Free Shakespeare on the Boston Common
Twelfth Night staged by Commonwealth Shakespeare Company
For nearly 20 years, the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company (CSC) has been treating Boston to free, fully staged Shakespeare plays on the Boston Common—part of its overall mission to bring the playwright’s works to all corners of the city’s diverse neighborhoods. It is, in short, Beantown’s equivalent of New York City’s Free Shakespeare in the Park program, and it has become a beloved summer tradition, attracting annual crowds of approximately 100,000.
This summer, the company is mounting a production of one of the Bard’s most popular comedies, Twelfth Night. A story of love in disguise, the play follows the journey of twins, Viola and Sebastian—separated in a shipwreck—as they search for love in their new homeland, Illyria. The comedy is populated with some of Shakespeare’s most vivid characters: the Duke, Orsino, who captures Viola’s heart, and who is played by Robert Najarian, a former College of Fine Arts School of Theatre lecturer; Sir Toby Belch; the pompous steward, Malvolio; and the squire Sir Andrew Aguecheek, played by Conner Christiansen (CFA’06), who was known during his student years at BU as Chris Connor. The CSC production has more BU connections—the costume designer is Nancy Leary, a CFA School of Theatre assistant professor, and the set designer is Cristina Tedesco (CFA’04), a CFA lecturer in scene design. Twelfth Night is directed by Steven Maler, the CSC’s artistic director, who founded the company in 1996.
Crowds begin to arrive two to three hours before curtain time, so it’s best to plan to get to the Boston Common early if you want a good view of the stage. As an added incentive to arrive early, the CSC mounts a Greenshow one hour before each performance of Twelfth Night. This show features actors from the company’s apprentice program in a lively production meant to serve as a kind of primer on Twelfth Night. The performance runs about 30 minutes. And, starting Friday, audiences will be treated to free concerts beginning 90 minutes before curtain, featuring jazz performances by alumni and students from the New England Conservatory from August 1 through August 8, and classical music performances on August 9 and August 10. The concerts are also free. For more information about the concerts, click here and here. Plan to bring bug spray and a lawn chair, or you can rent one for $5. Several on-site food vendors offer an array of dining options.
The Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s production of Twelfth Night runs through August 10 at the Boston Common’s Parkman Bandstand. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. Admission is free, although a donation of $10 is encouraged. Performances may be delayed or cancelled due to weather. Audiences can check the weather hotline 617-426-0863, Facebook, or Twitter two hours before the show for cancellations.
By public transportation, take the MBTA Green or Red Line to Park Street or the Orange Line to either the Chinatown or Downtown Crossing stops.