Twenty-five summers ago, a small, but hearty troupe of players bundled into the back of a green pick-up truck (The Big O) and lumbered from the Mercer Island Community Center down to Luther Burbank Park Amphitheatre and barnstormed in for three performances of Much Ado About Nothing. Our purpose was fairly simple: to entertain. And thus Wooden O began.
I believed then as I believe now, that the great works of Shakespeare provide genuine, popular entertainment to audiences. They offer a holistic form of entertainment, entertaining the head, the heart, the guts (and…even some anatomy a little lower than that). What better format for popular and populist entertainment than free performances, in our public parks, for any and all to enjoy?
So with a team of actors, designers and stage managers pulled from my circle of high school and college theatre friends, and with new friends met along the way, we began, as Feste sings in Twelfth Night, to “strive to please you every day.”
In the ensuing years, the true nature of Wooden O began to emerge. Yes, we still strive to entertain, but that first Wooden O family of players really began to define Wooden O as an evocation of community.
When we form a community, we find common ground that unites us and at times forgo what divides us, in order to create a beneficial whole. That first Wooden O company created its own community of players, sharing a unified goal of storytelling. The act of live performance is also the act of forming a community. We share an experience that is both unique and common when storytellers enact narratives before a live audience. The audience has set aside time and traveled near and far to form their own community in the park that night. When we perform classic works, we (the actors and the audience) are in effect time traveling to form a community with over 400 years of common human experience.
I’m humbled that Wooden O has been welcomed into your communities for twenty-five years . . . and that, for many, it’s almost a necessary part of summer in the Northwest. Each year, we are all welcomed to set aside time to come together for a shared, unified (and unifying) experience in your town or in your park. We have created common bonds of art and entertainment, of laughter and tears, picnics and plays.
But we have also created something bigger — a stronger, more durable connection to our shared humanity. A statement that we are all part of the same body, bound together by our strengths, our frailties and our need for community.
All “within this Wooden O.”
Founding Artistic Director, Wooden O Theatre
Artistic Director, Seattle Shakespeare Company