Flock to stage shows in Wilcox Park — and so will resident company Colonial Theatre

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For more than two decades, Flock Theatre has presented its Shakespeare in the park productions in the Connecticut College Arboretum in New London, and the Colonial Theatre of Rhode Island has staged its Shakespeare in the park works in Wilcox Park in Westerly.

This summer marks the start of something new.

Flock will begin touring its Arboretum shows — Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors” and Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex” for 2019 — to Wilcox Park.

That doesn’t mean Colonial Theatre is going anywhere. In fact, Colonial will perform “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the Westerly park July 31-Aug. 18.

Jon L Peacock, who is co-artistic director with Alana Rader of education for Colonial, says, “We’re very excited about Flock coming in. … We reached out to Flock, and we’re having a meeting (with them Wednesday) to talk about how we can really bring more arts and more theater to Wilcox Park, into Westerly, over the entire summer. So it’s a really exciting venture, I think, that Westerly is going to have with the Colonial and the Flock.”

Discussing having two different theater companies perform in Wilcox Park, Flock executive artistic director Derron Wood says, “As long as we’re not doing the same show, it’s like, hey, the more outdoor plays, the better.”

He adds that Eugene O’Neill Theater Center founder “George White always says the more theater the better, and I really buy into that. If there were 15 little theaters in New London, (they) would feed off of each other. … If I lived close and I’m like, ‘OK, here’s a slate of three outdoor shows we can go see for free in the park’ — if that’s what you’re into, that just makes it easier and it’s more fun.”

The “Midsummer Night’s Dream” performances are a return for the Colonial after not doing a production in Wilcox Park last summer. The Colonial experienced some upheaval over the past year. The theater investigated allegations of sexual harassment against an employee.

Founder and producing artistic director Harland Meltzer resigned at the end of last year, and the Colonial Theatre of Rhode Island does not have an artistic director.

But the show is going on. Colonial is not only returning with its signature Shakespeare in the park productions, but its education program is thriving (more on that later).

The Colonial is in the process of looking for a director for “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Peacock says.

Twice the Shakespeare

Wood says the Westerly Library, which runs Wilcox Park, has broached the subject of Flock performing there periodically over the years, usually when there was a gap in the Colonial Theatre season.

“We’ve thought about it in the past, but this year we’ve had a long enough lead time to actually figure out, hey, can we make this happen?” Wood says.

Not only can they make it happen, but the Flock team is happily looking forward it.

“Everyone is excited — after all this energy goes into creating these plays (for the Arboretum) — about having a longer run and taking them to different audiences,” Wood says.

Flock has already been expanding its performances to other sites in recent years, with runs in the town of Hampton and at Mystic Seaport.

“So when the opportunity came up, it was, well, why not Wilcox Park? They’ve got an audience ready and willing,” Wood says.

Bringing shows to audiences

Flock will do its plays in Westerly at the end of June and into July, with exact dates to be announced, before then presenting them at the Arboretum.

Wood says that he’s learned that audiences don’t necessarily like to travel very far. When Flock started performing at Mystic Seaport, a lot of new faces turned up in the crowd that hadn’t been in New London. Flock’s expansion to Wilcox Park, then, is expected to do the same in Westerly.

Wilcox Park is, of course, a different landscape than the Arboretum, and that opens different opportunities for Flock.

“With, say, the ‘Oedipus Rex,’ we can tie much more into the environment topography of Wilcox Park. We can have beautiful processions over hills and dales,” Wood says.

Flock has learned to adjust to the space they are in.

“I think from a performance aspect, the past couple of years, we’ve been touring all over the place, so we go up to Hampton and we’re performing in between two trees, you know?” Wood says with a laugh. “When we go over to Mystic Seaport, it’s a small set-up stage, and usually the Greenmanville Church is the backdrop. So we’re having a lot of fun adapting it to whatever stage we end up performing in.”

Students of the art

Theatergoers who attend the Colonial production this summer, meanwhile, will also see students and young people perform beforehand.

The Colonial is offering internships for acting as well as technical work like lighting and design, and the acting interns will perform just prior to Colonial’s mainstage shows. Likewise, the youths who will participate in the Colonial’s summer camp will do Shakespeare vignettes and other theater scenes before “Midsummer Night’s Dream” on certain nights.

“The Colonial Theatre of Rhode Island has really expanded into education and outreach,” Peacock says.

Indeed, the Colonial also began a partnership with Westerly High School last year, working to bring a new theater program into the school, which had been without such a program for about 10 years.

“It’s been so fantastic, getting to know the community of Westerly and the young and aspiring artists that are so excited about this new theater program coming into their school. It’s been rewarding in so many different ways,” Peacock says.

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