What's a man to do when he's adapting a Shakespearean tragedy to a modern war zone and it's a felony to make the guns look

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Best Shakespeare for the People

Wooden O Shakespeare

What's a man to do when he's adapting a Shakespearean tragedy to a modern war zone and it's a felony to make the guns look too real?

If that man is George Mount of Wooden O Shakespeare, he gives a wry grin, gets on with rehearsal, and deals with the government later. (See this week's "Longenbaugh on Theater" for more on the controversy.) Mount was one of the founders of Wooden O, which has provided free outdoor Shakespeare every summer since 1994, and strange hassles are just part of the game.

"I don't think Shakespeare is just for geeks like me," he says outside the Mercer Island Community Center before a rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet, which he is directing this summer. "I started this because I believe that classical theater should be accessible to everyone."

Considering that even plays like the little-known Merry Wives of Windsor (adapted to a 1920s resort and made into a musical) draw full crowds, Wooden O seems well on its way to fulfilling Mount's goal. This philosophy is part of why his production of Romeo includes Army fatigues and handguns along with the familiar script. It also contributes to Mount's decision to have Mercutio sing Bob Dylan.

"Or Styx, I told him he could choose," says Mount, belting out a few lines of the songs he means. For a man who eschews tennis shoes for Oxfords, claims not to own a pair of jeans, and can't conduct rehearsal without a pencil in hand at all times, Mount is surprisingly easygoing.

"I got started in theater right over there," he says, nodding toward the community center. "That used to be my elementary school." From there he grew into a high-school drama nerd who wrote and performed "avant-geek plays," as he calls them, in Luther Burbank Park, the same place where Wooden O would later have its inaugural performance. Since then, theater's been the center of his life.

"I have a full-time job doing what I want," he says. "Who can say that?"

Well, one other is Mount's partner-in-Bard, Stephanie Shine, artistic director of Seattle Shakespeare. She doesn't wear jeans to work either—she wears sweatpants. "I'm such a nerd," she admits, sitting in the basement of the Seattle Center House in the office she shares with Guinness, her greyhound.

Shine, a citizen of both Ireland and America, began her directing career with a play about Irish immigrants before coming on board with Seattle Shakespeare in 1993. She has acted in and directed just about every one of Shakespeare's 37 plays, along with a few from other playwrights.

Committed to maintaining a thriving arts community in Seattle, Shine says, "I try to go to one show a week so I can make sure that I'm contributing the way I should." She also spearheads Seattle Shakespeare's Camp Bill every summer, where local youngsters can sign up to immerse themselves in everything from acting techniques to play analysis.

For all the two Shakespeareans have in common, their organizations are vastly different in ways that made joining forces, as they did this spring, a match made in thespian heaven.

"I've wanted to add some new classical playwrights to our repertoire for years now," says Mount. "And Seattle Shakespeare has actually begun doing just that on their mainstage."

"I've always been interested in touring," says Shine. "There just isn't the embarrassment of riches in other parts of the state, especially Eastern Washington, that there is here. We had the resources, but I don't know the first thing about touring, and George has that down."

The merger also translates into what Mount calls an "institutional permanence" for Wooden O and a new education director for Seattle Shakespeare as Mount moves into the job.

"It makes so much sense," says Shine. "I'm so excited about the future."—Emma Breysse

 
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