Merry Wives of Windsor MSIP

Montana Shakespeare in the Parks put on ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’ in Belgrade in this 2019 Chronicle file photo.

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After a year as dramatic as 2020, it only makes sense that Shakespeare is back.

Montana Shakespeare in the Parks will be returning this summer with its five-state touring production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Cymbeline,” visiting more than 60 towns and putting on plays acted by professional actors for free in public parks.

“Perhaps the greatest part for me and I think for the organization has been communicating with our underserved rural communities and to hear their enthusiasm either via email or over the phone about the fact that we’re going to be able to engage their communities again,” said Kevin Asselin, the executive artistic director of Montana Shakespeare in the Parks.

The tour won’t look exactly like it has in years past. There will be eight actors instead of the usual 10, and a ninth person will function as a COVID safety manager, making sure everybody sticks to the dozen-page COVID safety plan drafted in collaboration with Montana State University and the Gallatin Valley Health Commission.

Asselin said it’s exciting and gratifying to be able to reach out to the actors that work with Montana Shakespeare in the Parks, some of whom haven’t performed much or at all during the pandemic, and invite them back. Those actors come from Bozeman and around the country — many will already be vaccinated by the time performances begin in June, but making sure they had a safe workspace to come back to was still a major tenant of that safety plan.

And being able to bring theater back to rural communities like Birney and Forsyth after a “very divisive year” is a major plus, he said.

“It’s about live, free, professional theater, but I also think it’s more about ... bringing community together to share a picnic, to share the benefits of their local park, and to experience live, free, professional theater that is relevant to their individual lives,” he said. “The cultural arts is not so much about the product more than it’s about bringing people together to share in a mutual experience.”

The two plays MTSIP will be putting on are carryovers from the 2020 season that never was. And the “Cymbeline” performances are part of an international collective’s push to bring Shakespeare plays about the relationship between humans and nature to the forefront.

“Both ‘Midsummer’ and ‘Cymbeline’ tell the story that within nature, within the natural world … we find resolution, we find peace, we find perspective, we come to terms with our soul,” Asselin said.

The script of the play was edited with the help of Gretchen E. Minton, who recently won the 2020 Montana Book Award for her book “Shakespeare in Montana,” to help bring out those aspects of the play.

A major change is that Belarius, a traditionally male “Cymbeline” character with several sons, was changed to be a female character, named Belaria, with daughters, to be a reflection of mother nature.

Montana Shakespeare in the Parks will be performing Cymbeline at the duck pond at MSU on June 16-19 beginning at 8 p.m. and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on June 23-26. The company’s summer tour will begin the following week.

More information on Montana Shakespeare in the Parks and the company’s summer tour dates can be found on its website,

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Nora Shelly can be reached at or 406-582-2607.

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