Chicago's Lakeside Shakespeare Theatre

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

I'm very excited to share a summer Shakespeare Theatre with you (you all know I love summer Shakespeare!). Lakeside Shakespeare Theatre is a Chicago company that heads to northwest Michigan every summer. Lucky for us, our cottage is near there, and we're excited to see both summer productions in a few weeks - and have our daughter attend one of their educational camps, Fairies, Witches, and Gravediggers (she can't wait!). The location, in Frankfort, Michigan, is just beautiful - a delightful town (try eating at Fusion, right on the waterfront) on Lake Michigan. Summer in Michigan is particularly lovely, and to add outdoor theater to the mix is a recipe for happiness. This summer, LST is presenting King Lear and As You Like It. They have several workshops for kids, as well as one for adults on how to read Shakespeare. I can't wait!

We were lucky enough to sit down and chat with Michael Norton, Producer of Lakeside Shakespeare Theatre, about their history, upcoming season, educational activities, and more. Here's what he had to say...



WE: Please tell us about the Lakeside Shakespeare Theatre...

MN: LST is a Company of Chicago-based artists who travel to Benzie County every summer to perform Shakespeare. We perform the two shows in repertory every summer for two weeks, so that if you aren't a permanent resident, you can still catch both shows. In recent years, we have also expanded into an education institution as well. It is unbelievable how, in our 7 seasons, the community has offered so many helping hands in the process. We really would not be able to be where we are today without the local population of Benzie County.


Lakeside Shakespeare Theatre - King Lear

Lakeside Shakespeare Theatre - King Lear



WE: What was the genesis of LST?

MN: Lakeside Shakespeare Theatre was founded by our Artistic Director, Elizabeth Laidlaw, in 2003 as a way to bring Shakespeare to a community that otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to experience such theatre. According the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs, Benzie is an under-served community artistically, and that is not for lack of want. Elizabeth started with "Midsummer Night's Dream" in 2003, and the community was so excited. The next year she expanded to a two show season, and that's the format we have followed since then.



WE: Who is involved in LST?

MN: We have a good amount of LST veterans this year, and we are all theatre professionals during the year. Our directors this season come from very different, but equally significant backgrounds. Jeff Christian (director, "As You Like It") has been with LST since the beginning, co-directing "Midsummer," and during the year works with a ton of theatre companies in Chicago. He also founded The Shakespeare Project, which cuts down Shakespeare's plays and performs them in really unique and new ways. Jessi Hill (director, "King Lear") is new to us this year, but is no rookie with directing. We actually pulled Jessi back to Chicago from New York, where she moved a few years ago after graduating with her MFA from Yale School of Drama. She and Elizabeth had worked together earlier this year, and Elizabeth was really impressed with her creative vision.

Our actors are a really nice mix of old and new. Every season is a chemistry experiment, mixing some actors that have been working with the company for many years, with new actors who have no idea what they've gotten themselves into. It's tricky trying to balance a company that, after a furious (and sometimes stressful) six week rehearsal process, moves to Michigan to live together for two weeks. We always joke that we must look like a group of bizarre looking circus folk that descend upon the unsuspecting Benzie County every summer, but actually, there is a mutual love between the actors and the local community. During the year, Our actors have worked with virutally every theare in Chicago, including Chicago Shakespeare, Steppenwolf, Chicago Dramatists, Next Theatre, The Goodman Theatre, and Strawdog Theatre, just to name a few.

We also have our incredible stage manager, Suzy Lynn, who basically works her butt off to keep everyone in line, and the talented production team, which includes myself, Our Costume designer, Sound Designers, Techincal Director, Props Mistress and Fight Choreographer. So there's a good sized team that comes together to put these plays together.



WE: What productions do you have planned for this year?

MN: We are doing "King Lear" and "As You Like It." Both very different; both very challenging. "As You Like It" is a really strong female play, and this year, our returning actors are mostly women. What a great chance for them to show off! The play is a tricky comedy that deals with a lot of questions of love and family. What is it about someone that makes us love? And what does gender have to do with that? And "Lear" is the first full blown tragedy we have presented in a few years, and it's a big production. After months of tossing around titles, we decided were ready to take on the challenge."Lear" also follows the themes of love and family, but it explores them in different ways. What is it to be a loyal child? How do we deal with age in ourselves and those around us?

They both present us with some really difficult and exciting questions. And the two of them are both set in the woods for the majority of the play, so our new performance venue really helps create that atmosphere!


Lakeside Shakespeare Theatre - As you like it

Lakeside Shakespeare Theatre - As you like it



WE: Why did LST land in Frankfort? It's a long way from Chicago!

MN: Elizabeth grew up spending her summers there, and as she began to return as an adult, she started to see an opportunity and a want for this level of theater. I spent my summers up there as well, and went to Interlochen Arts Academy for a few years, and I have to say, when I first heard about it I was surprised that something of this caliber was created and then only shown in Benzie. But when you see the shows and meet the people who see the shows, you get it. People have suggested we should consider a tour, but I think that defeats the whole purpose of what we do. We create this for Benzie County, and in that way, it feels like a very pure form of theater. There are no critics, it's outdoor, there is no cost, and it's in the northern woods. It allows us as artists to explore a piece with a freedom we don't usually get.



WE: You've got some great educational activities for kids (and our daughter will attend!) - how do you reach out to kids and communities?

MN: This is one of our missions that LST really started working with a few years ago, when Elizabeth came to Frankfort High School and directed "Midsummer Night Dream" for the Drama program. From there, we started doing summer workshops for various ages, and seeing where the interest really lies. This year, we started early with a two day spring workshop at Frankfort High School that taught the kids about First Folio Technique, Shakespearean insults, and stage combat. From that time we pulled our Interns, who help us out during our performances as stage hands and get to act in some scenes directed by our company.

We also have two youth workshops hosted by our educators Christy Arington and Elizabeth Dowling for 6-10 year olds and 11-14 year olds that are three day workshops that put together performances that are presented on Wednesday, August 4 before the performance of "As You Like It." The kids in this are from all over. Some are summer kids, some live in Benzie year round, and some are from families that travel to Frankfort just to participate in the events. All are welcome! We also wanted to start reaching out to the adults of the community as well, so this year we are holding a workshop at the bookstore that explores shakespeare's text on the page and as spoken word. It was put together to give adults who may be a bit intimidated by Shakespeare some tools to approach it. Head to our website to find out how to register.



WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

MN: We really hope everyone can make it to our shows and workshops! We are so excited about every aspect of our season, and hope you are too!



WE: Thanks so very much, Michael. We're so excited to come and participate!  Readers, check back after the first week of August for our photos and articles on this season's Lakeside Shakespeare Theatre.

For more information, please see:

King Lear

Directed by Jessi D. Hill
July 28th, 31st, August 3rd & 5th at 7:00PM

As You Like It
Directed by Jeff Christian
July 29th, 30th, August 4th & 6th at 7:00PM

Bring your own seating!




All photos courtesy and copyright Lakeside Shakespeare Theatre