A great night of family-friendly Shakespeare from City of Fairfax Theatre

An impressive outdoor festival showcases six of the Bard's most famous plays in excerpts performed by an ensemble of mostly young children.

The City of Fairfax Theatre Company presents A Brief Shakespeare Festival: a showcase of six of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, with each allotted 15 minutes stage time or less. Director Olivia Hinebaugh, alongside Co-Directors Stephen Shetler and Justin Winters, work with a large ensemble that covers multiple generations, the majority of which are small children. If this sounds like a tall order, that’s because it is! Leading so many young actors through such difficult material (after all, Shakespeare is challenging for even the most seasoned actors) could not have been an easy feat, and the result is impressive!

Scene from ‘A Brief Shakespeare Festival.’ Photo courtesy of The City of Fairfax Theatre Company.

The space is about as family-friendly as it gets; since the performance is at an amphitheater, you’re welcome to bring a whole picnic and relax on a blanket during the show. With it being the end of July, I was worried about getting over-heated, but there was plenty of shade and the evening turned out to be very comfortable.

Scenic Designer Olivia Hinebaugh uses a large curtain rod to go between a few different settings; A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays out in front of a colorful forest, then, with a few tugs, a castle swishes into view for Twelfth Night. Since most of the actors play multiple roles, costumes are plain…with the exception of some clever maneuvers. For example, Becca Blacksten can go between the characters of Juliet and Mercutio with a quick-change that flips a cape into a skirt.

With only about 15 minutes to showcase an entire play, lines are delivered at break-neck speed. Understandably, most of the children are required to wear face masks, which can make already tough dialogue even harder to understand, and at times nearly impossible. This is a bit of a bummer, but honestly, what you’re there for is a taste; a quick highlight of some of Shakespeare’s most famous scenes. As you watch Hamlet’s death-toll pile up (quite literally), it’s easy to get the gist.

Natalie Cavender, Gigi Moon, and Isabell Tasheva all do a great job as the spooky witches from Macbeth, in what in my opinion is the most memorable scene. Now, amidst all the fun, there are a few monologues performed by experienced actors that showcase real, tangible theatrical talent. Scott Graham gives a visceral performance as Shylock from The Merchant of Venice, and Leslie Anne Ross is very enjoyable as the Nurse from Romeo and Juliet. Michael Santos Sandoval intrigues as Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing, and Vikas Malhotra gives one of the night’s most notable performances with “All the World’s a Stage” from As You Like It.

Scene from ‘A Brief Shakespeare Festival.’ Photo courtesy of The City of Fairfax Theatre Company.

So how do you get a soccer team’s worth of small children not only interested in but able to perform Shakespearean dialogue? My guess (and this is a guess, because I will never be brave enough to try and tackle such a big project) is to embrace the situation for what it is. Yes, Shakespeare is notoriously intimidating, but it is also full of slapstick comedy, child-friendly characters (fairies! witches! ghosts!), and yes, even potty humor. The elements are all there, and the children are obviously having a lot of fun with it. Their collective enthusiasm is a joy to watch, and the fact that they refuse to take themselves too seriously (for example, when Romeo and Juliet die, they roll onto their backs with their limbs in the air, like cockroaches), makes this a great night of family-friendly entertainment. Watching their peers perform Shakespeare is a great way to introduce children to his works; in fact, I can’t think of a better way to do it.

Scene from ‘A Brief Shakespeare Festival.’ Photo courtesy of The City of Fairfax Theatre Company.

If you’re looking to dip your toe into Shakespearean culture, then this is the way to do it. Bring some snacks and a blanket (or hey, even a whole picnic) for a fun, casual night of enjoyable local theater.

Running Time: Approximately two hours with one intermission.

A Brief Shakespeare Festival presented by The City of Fairfax Theatre Company,  performs at the Veteran’s Amphitheater at City Hall, 10455 Armstrong Street, Fairfax, VA, July 30 to August 8, 2021, at 6:00 pm. The seating area is available starting at 5:00 pm. Purchase tickets ($25 for adults and $15 for kids ages 3–12) online. Subject to availability, tickets will also be sold on site. If a performance is cancelled due to inclement weather, affected patrons will be able to exchange their tickets for any other date of their choice, pending availability, or attend a rain date performance. Rain calls will be made by 5:00 pm, with notification going out to all attendees by 5:30 pm.

Following the CDC and state of Virginia guidelines for large outdoor gatherings, participants and audience members who are not fully vaccinated will be required to wear masks, and anyone who has come into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, is feeling sick, or has exhibited symptoms of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours should not attend. Hand sanitizer and masks will be available. Audience members must take their own trash with them. CFTC suggests audience members bring their own sunscreen, bug spray, and water.

SEE ALSO: Have supper outside with a side of Shakespeare at City of Fairfax Theatre


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