Arts & Culture

3 Shakespeare comedies on tap for this summer. Could Olympia become a mini Ashland?

The noble Orlando (Jalen Penn, right) faces off against court wrestler Charles (Joe Shay) in a rehearsal at Olympia’s Sunrise Park for Goldfinch Productions’ ”As You Like It.”
The noble Orlando (Jalen Penn, right) faces off against court wrestler Charles (Joe Shay) in a rehearsal at Olympia’s Sunrise Park for Goldfinch Productions’ ”As You Like It.” Courtesy of Goldfinch Productions

This is South Sound’s summer of Shakespeare — and at least some of those involved with the three al fresco productions are hoping it will be the first of many.

The Bard’s bounty of free theater begins this weekend with Animal Fire Theatre Co.’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and Goldfinch Productions’ “As You Like It.” It will continue in August with “The Tempest,” produced by Oly Arts founder Ned Hayes.

Shakespeare in the park is nothing new in Olympia and environs, where Animal Fire has been staging shows since 2010, most often in Priest Point Park.

But this year’s bumper crop — all, incidentally, comedies — is “unprecedented,” said Animal Fire board member Scott Douglas, who’ll play Master Page, husband to one of the “Merry Wives.”

Both Hayes and Goldfinch artistic director Kevin McManus said Animal Fire’s success was an inspiration for their first-time efforts. And Animal Fire is having what Douglas termed a “growth year,” having received its first grant, a matching grant from the City of Olympia, to fund the purchase of tripods to use to anchor sets.

“I’ve been a big fan of Animal Fire for as long as it has existed,” said McManus, who’s directing “As You Like It,” which premieres Sunday in Yelm before moving to Olympia. “Olympia and the surrounding area seem to have responded very well, and I don’t know that one production fulfills the needs of the community.”

At this point, the collaboration among Animal Fire, Goldfinch and Hayes has been limited to coordinating dates, locations and shows and doing some joint publicity, Douglas told The Olympian.

If this Shakespearean summer just kind of came together, Hayes and McManus — who’ll direct “As You Like It” and play Duke Frederick, Rosalind’s disloyal uncle — see it as a first step toward something much bigger.

Hayes, an experienced producer, has had a vision of Olympia as home to a full-scale Shakespeare festival — what he calls “the Ashland of the North,” referring to the small southern Oregon town that is home to the internationally known Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

“I’ve long thought that Olympia could host and create an ongoing theater scene that takes the form of theatrical festivals, a theater district and regular summer theater performances by multiple companies,” he said. “Olympia can be a destination city for arts tourists and theater fans.”

‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’

  • What: Animal Fire’s ninth summer Shakespeare show, the popular comedy addresses sexual harassment with a light touch, as the clever “Wives” give the boorish Falstaff what he deserves.
  • When: 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday plus July 5-7, 12-14 and 19-21
  • Where: Priest Point Park, 2600 East Bay Drive NE , Olympia
  • More information:

‘As You Like It’

  • What: Goldfinch Productions’ first show, one of the bard’s best-loved comedies, follows wise Rosalind on her long journey to true love.
  • In Yelm: 4:30 p.m. Sunday in Yelm City Park, 115 Mosman Ave. SE
  • In Olympia: 7 p.m. July 5-7 in LBA Park, 3333 Morse-Merryman Road SE, and 7 p.m. July 11-13 in Sunrise Park, 505 Bing St NW
  • More information:

‘The Tempest’

  • What: The waterfront production of the fantastical Shakespearean comedy, produced by Oly Arts founder Ned Hayes and directed by Kate Ayers, will feature offshore tall ships during the last two performances, sponsored by Harbor Days.
  • When: 8 p.m. Aug. 15-23 and 29-31, with a preview at 8 p.m. Aug. 14
  • Where: Port Plaza, downtown Olympia
  • More information: