Every summer at Twin Lakes Park, those spending a Saturday afternoon at the splash park, on the mini golf course or with a picnic in the shade may be lucky enough to catch the one Saturday that Stone Soup Shakespeare is in town.
They’re easy to spot, with their flamboyant costumes and a circle of fans in lawn chairs or on blankets in the grass around them. Stone Soup can also be depended on to incorporate some type of music into the shows each year, so the sound of a guitar or tambourine is also a good clue the group is performing.
Stone Soup is a group of dedicated storytellers who bring Shakespeare to the backyards of audiences throughout the Midwest. Since the group performs in parks and yards without an admission fee, they are accessible to everyone, and draw an appreciative crowd.
Julia Stemper, one of the founding members of Stone Soup, said the core belief of the group is everybody deserves to hear these stories regardless of geography or financial ability.
“We think that they should be told over and over again,” said Stemper.
On this summer’s tour, the group of six actors play all the roles of “Twelfth Night,” a comedy involving mistaken identities, love triangles, pranks and, in this version, dance battles.
Stone Soup always throws a twist into their stories, and this year they paired “Twelfth Night” with some inspiration from musician David Bowie. The retelling did not disappoint, as no joke was left untold and love, as it usually does, triumphed in the end.
Stone Soup Shakespeare approaches the timeless tales of William Shakespeare as if they are brand new, and it always results in unexpected twists and lots of laughs. The group plays the stories out in such a way that even if their audience members get a little confused or lost trying to follow the plot, they still enjoy it, and probably learn something new.
The performers are interactive with the audience members, drawing people into the story and helping them connect to it personally. Besides that, they always include a brief summary of the story in their program, so it’s easy to follow along. Lifelong Shakespeare enthusiasts and newcomers alike get something special from the local Shakespeare in the Park performance.
Stone Soup’s audience in Paris is not particularly large, but it is committed and genuine. Most of the Paris audience members have been to all of the past performances, and if they missed one they can usually tell exactly which one it was and how disappointed they were.
It is interesting to hear which stories have had the greatest impact for audience members over the years, and why. For some, it may have been the magic and mischief of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” for others it was the dramatic unfolding of “Julius Caesar” and for still others it may be last summer’s take on “The Taming of the Shrew.”
Whatever tale it is people connect to, they can remember it in vivid detail years later, and retell it to anyone willing to listen. That’s the power of Stone Soup’s storytelling.
Perhaps one of the best parts of Shakespeare in the Park is the deep-rooted sense of community that has been cultivated over the eight years of live performances in Twin Lake Park. All walks of life show up to see Shakespeare. Families with young children find wholesome entertainment in the shows. Adults with collections of their own life stories relate to the stories Shakespeare was telling so many years ago.
Shakespeare in the Park is about stories and about relationships, some of the most powerful forces in the world. There is such authenticity in everything and everyone involved.
Members of the troupe are excited to perform “Hamlet” next year for the group’s 10th season on the road. Those audiences who have already had the pleasure of seeing “Twelfth Night” this year are looking forward to seeing them again next year.