Theatre Pro Rata takes Twelfth Night to the parks

Theatre Pro Rata often employs nontraditional venues for its summer show, such as a graveyard (Traveling Light), a long-abandoned movie theater (Waiting for Godot), or a college classroom (Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight). 

This summer, the company is moving out of the theater again, with spaces that have a strong connection to the works of the Bard.

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Over the next three weekends, Pro Rata will present Twelfth Night at a variety of parks and outdoor locations around the Twin Cities, starting with the Union Depot in St. Paul this Friday evening.

Outside shows, of course, have a long Shakespearean tradition, and offer plenty of fresh trials for actors and designers alike, notes director Carin Bratlie.

"Working outdoors has lots of challenges. The weather (we only cancel for thunder and lightning), external sounds like cars and planes, and people or animals wandering through the playing space are all things outside of your control, so you have to embrace them," she says.

Beyond that, the space changes from night to night, and each "is a little different for the actors. From the very beginning, I've been working with the cast to prepare them for all of those possibilities in some really simple ways," says Bratlie. "I kept the blocking loose, and used 'open staging,' so it could remain flexible. We rehearsed in different rooms in our rehearsal space, and even rotated our orientation within the rooms. We even rehearsed outside, in different locations, and with different surfaces to help prepare them for all the different places we'll ultimately perform."

Being portable is also important. "It's also a very simple staging: no set and very little props. Everything can fit in the stage manager's car," Bratlie says.

That simplicity can be a virtue, however, as Bratlie observed it distills the show down to its basic elements. "It makes it just about the actors and the audience, which is when Shakespeare shines most brightly," she says.

Twelfth Night is a somewhat complex affair, with twins, separated families, and a foolish character who puts on a famous pair of yellow pants. The cast, for all this madness, includes Charles Numrich, Katherine Kupiecki, and David Beukema.

Pro Rata has dipped into the Bard in the past. "His lust for language fits right in with us," Bratlie says.

However, that lust can come off as obscure to modern ears not used to listening to dialogue in verse. Bridging that gap starts in the rehearsal room, as director and actors work at discovering what exactly each line means.

"The actors and I make sure that every phrase is understood, and then communicable to the audience. It breaks my heart when people say, 'I don't like Shakespeare; I don't understand it.' That's because the people presenting it didn't do their job! It should be effortless for an audience. All they have to do is sit back and enjoy," Bratlie says.

That approach seems to be working. 

"We had a rehearsal run outside a few days ago and a group of neighborhood kids who were playing in the park stopped to watch and ended up staying for the rest of the run, transfixed. I think that is the best endorsement we could ask for," Bratlie says.


Twelfth Night
6:30 p.m. Fridays through Sundays

Friday through June 22

Various locations. This weekend:
Friday: Union Depot , 214 Fourth St. E., St. Paul
Saturday: Loring Park, 1382 Willow St., Minneapolis
Sunday: Caponi Art Park, 1220 Diffley Rd., Eagan
For more information, call 612.234.7135 or visit online.