Jackson audiences have now enjoyed Off Square Theatre productions of Thin Air Shakespeare for a decade. This year’s presentation of the comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” marks the 10th anniversary of bringing free Shakespeare performances to life under the summer sky.
Directed by Edgar Landa and featuring original music by the Jackson musician Melissa Elliott, also known as Missy Jo, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” features a magical world of fairies, mortals, lords and kings.
In advance of the production’s opening night at the Center Amphitheater on Friday, July 8, Producing Artistic Director Natalia Macker and Music Director Melissa Elliott joined us for a conversation in the KHOL studios. Show performances will start at 7:30 p.m. on July 8-10 and 14-17.
Listen above for more and check out a transcript of the interview below. This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
KHOL/JACK CATLIN: Thin Air Shakespeare is presented free of charge in a family-friendly format with a focus on introducing the next generation to the power of live performance. Can you expand on the importance of exposing local and visiting youth to the wonder of theater and Shakespeare in particular?
NATALIA MACKER: We love this venue because kids of all ages can come. They don’t have to sit still. They don’t even have to really be quiet. If they need to get up and go get some wiggles out they can. And it invites families to be relaxed. It’s not formal. And you might sit next to someone you know or someone you don’t know, and you might share food or interact with people. And so the show is just as much about the audience and the actors having an exchange as it is about the audience becoming its own ecosystem and interacting together. And it makes every show different. And it gives, I think, a way to connect kids with live performances. And we spend so much time on our screens these days that the chance to really be there, see actors in the flesh, have them walk near you, hear their voices, see them respond to something happening in real time, is really special and all the more important now.
KHOL: This production features a cast of local artists, but also guest artists from Colorado, southern California, New York and Chicago, including returning director Edgar Landa. How important is it to have that mixture of outside and homegrown talent, and what do each of them bring to the table?
MACKER: It is really a keystone of what this project has become, and some of our guest artists are returning for the fourth or fifth time. Some of our actors have become regulars in Thin Air Shakespeare, but it allows an opportunity for creative exchange, both for them and for our local artists. It inspires all of us to get to have that. And they bring expertise and talent from larger metropolitan areas where they may be working full-time as a designer to our team, and it helps us learn from them. And then we consistently hear from them what a great experience they have here and how inspired they are to be in a smaller community with a dedicated audience. And it’s very different obviously from an urban area. And so, I think it has become an important part of how we can provide opportunities to local folks to learn new things and engage and connect with a broader theater industry and give guest artists the chance to unwind and get inspiration and make new connections for the future.
MELISSA ELLIOTT: It is so much fun working with these folks from out of town and the connections we’ve made. But being from here and seeing this production and seeing Jackson through their eyes, [it] makes me think about how special and unique this opportunity is and how special Shakespeare and Thin Air is — to come and perform in front of a mountain and be in such a beautiful environment. And it’s a pretty tight-knit cast. The level of professionalism that comes in, I think, has helped me grow, and I’d be like, ‘Okay, I want to step it up in this way.’ Or, you know, learning new things in a professional environment. Not only do they get the people from outside get to come here and unwind, but get we get to learn from their professional experience.
KHOL: Natalia, you were quoted as saying, ‘We wouldn’t be hitting our 10-year anniversary without the support of the community.’ Can you touch on the importance of Off Square Theatre being a part of and having the support of the community?
MACKER: As long as people keep showing up, we want to keep doing it. Even though it’s free, the audience has been very generous with their donations, and that’s how we keep it going and how we know that it’s wanted. And then when we hear from people that they plan their summer around it and they always want to make sure they’re in town for one of the weekends, we know we’re on the right track and [that we’re] reaching people that maybe aren’t part of a core theater audience that you would expect. My son was at rehearsal last night for a little bit and I had a hard time tearing him away to go home. It really is magical for children to see and to see it up close. And then when he sees someone on the street, he’s like, ‘That person was the fairy king!’ and he has this whole other experience of having seen the person in the show. And so I think that continues to happen year after year.
Listen above for KHOL’s full conversation with Off Square Theatre’s Natalia Macker and Melissa Elliott.
This coverage is funded in part with an Arts For All grant provided by the Town of Jackson and Teton County.