Defying the weather gods

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Belinda Bremer

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Dear fellow Oak Parkers and neighbors,

I am a proud artistic associate of our very own Oak Park Festival Theatre, which is now in its 45th season — a remarkable achievement of which Oak Park can be proud. Festival Theatre is, in fact, the Midwest's oldest professional (i.e. Actors Equity Association, the theatre union) outdoor classical theatre.

A dear friend who saw a recent performance of our Jeff Recommended and critically acclaimed production of Elizabeth Rex lauded the production but also extended his sympathies for the truly lousy weather we've had the first three weekends. (This past weekend, fortunately, was infinitely better). We have lost five performances to rain and threatening skies. Early performances were played in Arctic temps as well as mist and yet our loyal audiences were with us every second.

He asked how, despite weather and such vicissitudes visited upon outdoor theatre we have the heart to carry on.

This was my answer: 

How do we do it in spite of/despite everything against us?

The way you and I and so many, many others did and do. 

Because of the great joy in what we get to do and, yes, love to do.

Love always (eventually) wins — from 1601 and before to this very day. And, we pray, 2020 and beyond.

And, too, there is that fundamental, prehistoric, deep-down need to share stories. We need to experience together the stories that save us, give us heart, direction, and the comfort and strength to continue. Stories can do this on the page but most especially when we see enacted before us or by us. It is then we put a human face on human struggles. We share in the same space and time exactly what others have gone through. This is so needed now just when we are going through parallel perilous times.  

Yes, it's been a terrible summer for weather. Bless our audiences who have come and hung in with us. 

We are praying that the second half of our run will be blest with better weekend weather. I begrudge no one's garden rain, but let it fall from midnight Sunday through Wednesday evening!

And what are our rained-out woes to those flooded fields of rotting or unsown corn. Or the rest of the world's misery?

But we pray the skies will clear so more folks can see this exquisite play, Elizabeth Rex, and share this testament to love: love that transcends rank, gender, politics, and time. Our run continues Thursdays through Sundays till July 21 in Austin Gardens

The play is set on a night when the fate of England hangs in a fearful balance soul-shakingly like our own present condition. I sometimes feel that, at this dread-full moment, all of us who care for our fellow humans and this Earth we share, are just like the historical persons of the play, either "towered" or pacing out our fearful watch. Fearful and fraught as the night is, it is also blessed with rousing laughter, touched with tenderness, and redeemed by love and grace.

I think, each night, of a quotation from Steinbeck I found when directing Of Mice and Men some years back for OPFT: 

"We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say — and to feel — 'Yes, that's the way it is, or at least that's the way I feel it. You're not as alone as you thought.'"

There is an especial alchemy in theater that binds the artists and the audience. This bond is all the more special in the blessed space beneath the sky and stars we all share, shaded by ancient trees and yet in the very heart of our village. 

As Shakespeare, the conjurer of this marvelous play, says as we begin: "You are welcome, welcome, all."

Belinda Bremner of Oak Park plays Kate Tardwell in the current Festival Theater production of "Elizabeth Rex," Thursdays through Sundays in Austin Gardens.

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