Stroll past the people playing table tennis and dodge children chasing each other on scooters, and a Newark parkgoer could witness yet another novel sight in the city's newly renovated Military Park.
It was the Next Stage Ensemble, acting William Shakespeare's comedy "A Midsummer Night's Dream", and their captive audience, lounging in park-issued chairs, their own lounge chairs, and on blankets.
The Next Stage Ensemble, a program of the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey, put on an hourlong version of the much longer play on the park's north lawn. While Shakespeare in the park is a time-honored summer tradition in New York City, Newarkers and other visitors got to experience the English bard's play on a near-perfect summer evening without crossing the Hudson.
The diverse audience was actively engaged with the play, frequently laughing as the story built to its crescendo. And the nine-person acting company was itself the picture of energy and adaptability: they contended with the sounds of the city, managed their own frequent costume changes, and changed out the set themselves, all while bringing the audience into the play's plot.
"We knew this was an outdoor space in Newark, but we didn't quite know the exact location," said one of the actors during an audience question and answer session after the play. "We were like, 'Alright, here we go. It's gonna be a challenge,'" he said.
But even more notable than the challenge of staging a play in an outdoor city environment was the availability of a fun, free, family-friendly cultural experience in a lovely public space here in town. "I've been studying Shakespeare since I was a young kid," said Jah Jah Shakur, a professor at Essex County College, "so to see that in downtown Newrk, here in Military Park, was fascinating."
After the play was over, patrons of a nearby bar were themselves fascinated to hear what they'd just missed. "I love it," said one patron, "Newark needs a lot more stuff like this. You don't always want to go to Manhattan to get some culture," she said.
"I'd love to see something like this in Weequahic Park," she continued.
Military Park features daily programming that includes, games, fitness, and poetry. For a full schedule of Military Park activities, visit the calendar on the park's website.