‘A breath of fresh air’: Shakespeare in the Park returns to Santa Clara

ST. GEORGE — Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, there have been two barriers to attending theater productions: the cost of tickets to people who might’ve been facing financial difficulties and a general reluctance to join a large crowd inside a building.

Director Heidi Lee (center) discusses the play with a young cast member at a rehearsal of “The Comedy of Errors” in Santa Clara, Utah, April 27, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

Heidi Lee, who founded Santa Clara City Shakespeare in the Park along with her husband, Michael, is uniquely positioned to bypass those barriers. Their production of William Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors,” which runs Friday, Saturday and Monday, will be held outdoors. And it’s free to attend.

“It will be a breath of fresh air,” she told St. George News. “It’s really important for me that we can all enjoy Shakespeare right now. We haven’t experienced anything like this for over a year.”

Lee, who earned degrees in theatre and education and spent 10 years teaching in the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, is a Santa Clara native who returned to the area in 2014 with her husband. They founded their Shakespeare company in 2018.

The company was actually set to perform this show last year, but then COVID-19 prompted health officials to caution against gathering in large groups. Lee canceled the show but promised the performers that they would have their parts when they were able to put the show on.

Lee said two-thirds of the performers returned, but she needed to fill some key roles. One of these roles would be filled by her husband.

“Michael’s my biggest supporter,” she said. “Not only is he my producing partner, but he’s also playing the lead, Antipholus of Syracuse. He’s my true love.”

The sound team mics up an actor during a rehearsal of “The Comedy of Errors” in Santa Clara, Utah, April 27, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

As Lee said that, her husband used a leaf blower to clear the stage of debris. Though the show was set to open in two days, the carpenters, props and sound crews were still busy with last-minute tasks. Luckily for Michael Lee, he played the role when he attended Snow Canyon High School in 2002.

“When Heidi asked me to play the role, I’d forgot I had played it in high school,” he told St. George News. “But I can still remember the lines.”

He said that, in order to memorize Shakespeare’s wordplay, he spent a lot of time in the attic at work, repeating the lines out loud.

“But it’s all fun,” he said. “I love the slapstick. We’ve got such a great group, and a lot of us have been doing this stuff together for a long time.”

Lee said many of his fellow cast-members have been performing together since high school.

“The Comedy of Errors” is thought to be one of Shakespeare’s early plays. The Santa Clara City Shakespeare in the Park company will be performing a 90-minute version of the play, set in New Orleans in 1920.

An actor runs lines before going on stage at a rehearsal of “The Comedy of Errors” in Santa Clara, Utah, April 27, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

A fast-paced farce, replete with the Bard’s famous wordplay, slapstick and mistaken identity, the play fulfilled Heidi Lee’s need to stage a crowd-pleaser as audiences begin to return to theaters.

“I wanted to do a comedy to make Shakespeare more accessible to audiences of all ages,” she said. “We don’t need ‘Macbeth’ right now. We need a fast, fun romp. The past year has been hard enough on all of us.”

Performances will begin at 8:15 p.m. at Swiss Park, directly across the road from Santa Clara Town Hall. Lee encourages audience members to bring blankets and lawn chairs. There will be food trucks on hand from 5-7:30 p.m. leading up to each performance.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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