Boston Common

Shakespeare on the Common: Outdoor Performers Dealing With Heat in Boston

Cast and crew in the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's production of "Much Ado About Nothing" explain the difficulty of performing on Boston Common in the extreme heat

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This summer, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company is bringing the play "Much Ado About Nothing" into the 90s, while temperatures outside are also reaching the 90s.

"It's a really passionate story of love and redemption," said actor Erik Robles, who plays Claudio, a Gulf War veteran who loses his cool when he is deceived while trying to keep cool on stage.

"It's difficult sometimes we have a wedding scene and I come up with my suit and it's drenched," he said. "Every night my under shirt is drenched but its part of the process."

Between the layered costumes and dance numbers, it gets hot on stage. This week, the production is holding rehearsals in the afternoon before the evening shows, when temperatures are reaching upwards of 90 degrees.

"Trying to get as much liquid in as possible," Robles said. "We have sweat rags and just wipe ourselves."

The cast and crew are urged to take breaks every half hour in air-conditioned trailers, where coolers are stocked with cold drinks and snacks.

Production manager Jenna Worden says crew members are standing by to help the lead actors, who are on stage for most of the show.

"That's kind of how it works sometimes, an actor comes off stage and 'Here's your water,' OK, catch it back, and they go on for their next scene," Worden explained.

With a heat emergency in effect, she says they have heat mitigation plans in place.

"Certainly if anyone is feeling faint or dizzy or any signs of heat exhaustion, heat poisoning or anything like that, we are going to put a pause on things and get everybody cooled down and get them the medical attention that they need," she said.

Bringing theater outdoors is part of their mission to make the works of William Shakespeare accessible.

"One of the great things being out on the Common is that it really democratizes Shakespeare, and that's how it was in Shakespeare's time," Worden said. "It was for the people. And at some point in history, we kind of decided theater was for the upper class, but that's not what its intention was, so it's really great being out on the Common and having the walls off the theaters, literally."

But being outside comes with its logistical challenges.

"The bugs at night with the lights, that's different, that's even worse than the heat," Robles said.

"You just never know what you are going to get out here. We've got families, we've got dogs running around and stealing people's dinner sometimes, maybe, but you know, it's a really fun dynamic," said Worden. "It's a very unique experience to come out here and set up a picnic dinner and see a show."

The open-air environment also poses a challenge to Robles as an actor.

"People are eating, people are drinking, talking, so if you grab their attention, it's more well-earned for an actor to grab the attention of an audience that is not here under strict guidelines," he said. "They are here with their families, they are enjoying themselves, so if you grab that attention, it's proven to be something tangible in the air that you can feel everybody is there. It's really, truly beautiful."

Shakespeare on the Common will hold free performances through Aug. 7 at Boston Common.

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