PRINCETON – When Festival 56 presents its summer production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, audiences at Soldiers and Sailors Park in Princeton will gather to watch and listen while they enjoy drinks and snacks—much like 17th-century audiences. Shakespeare in the Park performances begin at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Sundays throughout July, with an opening matinee Sunday, July 2, at 2 p.m.
This year’s production, The Comedy of Errors, is one of Shakespeare’s early plays and is pure farce, beginning and unraveling with a set of coincidences, mistaken identities, and possible dire consequences.
As the play begins, Egeon begs for clemency on the hostile island Ephesus by telling his story. He is searching for a son and his servant, each one a twin, who were in turn searching for their twin brothers lost in a shipwreck three decades earlier. Unknown to them, the other lost twins—son and servant—had landed on that very island and have been living there ever since. Confusion abounds as the citizens of Ephesus mistake the newcomers for their longtime neighbors, spouses, and lovers.
Seventeenth-century theatergoers loved plays so much that they attended by the thousands, all over London, but mostly at the famous Globe Theatre. Plays were their wide-screen cinema, their NBA finals, their reality TV.
Like people today, Elizabethans loved a farcical comedy or a gory drama. But unlike modern audiences, they felt free to hiss, groan, shout, and throw things at the actors. And unlike today’s theatergoers, most of them had to watch the whole performance standing up, next to and in front of the stage. Only the wealthy got to sit down.
Nowadays in Princeton, Shakespearean theater is kinder to both actors and audiences. Admission is free, and audience members bring lawn chairs and spread out to enjoy the grass, trees, and fresh breezes. Concessions are provided by Bureau County United Way, Daughters of the American Revolution, Relay for Life, and St. Louis Catholic Church.
Festival 56’s 2017 production of The Comedy of Errors is sponsored by 89.5 WNIJ News. Additional support comes from the Community Foundation of Central Illinois, OmniArts, The Walmart Community Grants Team, the Sun Foundation and the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. Local donors include Kinji Akagawa, Mary Anne Child, Eureka Savings Bank, Hallmark Metamora Fixtures, First National Bank of Lacon, Keith Kostelecky, Marc Decker, Rome Industries, and Jim and Sue Weber.
For more information, call the Festival 56 box office at (815) 879-5656.