There’s a lot of community theater in the Kanawha Valley.
The Charleston Light Opera Guild does the big-name musicals. The Children’s Theater of Charleston does shows for the kids. The Kanawha Players like to take chances on local and lesser-known playwrights.
But nobody locally is really doing outdoor drama or much Shakespeare.
The Alban Arts Center in St. Albans wants to change that.
This weekend at the city park amphitheater in St. Albans, the Alban Arts Center presents William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
Director Marlette Carter said, “It’s kind of a test program to see if we can do more outside theater in the area.”
The area has several amphitheaters and outside venues, which are generally used for concerts, if they’re used much at all. To see theater outdoors, local audiences have to travel to Chief Logan State Park in Logan County or to Theatre of West Virginia in Raleigh County.
Both have regular shows during the warmer months.
Carter believed somebody should be doing outdoor theater here and why not The Alban?
“It really feels like this is something that’s lacking in the area,” Carter said. “We’re interested to see what people think, if they want this.”
“Romeo and Juliet” seemed like a good first show for The Alban Arts Center to try outside, both because the play can be staged outdoors and also because it’s William Shakespeare’s best-known work.
“It has the most culture references,” she said. “It’s such a classic story and Shakespeare is kind of having another renaissance in the state.”
The Rustic Mechanicals have been touring different Shakespeare plays over the past couple of years and Barboursville hosted its first West Virginia Shakespeare Festival in July.
“The city of Montgomery is talking about starting a little Shakespeare festival of their own,” Carter added.
The Alban will also be taking “Romeo and Juliet” to Montgomery’s Fall Fest September 29.
In addition to the West Virginia-based productions, the American Shakespeare Center will be returning to the Clay Center October 19 during FestivALL Fall to perform “The Comedy of Errors.”
There’s just not a lot of locally produced Shakespeare.
Carter wants to change that.
“I’m a big Shakespeare nerd,” she said.
Often, Carter added, people think of “Romeo and Juliet” as that play they were stuck reading in ninth grade.
It was an assignment, a requirement, something they had to do because the teacher was required to make them.
“It totally loses its magic like that,” she said.
What gets lost in sitting around reading the play aloud, Carter said, is the laughter in the tragedy.
“The first two acts read like a comedy,” she said. “There’s a lot of dirty humor and people joking — and then all of a sudden somebody dies.
Putting together an outdoor showing has come with a particular, though not unexpected, set of challenges. The weather has been fickle. Torrential downpours followed by sunshine a short while later are common.
“It will be 15 minutes before the end of rehearsal and it starts raining,” Carter complained. “And I’m like, can’t we just finish this scene?”
Otherwise, she said things have gone well. The show is a collaboration with St. Albans City Parks and Recreation and Carter said the St. Albans Amphitheater is just a fun place to put on a play.
“We’ve got a nice stage and a nice grassy area for people to sit,” she said.
With a good turnout, Carter said they would pursue other outdoor plays, probably next year. The Alban is already making a list.
“We have a couple of ideas. I’m gunning for the Scottish play,” she said, referring to “MacBeth.”
“We just have to wait and see what happens,” Carter said.