Let’s face it: going to a play for a date isn’t as common as it used to be. Sure, some couples will go to the theatre to see a contemporary or a musical every once in a while…but a Shakespearean drama? I bet you’re cringing just hearing those words, having flashbacks to your high school days spent trying to understand why you should care about two teenagers who fall in love and get half of the other characters killed in the process. But the two plays the Tennessee Stage Company is performing for Shakespeare on the Square will show you that good ole Willy’s plays are anything but boring.
Shakespeare on the Square is performed on a stage set up on the Market Square Pavilion in Downtown Knoxville. Professional actors train for months in preparation for the shows, which are every Thursday through Sunday starting at 7:00 pm from July 17th – August 17th, in addition to a few readings performed at various locations. As Founding Artistic Director Tom Parkhill explains before every performance, each year for the past 25 years (yes, this year marks their 25th anniversary, which is a huge marker for success in the world of theatre!), the Tennessee Stage Company chooses a comedy and a tragedy, with this year’s pick being the romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing and Titus Andronicus, a gruesome story of a power struggle with a touch of dark humor. Guess which one I brought a guy to…
Although I’ve seen both performances, I’m going to focus on Titus. This play isn’t commonly known or produced, and this is the first time the Tennessee Stage Company has put on this production, therefore, theatre enthusiasts from as far away as Connecticut have traveled to see it in action! No, hands being chopped off and tongues being cut out aren’t exactly romantic images, but the intense vibe that seeps from the actors, along with the creative focus on body movement to portray events is truly spectacular! In addition to this, music has been incorporated into the action, as is the same with Much Ado. Before the play even begins, the actors sing stylized covers of songs relevant to their characters and situations, complete with other cast members providing live background music with guitars, drums, tambourines, and even a cello! Under the finest direction the Tennessee Stage Company has to offer, the Shakespearean dialogue was not difficult at all to understand, nor was the plot confusing.
Now let’s talk about the experience. While the non-VIP seating is free and guests are given the option to bring their own chairs, I would definitely recommend paying the $15 for a VIP seat, which can be purchased either online or at a table set up behind the audience. Tickets for the VIP section consist of (comfortable!) provided chairs in the first few rows, a gift bag that includes coupons for local businesses such as Rita’s Italian Ice and a bottle of water, and a fan with the Shakespeare on the Square logo on it, among other things! While the performance is fabulous regardless of where you sit, being in the center of the front row really let us feel like we were part of the action and lifted the worry of losing the dialogue in the chatter of passing crowds of people.
Aside from purchasing VIP tickets, there are also other ways to help support the talented cast and crew behind Shakespeare on the Square. The aforementioned fans are available for sale at the front of house table, along with shirts, and a donation basket is passed around before the play begins with a suggested donation fee of $10. Guests arriving late can also donate with cash or card at the table anytime.
Get you therefore hence and come see a Shakespeare on the Square production of Much Ado About Nothing or Titus Andronicus on Market Square this weekend!