Shakespeare in Clark Park returns to its grassy roots with ‘Twelfth Night’

Shakespeare in Clark Park (SCP) has long taken pride in presenting unique theater performances in the park that sits along the edges of eclectic West Philly. Anchored in accessibility and diversity, SCP is a staple cultural event, bringing innovation in a space decorated around blankets and picnics. “Twelfth Night” was SCP’s inaugural performance and it returns to its roots with the play this summer, helmed by director Jack Tamburri, who looks to turn things up a few notch for everyone’s imagination.

In “Twelfth Night,” shipwrecked twins Viola and Sebastian each fear that the other is lost. Using her wits, Viola disguises herself as a page boy and stumbles into a love triangle that upends the island of Illyria. The glam rock interpretation of the Bard’s classic romance will feature some of Philadelphia’s finest student musicians alongside professional actors. Tamburri brings a devisor’s curiosity to text theater.

“I’ve done his plays before,” Tamburri said in an interview. “I’m always interested in music and the direct communication with the audience, and I’m also into the challenge of translation.” Tamburri, while he finds Shakespeare’s’ language profound, cautioned about the dangers of nostalgia and the importance of the evolution of the performances. “What do we want to keep in its poetic form and what do we want to do with the intention and how do we give that message?” Freedom with translation that works with the actors helps Tamburri find the nugget of the comedy in each scene. It keeps plays like “Twelfth Night” fresh, contemporary, and highly relatable.

Striking a balance in comedy is not easy. Underneath its catchy rock music, costumes, and laughs, “Twelfth Night” presents a difficult question through its comedic prisms: how can I deserve love? “I hope the audience can take with them some language about love and language and insecurity and authenticity,” Tamburri said. “The play is populated by people who are constantly in costume trying to make themselves worthy of the love that they want. Authenticity and caring about something outside of your own persona is what attracts love and what makes you happy. And that’s a simple story.”

SCP amplifies that conversation between the players and the audience.

For indoor theater, the audience typically promises to be passive. “We’re going to sit in the dark and you’ll pretend we’re not here,” Tamburri jested. With outdoor theater like SCP, the audience doesn’t owe the performance anything. “The more rowdy and unexpected and heterogeneous audience that it draws, the more the life of the park goes around the production. All of that makes my job a lot harder. The actors and I have to do more and have a responsibility to hold their attention.”

The commitment and the passion is evident in SCP productions. The audience feels that, making their reception of the performances organic and personal every year.

“Twelfth Night” runs July 25-28, and is a free event. SCP performs in “The Bowl” area of the park, near the intersection of Chester Avenue and 43rd St.

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