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Shakespeare on the butte

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Shakespeare in the Parks

Rachel Cendrick, left, practices a sparring scene with fellow cast member Brandon Burdick before a performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" on Poker Jim Butte outside Birney, Montana on Saturday, July 10, 2021.

On July 10, a caravan transporting a stage and set, costumes and props, actors and everything needed for a summer on the road, arrived at Poker Jim Butte, 11 miles uphill from the town of Birney, Montana. When the dust settled (much of it inside the cargo trailer), the actors morphed into construction workers and began the frantic transformation of the remote summit into a theatre.

Shakespeare in the Parks

Members of the cast of Shakespeare in the Parks take down their stage after a performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" on Poker Jim Butte outside of Birney, Montana on Saturday, July 10, 2021.

Shakespeare in the Parks

Joe Faifer, playing the role of Bottom, feigns suicide during a performance of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" on Poker Jim Butte outside Birney, Montana on Saturday, July 10, 2021.

Shakespeare in the Parks

All the world is truly a stage for Montana Shakespeare in the Parks when they perform on Poker Jim Butte outside Birney, Montana on Saturday, July 10, 2021.

Shakespeare in the Parks, the venerable Montana State University institution, might be well known around Montana and into the surrounding states, but nobody knows Shakespeare like the people scattered around Birney. Old timers remember when there was a dance hall and bars in town, but now absent these social fixtures, the annual dose of Shakespeare is, as Butch Fjell, 77, describes, "an awful good shot at a little bit of culture."

Shakespeare in the Parks

Patrick Lohof watches a Shakespeare in the Parks performance of "A Midsummer's Night Dream" on Poker Jim Butte outside Birney, Montana on Saturday, July 10, 2021. Lohof, a cattle rancher who lives seven miles from Poker Jim, has been going to performances for decades. "The older I get, the more I like the language," said Lohof.

For Riley O'Toole, longest running cast member in the troupe, the Poker Jim performance is a highlight of the long tour and the epitome of what makes being a part of Shakespeare in the Parks so special. "Every night its the opening and closing for that community," said O'Toole. "There's an appreciation and engagement of having people invite you into their homes and cooking for you and telling you about their lives."

Shakespeare in the Parks

Brandon Burditt adds a shock of gold to his hair in preparation for his role as Theseus in "A Midsummer's Night Dream" on Poker Jim Butte outside Birney, Montana on Saturday, July 10, 2021.

Shakespeare in the Parks

The Montana Shakespeare in the Parks cast gathers before a performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" on Poker Jim Butte outside Birney, Montana on Saturday, July 10, 2021. Along with being excellent actors, actor Brandon Burdick says cast members "have to be adventurous, have to be able to work, you have to have a great attitude, and that's all these people ten times over."

Shakespeare in the Parks

Christian and Kris Harvey, of Otter, Montana, arrive to a Shakespeare in the Parks performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" on Poker Jim Butte outside Birney, Montana on Saturday, July 10, 2021.

The venue is the most remote of their stops, but what it lacks in running water and electricity is made up by the hospitality of the community. For Cindy Hagan, who coordinates the tour stop on Poker Jim, the goal is to make the show an "inclusive and wonderful experience not just for the community but also for all these actors that are going to be going back to all parts of the world."

After performing, the cast camped on top of the butte, and when they woke up the next morning, Hagan filled them with breakfast and enough coffee to get them to their next show in Big Timber, four hours away.

Shakespeare in the Parks

Rachel Cendrick stretches after sleeping on the stage the morning after a Shakespeare in the Parks performance of on Poker Jim Butte outside Birney, Montana on Saturday, July 10, 2021.

Shakespeare in the Parks

The Shakespeare in the Parks cast drives a cargo trailer north on state Highway 566 after performing "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" on Poker Jim Butte outside Birney, Montana on Saturday, July 10, 2021.

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