November 30, 2021

Shakespeare in the Park

Rain could hamper ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Tom Beattie, of Cortland, left, rehearses a scene as Falstaff with Matt Steele for “The Merry Wives of Windsor” as Stephen Shepherd, of Liverpool, watches. The Shakespearean comedy will play this weekend at Suggett Park in Cortland.

Think of all the things that can go wrong with a live performance. The lead actor can get laryngitis. A spotlight could fall on the theater critic. The orchestra could have mass food poisoning.

What’s more likely with The Merry Wives of Windsor next week? The set could be abducted and hauled away to Iowa; the audience may not mask properly and sneeze a lot.

Or rain. Definitely rain.

Barring a calamity — or maybe in spite of it — “The Merry Wives of Windsor” will invite the audience to dance along to a ’50s vibe and Shakespearean dialect in shows starting next week at Suggett Park in Cortland.

If you want to go

What: “The Merry Wives of Windsor”
Who: The Center Players
Where: Suggett Park in Cortland, across from the Rotary Shelter
When: 6 p.m. Aug. 26, 27 & 28, and 2p.m. Aug. 28 & 29
Tickets: Call 607-749-4900 or go to

“Though the weather hasn’t been great, it’s been so lovely to be outdoors when it’s nice out,” said Brynn Wilkins, of Ithaca, who plays Mistress Ford.

The audience can bring picnic blankets to sit in the grass, though lawn chairs might be a better option if the grass is still damp.

Rain is a chance you take with outdoor performances — in 2019, a Center Players’ performance of “Macbeth” was cut short by thunderstorms, driving nearly 70 audience members to run for cover under a nearby pavilion.

This year, the cast and crew have rehearsed rain or shine and hope the weather is favorable when the day comes. Free shows are 6 p.m. Aug. 26 and 27; 2 and 6 p.m. Aug. 28; and 2 p.m. Aug. 29 next to the Rotary Shelter, across the footbridge at the park off Homer Avenue.

If the weather does not cooperate, the center will provide updates via social media and local radio.

“The challenges are many, but we strive to do our best,” said director Louise Felker.

“Because we’re not performing in a public, covered space like an amphitheater, we are constantly watching the weather,” Felker said. On rainy days, they’ve rehearsed at the Center for the Arts and at Rose Hall. “The outdoor set is larger than anything we could do inside, so whenever we switch rehearsal venues, the cast and crew have to adjust.”

Shakespeare in the Park also faces the threat of vandalism of the set and the challenges of upholding COVID-19 guidelines.

On Tuesday, the city of Cortland adopted COVID-19 protocol requirements for large gatherings. Beginning Aug. 25, the hosts of events with 50 or more people must complete a COVID protocol application, detailing how the hosts plan to enforce CDC guidelines.

“We hope that because the show is being performed in the open air, and patrons can distance themselves from others, this will encourage people to attend,” Felker said. Producers suggest attendees sit with their group and social distance from others. “Everyone has cabin fever and we look forward to performing something safe and entertaining for the local community.”

“The park itself is the perfect setting for Shakespeare, with its serene qualities and plenty of space for people to spread out,” Wilkins said. “I’m really looking forward to performing for an audience again. It’s been so long, and there’s nothing quite like the thrill of live laughter and reactions.”

The show is expected to draw from a large radius, Felker said.

“Some who are Shakespeare fans, some who enjoy vintage music, some want their kids to have new cultural experiences, and folks who want to have a safe experience outside their homes,” Felker said. “Theater isn’t just for the well-to-do — it’s for everyone.”