In the late 1500s, when the Elizabethan theatre was just coming of age, there were few structures in London purpose-built for theatrical presentation, and very few, if any, in the provinces to which itinerant groups of actors regularly toured. They rolled into these small towns and offered their performances in village squares or the courtyards of inns; it’s likely that Shakespeare’s first experience of the theatre was his attendance at one of these open-air performances, and it’s also possible that he was a member of one of these groups in his early career. Michael Wood’s beautifully-photographed documentary In Search of Shakespeare, the best television biography of the dramatist we’re likely to get in our lifetimes, offers a few samples of what these performances may have looked like.
These days, the troupes may have settled in parking lots as well. This is the conceit behind Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, a two-decade-old project headed up by Hamilton Clancy’s The Drilling Company and offering two shows this summer at a muncipal lot located at Broome and Ludlow Streets on the Lower East Side. The first production, The Merry Wives of Windsor, runs 12-28 July and is a cheeky take on the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area scheme currently causing controversy on the LES; the second production, running 2-18 August, is an ambitious staging of Shakespeare’s politically and linguistically thorny late tragedy Coriolanus.
It is increasingly difficult to get tickets for that other free Shakespeare summer project in New York (see this recent Guardian article to understand why), and judging from these reviews, Shakespeare in the Parking Lot is a worthy — and more grittily urban — alternative. As I mentioned above, admission is free, and more information about the season is available at their Web site.