The sixteenth season of Shakespeare in the Arb begins June 9 with weekly performances of Love’s Labour’s Lost. Directed by Kate Mendeloff of the U-M Residential College and performed by students and local actors, the al fresco production draws thousands of Shakespeare fans each June to the University of Michigan’s Nichols Arboretum. This summer tradition is a moveable feast of theater that travels through the Arb—literally. As the scenes change, performers and audience move to various locations in Nichols Arboretum, using the natural landscape as a backdrop to the production.
It’s been 10 years since director Kate Mendeloff took up Love’s Labour’s Lost and fell in love with it during rehearsal. “I chose Lost initially because I thought it would work well in the Arb,” she explains. “Ten years on, I wanted to revisit this lesser-known gem and rediscover it with a new group of actors and a new creative team.”
The Arb and Shakespeare have turned out to be the perfect marriage, notes Arb and Gardens’ director Robert Grese. “When I first heard Kate talk about an ‘environmental’ production, where the audience takes in all the sensory experiences of being in the Arboretum together with the dialogue and action of the play, I was totally hooked,” he says.
The natural setting creates the special experience of Shakespeare in the Arb. There is no fixed stage; instead, Mendeloff leads audience and actors through different Arboretum locations, taking advantage of its vistas, valleys and other natural features.
Shakespeare in the Arb began in 2001 when Mendeloff was asked to direct an outdoor production as part of a Ford Motor Company grant for Arts in Nichols Arboretum. She chose Shakespeare’s masterpiece A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a play about the transformation of people through nature, that, she says, is “perfect for the Arb,” with its natural setting, structure, and language.
The production was such a success that Mendeloff remounted it the following summer, and since then Shakespeare in the Arb has become an Ann Arbor tradition and an enduring collaboration between Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum, U-M students and the Residential College.
Tickets available at the Arboretum box office at 5:30 p.m. the day of each show. Visit the Matthaei Botanical Garden website for more information: mbgna.umich.edu. Or call 734-647-7600.