Max Delaney may not remember the moment that he unexpectedly became part of an outdoor theater performance at Lake of the Isles, but the actors and many in the audience do.
In the middle of a scene of "Love's Labor's Lost" last weekend, the 3-year-old bounded from his keepers and threw a Frisbee in the direction of the makeshift stage, bemusing theatergoers. The toddler then ran to retrieve his disc.
Max's spontaneous interruption is par for the course for alfresco theater artists and audiences alike. They regularly contend with squirmy tykes, errant pets and a panoply of bugs, including mosquitoes and black flies. There also is ambient noise from car alarms, airplanes flying overhead and hot rods thumping and bumping with their booming sound systems.
Other cities have longstanding traditions of outdoor performances, including New York, where the Public Theatre's Shakespeare in the Park programs have entranced theatergoers for generations. In the Twin Cities, the campy Renaissance Festival comes closest to a tradition in terms of longevity. Other, usually smaller, companies also produce work outdoors.
Classical Actors Ensemble, which staged "Love's Labor's Lost," has been presenting Shakespeare at various Twin Cities parks since 2014. It is the second time that the group is performing the comic play, which runs free through July 17 at parks such as Normandale Bandshell in Bloomington, Franconia Sculpture Park in Shafer, Minn., and St. Paul's Como Pavilion. And the ensemble has learned a few things about the audience in those eight years.
"When people come to an indoor theater, they've paid money and there's this expectation about [the quality of] certain things," said artistic director Joseph Papke. "But in the park, the expectations are different. We get people who weren't planning on coming — they're just walking by or on bikes. They wander over, then creep closer and sit down. That's gratifying because we've created something that captures their interest."
The late literary critic Harold Bloom called the early Shakespearean comedy "a florabundance of language." "Love's Labor's Lost" contained characters and scenarios that would be teased out in some of the Bard's later works, including a sparring couple like Beatrice and Benedick from "Much Ado About Nothing" and a play-within-a-play like "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
"Love's Labor's Lost" lends itself to wackiness. The King of Navarre and his three henchmen forswear the company of women in favor of their studies for three years. But that vow is quickly abandoned after they meet the beautiful Princess of France and her three ladies-in-waiting. Serial courting ensues.
Much of the action takes place outdoors. Directors Hannah Steblay and Samantha Papke, Joe's wife, stage the show as if it were happening on a prep school campus, with Navarre and his men dressed in suits and short pants with long socks that match the men's ties (pink, green and yellow, etc.).
"I really like the midcentury, private school vibe," said Talia Ostacher, a Macalester College student who sat in the front row.
The actors, particularly the male ones, deliver with broad physicality. Think fraternity brothers hubba-hubba-ing Shakespeare. The company includes a choir that sings contemporary songs such as Pharrell Williams' "Happy," Lorde's "Royals" and Madonna's "Material Girl" between scenes.
In other words, the production makes Shakespeare relatable and fun. And it is entertaining. But don't try tracking the story too closely. Just live for each of the moments.
That's the tack taken by jewelry maker and gallery owner Michelle Streitz, who lives about a mile from the Lake of the Isles. She stopped by while biking Saturday, and stayed for the whole show, which runs nearly two hours without intermission.
"I can't tell you where the [characters] are and I've never seen this [Shakespearean title] before, but I like it," said Streitz, who has seen plays in New York's Central Park. "It's good for us to have it here, too."
Toddler Max also lives nearby with parents Matt and Abby Hoeschler Delaney. The whole family, including Max's younger sibling, aunt and cousins, had come over as well. They brought a chicken dinner and Champagne.
"We've seen them rehearsing for weeks, and wondered what it was all about," Abby said, beaming. "We wanted to find out."
Matt was absorbed by the show, as much as he could be, anyway, while watching his children. He wants to see it again, though, adding, "we'll be coming back — without the kids."