Nashville. A city of lights, business suits, taxis, corporate catastrophes. . .wait. Wrong description. Ahem. . .Nashville. A city of hole in the wall coffee joints, celebrity sitings, electric melodies, looking the part, and anything and everything else musical. Weekdays are good for catching up on bill-paying, running errands and becoming a vegetable after a long day's work. But in Nashville you can be transported to new worlds in an instant, so why waste time flipping channels only wishing you were in one?
Enter: August 27th, sunny skies and Centennial Park. Enter: the Nashville Shakespeare Festival.
Shakespeare in the Park. To some, an appealing ad in the Nashville Scene but to me, an opportunity to become culturally and artistically aware for the price of free. (A $5 donation is suggested, but who has time for suggestions when fingering pieces of lint in empty pockets?) Lawn chairs in tow, I head to the park with a friend to take in the experience only a select few Nashvillians have experienced.
We arrive at the park a couple hours early. One hour early for the pre-show and two hours early for the debut of Shakespeare's best- The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). This is just enough time to assemble our lawn chairs, sit in our lawn chairs and wait. While we are waiting, eavesdropping and people-watching become a most interesting pastime.
Some of our observations are as follows:
A) A couple arrives in the arena with four bags, two couch cushions, and a blanket. The couch cushions appear to have gathered mold (and we hope, for the sake of the owners, that these cushions were recently acquired on a curb during a dumpster dive and are not, in fact, the primary seating within the home of the aforementioned party).
B) The man a lawn chair's length away from me, buried in his 007 novel, cites his reason for not donating as "I would love to but I already gave all my money to a homeless man today." Not to be judgmental, he is either a very noble man or a very poor liar.
C) It is Mary's 6th birthday. Mary has been to 11 shows put on by the Nashville Shakes (clever, ain't it?) and is celebrating her happy prelude to first grade with free Shakespeare t-shirts, a bumper sticker for the car she may own in 10 years, and a night of entertainment, all for the wonderfully optional price of $5.
D) The couple next to Rachel were reading together. Well, separate books, that is. Does that still count as reading together? Bonding of sorts?
We are able to separate the newbies from the seasoned Shakespeare loyals by a distinct aroma that fills the air. As sub sandwiches, homemade pudding, sushi and nachos fill the arena, as does the distinct scent that can only be created by the combination of such varied foods. As their babble and smacking grows louder, the rumbling in my own empty tummy grows angrier.
At 6:30, approximately one hour from show time, a bubbly Shakespeare T-shirt wearing lady approaches the microphone. "I regret to inform you that our pre-show, Biscuits and Gravy, will not be able to make it tonight. I'm sure you will be able to occupy yourselves with whatever comes naturally in the park."
My friend Rachel and I look at each other and start laughing. "Whatever comes naturally?" What the heck is that supposed to mean?
A few couch cushions and picnic blankets later, our show begins.
Three men are up to perform all 37 of Shakespeare's plays. How will they ever do it?
Scene: Romeo and Juliet, performed briefly as two actors run around in different wigs and costumes and one strums an electric Fender and pretends to play the keys when sound effects are heard.
Up next, a delightful rap of Othello? Or maybe that was the cooking show hosted by the amputees? Or was that the football game in which the crown was tossed from hand to hand representative of the throne changing hands so many times. Then there was the giant comedy in which all of Shakespeare's comedies were combined into one and the three players held up faces of celebrities on popsicle sticks in rapid succession as the characters grew in number and the plot in complexity. Act I ended with one player running off stage and driving away in his car around the arena and out of sight. Two corny jokes later, an intermission was announced and I was left wide-eyed and mouth gaping in my seat.
With my stomach's prompting, and having nothing to do with the quality of the performances, I thought leaving early for a late dinner may be in order. Packing up our chairs and treading across the lawn of Centennial, we couldn't help but smile at the excitement the night had brought us. All I had anticipated was a little Shakespeare but instead I was able to witness, up close, an entirely foreign subculture of Nashville.
With SATCO as the remedy for our hunger pangs, our evening in Nashville came to an end. But as the kind lady at the microphone said, "We only ask you donate $5, which is the price of a sandwich, and while a sandwich only lasts a short while, this experience will last you a lifetime."
I still have quite a bit of time left in my young life, but I am certain this memory will not soon leave my mind. You never know, maybe one day you'll be craving a sandwich and will be teleported instead to the world of Shakes, where picnics and theater collide, actors go traipsing off-stage unannounced, and sitting in the park never seemed to come more naturally.
*I'm not knocking this festival or the participants. They were great actors. The script was a bit on the corny side at times, but deep down I think it's great that Nashville is so immersed in the arts and this kind of entertainment is available to the community so readily and so cheap. (That was me being serious.)
**My words and views in no way represent Rachel's views. Just clearing her name, there. :-)
***check out the group www.nashvilleshakes.org