SARATOGA SPRINGS: Much ado in summer

Even Shakespeare doesn't seem so stuffy when it's performed in the open air and bucolic setting of Congress Park in Saratoga Springs.

Entering its eighth year, the Saratoga Shakespeare Company has established a tradition of serving the community with free, professional outdoor Shakespeare productions. The company employs professional directors, designers and actors, with the cooperation of community volunteers in all areas. But it's far from a traditional theater experience.

It's wonderful because you can bring a picnic, you can bring your whole family, your dog, said actor Andy Place, who portrays Don Pedro in this summer's production of "Much Ado About Nothing."

"It's very casual. There's none of that stuffy atmosphere," he said.

Then the 10-year stage veteran reconsidered his choice of words. "Not that theater is stuffy " but this is very relaxed and casual. If you want to stretch out, or if you're with the kids and they get a little fussy, you can get up and take a walk through the park. It's a wonderful setting."

Bill Finlay, artistic director and co-founder of Saratoga Shakespeare Company, agrees.

"There are nights when, as the production winds down, the moon will sit right above the stage. You couldn't ask for better lighting," he said.

Finlay said he and the other founders of the company had a vision of an accessible theater event that would bring together people of all ages and levels of exposure to theater, with no limitations to the economically disadvantaged or physically challenged. In 2000, the company made its debut with "Twelfth Night." Since then, Finlay said, the company has tried to alternate serious and comedic fare every summer, depending on the professionals involved.

This year, a grant from the Alfred Z. Solomon Charitable Trust of Saratoga Springs has enabled the company to design and construct the Alfred Z. Solomon Stage.

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