SOUTH ABINGTON TWP. — The plays of William Shakespeare have been performed and enjoyed for over 400 years. Ghostlight Productions, a local theater company based in Clarks Summit, has delighted audiences in the community for an entire decade by enacting Shakespeare’s plays at South Abington Parke. Currently in its 10th year, Shakespeare in the Park features actors who do an outdoor performance of one of the playwright’s stories each year.
For this 10-year milestone, Ghostlight Productions decided in advance to perform “Hamlet” the weekend of June 1-3 and again June 8-10.
“It’s (“Hamlet”) such a classic Shakespeare play,” said director Jonathan Strayer. “So, it was warranted to do it.”
Strayer began Ghostlight Productions with his wife Rachel and friend Jeremy Kemmerer. They met and acted in plays as students at Clarks Summit University. After college, they wanted to not only to start a theater company but do something outdoors. After speaking with South Abington Twp. supervisors and South Abington Parks, Recreation and Shade Tree Committee members, they received a community grant from the Lackawanna County Department of Arts and Culture to begin the Shakespeare in the Park project. The project was also supported by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, P.S. Advertising Specialties and The Abington Memorial Post 7069, VFW, which volunteered to serve behind the scenes.
Shakespeare in the Park began in 2009 with the play called “Twelfth Night.” Since then, Ghostlight Productions has been offering weekend performances each June with Shakespeare plays. Other plays performed at Shakespeare in the Park include “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Romeo & Juliet,” “The Comedy of Errors,” “Macbeth” and “Julius Caesar.”
“We try to make it accessible because Shakespeare gets a bad rap for being too lofty,” said Jeremy, who played Hamlet’s uncle Claudius in this year’s production of “Hamlet.” “When it comes down to it, they’re really good stories.”
Jonathan and Jeremy also work together at Clarks Summit University where Jonathan is a theater director and Jeremy is a musical director.
Jonathan and Rachel Strayer have seen the Shakespeare in the Park audience grow and vary through the years. Some times, the turnout is about 700 people; other times, it’s about 1,100.
“I love the community that we build,” said Jonathan. “The audience gets to experience it.”
The Strayers have also seen audience members when they were kids during the first years of Shakespeare in the Park and have watched them grow to young adults.
“I just really enjoy this opportunity to connect with our community and introduce them to the wonders of Shakespeare,” said Rachel, who plays Hamlet’s best friend Horatio.
Nathan Bradley, who once lived in Scranton but now resides in Salem, Virginia, has performed at Shakespeare in the Park since its beginning. He acted in five plays, including “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” in which he played Bottom. He is currently bringing the idea of Shakespeare in the Park to a park in Salem. It will begin this July.
“It’s an adventure,” said Bradley. “I use a lot of what I learn and apply it to Shakespeare in the Park in Virginia.”
Although he lives in Virginia, Bradley comes to South Abington Twp. every year to watch Shakespeare in the Park.
KK Gordon, who plays the ghost of Hamlet’s father and is also a playwright, has been performing at South Abington Park for five consecutive years. He has written plays which have been performed in Scranton and New York. His play “Mona Lisa and the Cross” will be performed at Scranton’s Old Brick Theater in October.
“As a playwright, it feels like I’m doing my homework,” said Gordon. “The thing about Jonathan and Rachel is that they work with people of different experiences but train them the same way. To me, it’s my vacation of the drama of theater, the stuff that doesn’t come on stage.”
The title character of “Hamlet” is played by Josiah Hall, a student at Clarks Summit University. This is Hall’s first time acting for Shakespeare in the Park, but he has performed in many plays at the university with Jonathan Strayer.
Josiah’s plays at the university include “The Importance of Being Earnest,” “Peter and the Star Catcher” and the Shakespeare play “Much Ado About Nothing.”
“Jonathan just doesn’t tell us what to do but what the character would do,” said Josiah. “It gives me freedom as an actor.”
Josiah also enjoys the challenge of playing the role of Hamlet.
“I feel like I could keep digging stuff out of Hamlet,” he said. “He’s such a brilliant character and very intricate. Sometimes, you don’t know what he’s doing. It’s been great. I feel blessed. I’m going to do best to please God and give him credit.”
Ghostlight Productions will continue Shakespeare in the Park with performances of Hamlet at 6:30 p.m. Friday, June 8 and Saturday, June 9 and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, June 10.
“We love doing this,” said Jonathan. “We love bringing Shakespeare to the community. It’s a valuable experience.”
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