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It's Shakespeare in the Parks 52nd season, so let's meet some long-time crew members

Riley O'Toole
Posted at 11:56 AM, Jun 10, 2024

To be or not to be. Some people may not know Hamlet, but you know who does? Shakespeare in the Parks, and they’re back in town.

“Do you ever get nervous anymore when you’re performing?” I asked Riley O’Toole, who has been with Montana Shakespeare in the Parks for 8 years now, working as an actor, associate artistic director, and tour manager. “Oh gosh, every time. I’m nervous every time even after this many performances,” he told me.

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Riley tells me after over 600 performances, he still loves what he does because every show is unique.

Riley tells me after over 600 performances, he still loves what he does because every show is unique.

“We don’t really have a 4th wall here. There’s new moments formed by somebody tripping. Or, I mean our audiences know very well the elements that we deal with. You know a tender moment that is interrupted by a train blowing through nearby,” says Riley.

Another way Riley says Shakespeare in the Parks is special?

“As you can see behind me, you know all the actors are not just actors. When I talk to them on the phone before they come out I say ‘You’re being hired as a construction worker, that’s also gonna get to do a play for 2 hours a day.’”

Shakespeare in the Parks actors build everything, from the sound systems to the stage. Riley tells me they also come from all over the country with impressive acting backgrounds.

C, the executive artistic director, holds more than 400 auditions yearly to hand-pick the 11 actors for their summer shows. And these actors are committed.

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Kevin Asselin, the executive artistic director, holds more than 400 auditions yearly to hand-pick the 11 actors for their summer shows. And these actors are committed.

“Montana Shakespeare in the Parks is on the road over 180 days out of the year. We are in 65 communities, we travel over 700 miles. Across the 5-state region,” says Kevin.

For 52 years Montana Shakespeare in the Parks has traveled throughout Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, North Dakota, and Washington. Kevin has worked with Shakespeare in the parks for 22 of those years and has seen how production has changed over time.

“The concepts with our shows have become very well in tune with 21st-century ideas. We like to ensure that we’re not producing Shakespeare as a museum piece,” he tells me.

But Kevin also says Shakespeare in the Parks is not just for literature lovers.

“I like to say that it's not really about Shakespeare. It’s more about the opportunities, about individuals, neighbors, families, and friends in every community to come together to picnic. To enjoy each other and to enjoy live free performance,” he says.

And Riley, who will be playing Hamlet in his first lead role in the upcoming summer shows, can only agree.

“A lot of people have ideas about Shakespeare not being for them. Of course, because we were all forced to read it in school. And it’s not meant to be read. It’s meant to be seen live and performed. And I think there’s a lot more fun in the performance than people have ideas about,” says Riley.

The Bozeman shows will begin Wednesday, June 12th with Hamlet. The link to their full schedule is here: https://shakespeareintheparks.org/menu/full-schedule