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By Olivia Kiers / July 17, 12:00 AM
Boston Accent: Free for All

Commonwealth Shakespeare Company Artistic Director Steve Maler makes the Bard accessible to everyone


For countless Bostonians, summer means the chance to watch a classic Shakespeare play performed live and for free, right in the historic heart of the Hub. Thanks to Commonwealth Shakespeare Company (CSC), Shakespeare on the Common has been a beloved tradition for more than 20 years. For lucky visitors here during its run, CSC founding artistic director Steve Maler offers a convincing pitch: “Die-hard Shakespeare fans return year after year because we take pride in excellence. These are full-scale, professional productions.” Since founding CSC in 1996, Maler has seen his commitment to the highest standards pay off. “On a Friday night, 10,000 people might arrive on the Common to share a timeless story with these actors—who are not only from Boston but from New York and L.A.”    

While production values are important, the bedrock of CSC’s success is its commitment to accessibility. “Twenty years ago, the Boston theater scene was less diverse. From the start, we wanted to found a company that would be accessible to everyone.” Maler explains that there are dates for ASL-interpreted and open-captioned performances, and that the site around the Common’s Parkman Bandstand is ADA-friendly. And of course, all Shakespeare on the Common performances are free. “Anyone can show up with a picnic blanket and enjoy the evening. Shakespeare on the Common is not just a play. It’s a large-scale civic gathering.” 

This summer, Maler is excited to present Romeo & Juliet (July 19–August 6). “Romeo & Juliet is positioned as a tragedy, but at its heart it’s a story about love that crosses barriers, and that is an important notion for us to reflect on today.” CSC often tries to select plays in which Shakespeare’s words can resonate with modern viewers. “Even with the technological changes of recent years, seeing a live play in person still has a profound impact,” says Maler. 

No matter what play is chosen, Maler is confident that contemporary audiences will enjoy it, despite the Elizabethan dialogue. “Some people fear they won’t understand, but one thing we do well is taking this language and bringing it to life. We really find the heartbeat of these stories.”

Romeo & Juliet

July 19–August 6 at 8 p.m. (Tue–Sat) and 7 p.m. (Sun) at Parkman Bandstand on Boston Common, 617-426-0863, commshakes.org. Free.

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