Shakespeare on the Common: Backstage Access from La Vie

Posted July 18, 2013 by Scott Kearnan in Downtown Boston
Two Gentlemen of Verona

Nothing says “VIP” quite like a backstage pass.

Some might associate that experience only with rock bands and pop stars. But this month, guests at the latest installment of La Vie® a series of special “immersive experiences” created exclusively for Millennium Place residents, received a different type of backstage experience: a behind-the-scenes tour of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s new Shakespeare on the Common show. Oh, plus boxed dinner and front-row seats to watch the show, staged in the middle of Boston Common through July 28, under a warm summer evening sky

Honestly, I’d take that over a Taylor Swift meet-and-greet any day. (Then again, you would never, ever, ever catch me at her concert. Like, ever.)

Just to recap, for those who missed my coverage of the kick-off: La Vie is a special program that hooks up Millennium Place residents with unique experiences. That might mean “fireside chats” with movers and shakers, group outings to restaurants and bars or, as is the case here, VIP treatment to arts and cultural events. The idea is that if you’re going to live in luxury residences, the amenities ought to include something more experiential than an impressive address on your bank statement. (The upside to being a writer: You’ll probably never know luxury, but you sometimes get to tag along. Whoomp.)

Sip Wine Reception

Cocktail reception at Sip prior to the La Vie event. Photo courtesy of Millennium Place

Backstage VIP Tour

The actors and actresses were priming for their on stage cameos during the backstage tour. Photo courtesy of Millennium Place

This time, the La Vie experience began with a cocktail reception at Sip Wine Bar and Kitchen. It was a chance to introduce the evening as the first installment of the “Out and About” program, which will encompass group gatherings throughout downtown Boston. Sip happens to be among my favorite spots down there, since it offers a flexible wine menu: all selections can be ordered as “sip” (2-ounce), half-glass, full-glass, or bottle pours. For the La Vie event, though, the bartenders took a heavy hand, passing out big glasses of whites and reds to a healthy crowd of clinking Millennium residents.

Then, Act Two. While most stayed at the cocktail reception, about a dozen culture vultures hopped on the opportunity to take a tour of the backstage area with CSC associate production manager Leslie Chiu. Although, to be more accurate, “backstage” is a term used loosely: The show is performed on a stage in the middle of Boston Common, so the backstage area looked more like a gated, grassy artist commune in the middle of the park. Chiu took us through a locked fence into a small compound of trailers, each serving a different function — an administration office, an office for its 40-plus production staff, trailers for its cast, dressing rooms and wardrobe storage, and more. It’s here that the cast can spend up to 18-hour days during the final crunch time of rehearsals, said Chiu, who also elaborated a bit on how CSC is funded (moral of the story: individual donations make a big difference) and even the catering options (apparently Earl of Sandwich sent over some free food).

Panificio Boxed Lunch

Panificio provided the box lunches to Millennium Place residents for their La Vie event. Photo Courtesy of Millennium Place

La Vie guests, though, got boxed lunches from Panificio, a gourmet café on Beacon Hill. And they were enjoyed in the front two rows of lawn chairs set up for the performance of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, which took Shakespeare and gave him a touch of Frank Sinatra. The play is thought by some to be the Bard’s first play, and is certainly among his earliest: It centers on best two friends who leave their hometown of Verona for Milan, and wind up fighting like fools over the attention of a rich Duke and his daughter. A lot of Shakespeare scholars consider it one of his weakest plays, but you’d be hard-pressed to see why from CSC director Steven Maler’s production. The action is transported to Rat Pack-era Las Vegas (a place where plenty of tight pals have probably gotten into scrapes over women), filled with colorful cabarets and, of course, crooners. Old Blue Eyes and his pals would be proud of the way Maler and music director Colin Thurmond have integrated a five-piece jazz band from New England Conservatory of Music to accompany actors on live performances of swaggering standards like “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “Fever,” and “Witchcraft.” The reinvention not only makes this show feel special, but also offers a lighter, fun approach that befits a summer night of theater in a downtown city park. It feels accessible, and should lure crowds that might otherwise hear “Shakespeare on the Common,” picture tunic-clad actors shouting iambic pentameter, and go running in the opposite direction.

They shouldn’t, even if they won’t necessarily get the A-list treatment of a La Vie guest. As it’s said in Hamlet, “The play’s the thing.” Though the chance to see it from every angle, including that of a star critic, isn’t half-bad either.



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