I remember walking through the Arb last summer, a large public park in Ann Arbor, when suddenly I came across people dressed liked they lived in the woods. I remember thinking what cool clothes and labeled them as either creatively, awesomely dressed homeless people, members of a nature/New Age group, or those who follow a Boho style. In Ann Arbor, none of those would be surprising.
The event is well received year after year. Tickets aren’t available as advance sales, you can only purchase them night of the show, and last year nearly every show was sold out and potential viewers were turned away. While the Arb is a large park and could seat thousands of play attenders on the grass, members of the audience are limited to ensure that ticket holders can see and hear the play. As mentioned before, there is no true stage (the actors perform in such locations like the side of a hill with the audience on the bottom) and the lack of technology in the performances means the actors’ lines aren’t amplified and have a limited range to be heard properly.
Shakespeare in the Arb, as this event is called, originally was planned to be a one-time event. Kate Mendeloff of the University of Michigan’s Residential College was asked to stage a play in the Arb in June 2001. She enjoyed staging the event so much she did it again the next year, and eventually it became a yearly Ann Arbor event.
While the first show was put on entirely of UofM students, today that’s not the case. Students have been joined by faculty and the local townies (including a gaggle of local young children). Troupe members shift from summer to summer, so no two summer events are similar, even with repeats of plays. A Midsummer Nights Dream has been performed for three summers in the past decade, mainly because the Arb provides the perfect backdrop for such a story.
That’s not to say there is a set location for the performances. The Arb is large, with several options available to host a stage and an audience. Part of the character of Shakespeare in the Arb productions is how they interact with the environment, reacting in character to environmental disturbances such as overhead airplanes by drawing swords and challenging the ‘flying beast’. Some disruptions actually help the play, such as when the group performed As You Like It a heard of deer walked by while the Duke and his Lords were hunting. In fact, the play moves to allow environmental staging and a more realistic setting than if the play was performed simply in one place.
It's a very unique way of seeing classic plays performed, and very popular with locals. If you don't show up early, it's highly probably that the show will be sold out! Shakespeare in the Arb occurs every June on the weekends, starting at 6:30.