Gateway Players to stage Shakespeare on Bristol green

BRISTOL — On several recent evenings a rabble of afro-sporting, fairy-wing-toting players of ages ranging from seven to 70 have been making a scene on the Bristol town green.
The Bristol Gateway Players, the community theater troupe that launched three years ago, is back for their third summer with a performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
“It’s Shakespeare’s romantic comedy,” said director Carl Engvall, who has directed the summer performances each year. “It’s such a goofy, fun show. I think people are really going to enjoy it, it’s a great summertime choice.”
And there’s a twist. Instead of setting the classic Shakespeare comedy “in period,” Engvall set it in the late 1960s — hence the “groovy” costumes that passersby can already see sashaying around the town green during evening rehearsals.
“We can’t stop saying ‘groovy,’” admitted producer Carolyn Knight.
Engvall felt that setting it in that relatively contemporary era would make the play more accessible to family audiences. He also said it was a great fit for the play’s characters and subject matter.
“It’s a goofy show, and that was in many ways a really goofy time,” he explained.
The music and costuming in the show make full use of caricatures and cultural markers from the era. Engvall used sitar and funk music, and the Athenians are dressed as uptight businessmen while the fairies are all in full-out hippie garb.
“Midsummer” is the Gateway Players’ first foray into Shakespeare — and also their first foray out of the walls of Holley Hall.
Weather permitting, all three performances scheduled for next Thursday through Saturday will take place on the town green.
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” Engvall said. “We have lighting and sound, so there are these complicating factors — not to mention the Shakespeare text!”
The company is erecting a temporary stage, which is going up this week.
“It’s a town gathering spot, so people are interested,” Knight said. “To see a stage on the green is different, so I think it’s generating some buzz.”
The company made use of crowd-sourced fundraising websites to raise the money to build the stage. Audience members are invited to pull up their lawn chairs and watch the show, which will be performed at 8 p.m. on Aug. 15, 16 and 17.
“I remember clearly during ‘Our Town,’ taking a break from rehearsal with other cast members and looking across at the green and saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to do Shakespeare in the park?’ So this summer’s performance was born then,” said Engvall.
He, Knight, and co-producer Sue Driscoll hope to expand the Gateway Players’ reach in the coming seasons. So far, the summer performances have been their major event. But they also have put on varied community performance events throughout the seasons, including a talent show fundraising after Tropical Storm Irene.
“We are gaining momentum,” Engvall said. “Eventually I’d like to do a play a season — summer, fall, winter, spring.”
The Gateway Players have found not only a large community interest in the theater, but also an array of acting and design talent.
“There are just so many talented people in our community,” Knight said.
To further encourage the theater-going juju in the Bristol area, the Gateway Players are holding a special raffle during each performance next week. Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater, Barre’s Paramount Theater and the Weston Playhouse Theater have all donated tickets for the raffle.
“We thought, what better way to give back to theatergoers?” Knight said.

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