Person pointing a finger surrounded by children sitting on the ground.
DCPA actor Shannon Altner gestures in a scene of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Credit: Deb Hurley Brobst

Evergreen Middle School students were treated to some Shakespeare — not in a theater, but outside in a parking lot.

People sitting in the bed of a truck, with three people in front of the truck. Children sitting to the left.
A troupe of actors from Denver Center for the Performing Arts acts out a scene from William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for Evergreen Middle School sixth graders. Credit: Deb Hurley Brobst

In 45 minutes, the students saw a shortened version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on Sept. 19, complete with Puck, Titiana, Oberon, Hermia, Lysander and more during Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, a program offered by Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

When you’re acting in a parking lot, the costumes and props are simple, and a pickup truck is an integral part of the scenery.

Sixth–grade social studies teacher Julia Fliss called Shakespeare in the Parking Lot perfect for middle schoolers. While they might not easily follow Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter, the middle schoolers could follow the actors’ character portrayals and the plot.

Three people standing on the hood of a pickup truck
The actors perform as part of Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, a program by DCPA that brings Shakespeare’s plays to life using minimal costumes and props, plus a truck. Credit: Deb Hurley Brobst

“This brings learning to life,” Fliss said. “For language arts, that’s obvious because of Shakespeare’s influence on modern-day literature. In addition, performance art is a means to awaken an inner artistic or creative self.”

Fliss is teaching a world studies class this year, and she incorporated some history of Shakespeare’s time into lessons before the performance. In the late 1500s, for example, the lower classes paid a penny to see a theater production and sat on the floor, while nobles paid for seats. Similarly, she noted, students sat on the asphalt while teachers sat in chairs.

The Puritans believed theater was a distraction, so they didn’t allow it inside London, which is why Shakespeare’s plays were performed in outdoor settings and outside the city limits, Fliss explained to her students.

In addition to language arts and history, Fliss said “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” has themes relevant and relatable to middle-schoolers: love, jealousy, revenge, magic, mystery and comedy.

Principal Tim Vialpando said this was the third time Shakespeare in the Parking Lot has performed at EMS thanks to funding from the school’s PTA, and students watched a video earlier that day explaining the play and its meaning.

“There aren’t any classes studying Shakespeare,” Vialpando said. “This is meant to be a fun experience for our students.”

Shakespeare in the Parking Lot began in 2015, and the concept is similar to a food truck, Justin Walvoord, the show’s director, said. If you don’t want to go to a theater, theater will come to you. In addition to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the professional cast of six actors also performs “Romeo and Juliet.”

The cast moves from school to school and also to different parks, senior centers, libraries and other locations in the metro area, Walvoord said, showing audiences they can connect with Shakespeare’s plays.

“In 45 minutes, we show people Shakespeare with a modern twist,” Walvoord said. “We didn’t change the words, and audiences enjoy the show.”

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