The Bard just may have finally found a permanent residence in Helena.
After 15 years on the move, the popular Montana Shakespeare Company opens its summer repertory season at its new home, the Helena Civic Center, with “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” Thursday, July 12, and “Othello” on Friday, July 13. The two plays run alternate dates, Thursdays through Sundays, through Aug. 26.
Over the years, the troupe’s home has bounced from the Chaucer Street Quarry, to Performance Park on the Downtown Walking Mall, to Tizer Gardens, to the former Cafe Zuppa.
Much as artistic director Kim DeLong has loved doing outdoor Shakespeare theatre since the company started in 1997, the sun gods haven’t smiled down, particularly the past few years.
His longtime dream has been to build a regional, summer equity Shakespeare theatre in Helena.
“Our future lies in drawing patrons from all over the region,” he said.
With the help of tourism grants, he’s advertising across the state to draw visitors to Helena to enjoy not only Shakespeare, but also fine dining and visits to The Archie Bray Foundation, the Holter Museum of Art, Grandstreet Theatre and such sites as Gates of the Mountains.
“We want people to come to town and get a package of discount rooms and discount tickets,” he said. The Red Lion Colonial Hotel and Great Northern Hotel are on board, with more hotels in the works.
He’s also worked with Civic Center staff to create a space conducive to intimate theater — adding a thrust stage, curtains separating off parts of the auditorium seating and providing portable air conditioning units.
DeLong selected Shakespeare plays for this season that haven’t been performed in Helena since he moved here in 1989.
“(They) are both beautiful plays on the opposite ends of the spectrum,” DeLong said. “One’s a lighter comedy about unrequited love, one’s a classical tragedy. Both have beautiful language.”
“Love’s Labour’s Lost” is about young men with noble ideas who’ve chosen to live a monastic lifestyle, he explained. Women have no place in their thoughts – that is, until four beautiful women show up. Then their noble ideas quickly take flight.
“It speaks to humanity,” said DeLong, “how powerful love is in a person’s life and how it is a life-altering event.”
As the action unfolds, love letters go to the wrong person, and miscommunications lead to humor and hilarity. DeLong’s setting the play in 1914, the dawn of World War I, a time when many loves would go unrequited.
“Othello” tells the love story of the great Moorish general, Othello, and his wife, the beautiful, intelligent and ambitious Desdemona.
Behind the scenes is the Machiavellian and jealous Iago. “He twists this beautiful relationship into something terrible,” said DeLong. “It’s pure, pure tragedy.”
It was, in fact, “Othello” that first drew DeLong to Shakespeare decades ago.
“At that time, Laurence Olivier did his amazing performance of Othello,” DeLong said. “It pasted me against the wall. I had never seen it.”
After graduating with a B.A. in theater from Eastern Washington University in Cheney, he went on to study Shakespeare in-depth at Cornell University. In addition to teaching acting at the collegiate level for more than 20 years, DeLong continues to act and also teaches fight choreography.
DeLong’s dream is modeled on successful Shakespeare theaters all over the country – from Cedar City’s Utah Shakespeare Festival, centered in a town of 28,000, which draws in 130,000 visitors, to the Shenandoah Valley Shakespeare in Staunton, Va., that’s proven so successful, they’re building a replica of the second Globe Theatre for their new home.
“There are 1 million people seeing Shakespeare around the country, “said DeLong, quoting a study by the Institute of Outdoor Drama.
And you just could be one of them.
Tickets are $15. For more information or to order them, visit http://www.montanashakespeare.org or call 406-431-1154 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.