Merry Wives of Windsor

Katherine Fried portrays Mistress Ford in Shakespeare in the Park's 2019 production of "The Merry Wives of Windsor." 

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The Ellen Theater and Montana Shakespeare in the Park decided this week to cancel the opening night of “Cyrano de Bergerac” in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus, but fans of theater can still get their fix.

In lieu of the play, which was scheduled to open Thursday, Montana Shakespeare in the Park will host a Facebook watch party and stream video from an archived production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” beginning Friday at 7:30 p.m.

The archived video is from last year’s opening night that took place at Montana State University’s duck pond. It’s about two hours long.

Susan Miller with Shakespeare in the Park said the acting company was devastated to cancel Friday’s performance of Cyrano de Bergerac and wanted to find a way to still put on a show.

“It’s part of our mission to bring people together with theater,” Miller said. “The online community is where people are gathering right now.”

Streaming performances is a popular alternative to live shows among theaters and musicians across the country right now as public health officials warn against public gatherings to slow the spread of the virus.

Miller said streaming on Facebook allows people to not only tune in at the same time, but talk to each by commenting on the post. It will also allow people from out-of-state to watch the play. Miller said the company has received donations from more than 40 states, so she knows there are fans all over the country.

In a normal season, Shakespeare in the Park travels all over Montana, northern Wyoming, eastern Idaho, western North Dakota and eastern Washington putting on performances.

The 2019 production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor’’ was directed by Marti Lyons and set in the 1960s with music from that time period. It’s a comedy full of “duels, deceit, and attempted seduction,” according to Shakespeare in the Park.

Miller said that while there are some deep emotions portrayed in the play, it’s overall light-hearted.

“It’s a great comedy, and I think people need a laugh right now,” Miller said.

Miller said she suggests people create the full Shakespeare in the Park experience while watching in their living rooms by setting up a picnic. She said it’s an opportunity to support local restaurants that have had to close their dining rooms, but are offering takeout.

The watch party begins at 7:30 p.m. on Montana Shakespeare in the Parks Facebook page. A personal Facebook account is not necessary to tune in — the page can be found at facebook.com/montanashakespeareintheparks/. The video will also be posted to YouTube following the livestream event.

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Shaylee Ragar can be reached at sragar@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2607.

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