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In the Park with Will 

The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival brings Romeo and Juliet to the great outdoors

From the miasma of the area's annual warm-weather entertainment rituals rises a bold new beast: the Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis, featuring performances of Romeo and Juliet in Forest Park.

"Why should I care? That stuff's boring!" you may ask.

Au contraire, smart-ass. Many believe that Shakespeare in the park is a vital component of summertime culture in the big city. Consider the words of festival producing director Rob Townsend: "I think people have a right to see Shakespeare," he says. "We all agree that Shakespeare is the greatest writer in the English language. Through the graces of all the contributions from corporate and private donations, we're able to offer this free to the public. A community defines its character through its culture, and St. Louis has a marvelous track record with the art museum and the zoo and the science museum all being free. Well, we get to give them Shakespeare for free."

You can get your Elizabethan groove on at the green show, a traditional pre-drama fair intended to ease playgoers into the times and the language. Check out strolling musicians and dancers; buy food, drink and souvenirs; and enjoy puppeteers, professors lecturing on the play and Meet Romeo and Juliet, a mini-play for kids and adults unfamiliar with the work. The actual play begins as the sun sinks low at 8 p.m. and finishes three hours later under spotlights. Audience members are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets and to picnic as the tragedy unfolds.

Remember, you read this here: About 30 minutes before the play starts, actors will rehearse the scenes involving combat at an onstage "fight call." It will be cool.

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