What’s old is what’s new in Basalt this weekend and next Friday and Sunday, as local theater troupe the Hudson Reed Ensemble presents its Mid-Valley debut of Shakespeare in the Park on the lawn to the east of the Basalt Regional Library. The production was originally slated for Midland Park, the large riverside expanse adjacent to the library, but noise from the river and other concerns prompted the move to drier ground.
“With the Roaring Fork roaring the way it is and the potential for flooding, it turned into a no-brainer,” said HRE director Kent Reed.
Seeing parts of the area flooded on a recent visit, Reed reached out to the library’s executive director Ann Scott about relocating, and she was happy to oblige with use of the lawn.
It’s a space Reed had initially considered for the production, but he had concerns about the sound from Midland Avenue. As it turns out, the lawn’s slightly bowled shape actually helps with that problem.
“The traffic actually isn’t that bad at all,” said Reed. “I had reservations about it, but now that we’ve been rehearsing down there, it’s absolutely fine. The lawn is kind of down in a hollow, not at street level, so it works out really well as a damper.”
To further help with the sound, the actors in the production will be miked as they present a trio of Shakespearean shorts. Reed, who is also directing, will tackle soliloquies from “Richard III,” with Franz Alderfer as the narrator.
Local favorites Naomi Havlen and Chris Wheatley will head to the Old West for their rendition of the courting scene from “The Taming of the Shrew.” And two young and über-talented actors, Rodrigo Perez and Talulah Marolt, will pitch woo as “Romeo and Juliet.”
It’s similar to the lineup that launched HRE’s Shakespeare in the Park back in 2005, and Reed chose the three pieces, which are each about 20 minutes long, to help give Basaltines a taste of Shakespeare rather than a forced feeding. At one point, Reed thought about doing “MacBeth” for HRE’s Basalt debut but prudently deemed it too heavy for an introduction to the professional-quality work the troupe performs and has performed for many years in Aspen.
The annual summer Shakespeare series was traditionally held in Galena Plaza, next to the Pitkin County Library, but after reconstruction of the library and reconfiguration of county offices robbed Reed of his usual rehearsal space and meant Galena Plaza was temporarily unusable, the series shut down after 2016’s “As You Like It.” In the intervening two years, Reed, the original founder of Aspen’s Theatre in the Park (now Theatre Aspen), thought about shutting down the ensemble too, but the response he got in Basalt when he floated the idea of a comeback helped to change his mind.
“The first one I went to was Jacque Whitsitt, the mayor of Basalt, and she was all for it,” said Reed. “Then the chamber of commerce was all for it. And the community itself seems really excited about having Shakespeare in the Park down there.”
It’ll be the first of what Reed hopes will be many Shakespeares in the Park in Basalt, and he also aims to run various programs in the winter at the library. It’s a move – lock, stock and barrel – away from HRE’s Aspen roots, and whether it’s due to happenstance or fate, it seems to have re-invigorated the troupe’s founder.
“I have such a history in Aspen; my whole life in this valley started in Aspen, and to leave it and move the company after close to 25 years down to Basalt was a wrenching move,” said Reed. “But now that I’m in this community, it’s been so welcoming that it’s made the transition – once I pulled the trigger and decided to do it – it was really the best thing to do.”
The performances will be this Friday-Sunday, July 12-14, as well as Friday, July 19 and Sunday, July 21. All performances will start at 7 p.m. For more information, visit hudson reed ensemble.org.