FCCF Grant Brings Romeo and Juliet to McLevy Green and Audiences to Their Feet
Bridgeport, CT – Something magical happened in downtown Bridgeport on five hot and humid midsummer night eves in early August. The Italian Renaissance town of Verona came to life against the oddly appropriate backdrop of historic McLevy Hall, and Romeo and Juliet and their feuding families bonded with their audiences in a way no one could possibly have imagined.
A $10,000 grant from The Fairfield County Community Foundation made it possible for CT Free Shakespeare (CFS) to bring the troupe of professional actors to the downtown venue. It was the first time in its 13 year history that the company produced a play in an urban setting. It was a joyful experience for actors and audience alike.
Producing Artistic Director, Ellen Lieberman, quoted playwright Tony Kushner when talking about what happened at McLevy Green. “Boundaries dissolved, between actor and audience, self and park, art and nature.
We discovered anew how porous boundaries always are.” Kushner was speaking of New York’s Shakespeare in the Park, said Lieberman, but his words perfectly described what occurred at McLevy Green, in an area not much bigger than half an acre. Most of the audience had not experienced live theater before.
Most of the actors had never performed in an urban setting. Actor, Liliane Klein, who brought Juliet’s “Nurse” to life, confessed to wondering if they were “leaving the wolves at Beardsley Zoo (where CFS has performed for 13 years) only to enter the wolves’ den of downtown where there are no gates and ANYTHING could happen?!” Would there be an audience? Would it be respectful? Would they walk out, talk or be rowdy? Her trepidation was unnecessary. Hundreds crowded into the green each night, and Klein said “the energy of actors and audience living and breathing together and sharing a once in a lifetime experience was palpable. There were small children and the elderly, artists and business people, urban and suburban families, a few homeless people and even a nun. They fell in love with us and us with them.”
Lila Smith, who played Lady Montague, noted that “At CT Free Shakespeare, the audience is a part of the gift from beginning to end, and they give back as much as they receive.” During intermission, CFS traditionally leads the audience in song, and children dance on the set while actors circulate among the crowd with microphones. At McLevy Green, adults and seniors decided they would join the children onstage, too, and there was dancing throughout the square.
The aforementioned nun wrote later to say she took a bow to the audience, too, when they congratulated her on her singing so “enjoyedly”. Sr. Frances works in a nursing home and said her spirits were lifted for days.
A Shakespeare aficionado who has seen his plays performed in Stratford, England and NYC, she called this performance “the most refreshing and delightful experience of Shakespeare” she has ever had. During the sing a long, the homeless man approached an actor to donate the change he had in his pocket in hopes of bringing another play to the green next year. Smith summed it all up by saying, “The feedback we got from the McLevy performances was incredible. Audiences were not shy about thanking us for coming. It seemed like they were blown away in a way that people can only be when being given the gift of theater, especially in the unique way CFS presents it. I can’t wait to do another show at McLevy Green.”
Senator Abraham Lincoln campaigned at McLevy Hall in 1860 and received a standing ovation. That ovation was echoed loudly throughout the downtown area as the community got to its feet and applauded Romeo and Juliet. Thank you Fairfield County Community Foundation.
The Fairfield County Community Foundation promotes the growth of community and regional philanthropy to improve the quality of life throughout Fairfield County. Individuals, families, corporations and organizations can establish their own charitable funds or contribute to existing funds focused on specific areas of need or communities in Fairfield County. The Foundation also provides philanthropic advisory services, and develops and leads initiatives to tackle critical community issues. It is in compliance with the Council on Foundations’ national standards for community foundations. The Foundation has awarded over $135 million in grants or nonprofits in Fairfield County and beyond. For more information, visit www.fccfoundation.org.
Connecticut Free Shakespeare (CFS) was founded in 2000 by Bertram Garskof and Ellen Lieberman of Dandelion Productions. It is a non-profit theater company whose mission is to produce free-to-the-public, professional works of classical theater in an accessible, skillful, imaginative American style that honors the playwright’s language and intentions and that crafts these plays with a 21st century sensibility. CFS is committed to mounting productions designed to reach a broad range of audience members, including those not familiar with Shakespeare’s work, without jeopardizing artistic integrity. Actors appear courtesy of Actors’ Equity.