegant, intelligent, generous, and kindhearted queen who’s married to the King Leontes. Autolycus, he totally rips people off and he’s a pickpocket. He’s dishonest, but he’s also incredibly honest because he says what he means.”

And you don’t need to know a queen or a pickpocket to identify with the action.

“For me,” says O’Neill, “‘The Winter’s Tale’ is such a powerful play in that almost all of the characters are the type of character who you think, ‘Oh I know someone like that.”’

If you go:

July 29 to August 2, Chester Ave. & 43rd St., Free, 215-764-5345,

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