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GreenStage artistic director Ken Holmes amazed by 21 years of free Shakespeare in the park

Author note: Ken's another guy that I know I've interviewed more than once. After all, he's a major part of Seattle's great tradition of Shakespeare in the parks. He gave me so many great answers that I ended up turning this into two articles.

GreenStage begins their twenty-first season next month, presenting Shakespeare for free in Seattle's parks. The company's producing artistic director Ken Holmes was more than happy to discuss the company's two-decade history of performing the Bard's work outside.

Congratulations on GreenStage turning twenty-one. How long have you been with the company?

I got involved with GreenStage way back in 1993, acting in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. At that point, the company was called Shakespeare Northwest and was based in Pierce County. At the end of that summer the board of directors was going to disband the company, so the actors took it over. The following year, we partnered with Seattle Parks and Recreation through Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center. We also changed the name to GreenStage because there was another company in Seattle called Northwest Shakespeare, and we wanted to avoid confusion. Of course, as soon as we changed the name legally, Northwest Shakespeare dissolved.

Did anyone think it was possible that GreenStage would last so long?

I can only speak for myself on this one, but I don’t think the longevity of the company was a huge consideration when we took over. Looking back, it’s pretty amazing. I’ve also talked to members of the original board of directors who were amazed and happy about us still being around. We all knew it was a special company and deserved to be around for awhile.

How do you keep the momentum going at GreenStage?

It’s hard. Especially in years when we only do the summer shows. It’s hard to keep people involved when there isn’t a show to work on. This year should be a little different, since we are planning to produce Titus Andronicus this fall, and most of the people involved with the company are very excited about that.

What are your favorite memories from years past?

I could tell you stories for hours about favorite memories—I’ve got seventeen years worth of them. There have also been dozens of actors and directors who have helped shape this company over the years. They know who they are. To list them would take too long, and I’m sure I would leave someone out.

The 1993 Midsummer Night’s Dream will always hold a very special place for me. We were this wacky band of misfit performers who just wanted to go play in the park and make theater happen. Every time I direct, I try to recreate that spirit of that play. It was a true ensemble, a family, and we were doing something very special.

What do you think that GreenStage has contributed to the Seattle theater scene?

The mission of the company is all about building new audiences for theater. I believe that everyone loves theater, but many people just don’t know it because they haven’t been. A free production in a park is a very safe place for non-theatergoers to test the waters. I don’t for a minute think GreenStage can take credit for the vibrant Seattle theater scene, there’s so much going on—so many theaters.

What do the actors bring away from a GreenStage production?

I think what we provide for actors, especially younger ones fresh from college, is an experience that breaks them from standard acting routines. Performing outdoors is much different than being in the confined space of an indoor theatre. Actors have to learn to captivate a large audience and make hundreds of people focus on the story of the play instead of all the distractions in a park. It forces actors to be larger, while still communicating the emotion of the character, and telling the story clearly. When I have seen actors with outdoor theater experience take that to an indoor stage, they tend to be more captivating than those without that experience.

As the artistic director of GreenStage, what would you like to say to the audience who comes to see you?

Thanks for supporting live theater and enjoy the show. If you like it, tell your friends. And drop some money in the hat, while you’re at it.

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