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Making Shakespeare fun and free for the fall

El Paso enjoyed a contemporary take on Shakespeare’s “As You Like it,” hosted by the UTEP English Department, Shakespeare on the Rocks and the Kern Place Association, Sept. 23, 24, 30 and Oct. 1.

As the fall breeze finally makes its way to El Paso, friends, family and theater fanatics alike made their way down to Madeline Park for a contemporary take on Shakespeare’s, “As You Like It.” The festival held performances Sept. 23, 24, 30 and Oct. 1. 

The Madeline Park Shakespeare Festival was brought to life after Jay Stratton, UTEP associate professor and academic mentor of theatre performance, felt there was a need to bring Shakespeare’s work to a modern audience. 

“I have always been a huge lover of Shakespeare, but I feel like we make it sort of stiff and unapproachable,” Stratton said. “I’m going to make Shakespeare fun, family friendly and free.” 

The festival featured local vendors who sold anything from fragrances to paintings and everything in between. One of the vendors present was the Desert Moon Emporium. Desert Moon is a family run business that specializes in candles and coffee beans. The business left Ardovino’s Desert Crossing Farmers Market but will soon move into the Foothills Plaza on North Mesa. 

Sylvia Willenberger, co-owner and founder of Desert Moon, explained how they got involved in the Madeline Park Shakespeare Festival after Stratton tasted their coffee. 

“Jay came and tasted our coffee at (Ardovino’s) and asked, ‘Do you want to do this (festival)?’ and here we are,”Willenberger said. 

The performance itself reframed the classic pastoral comedy, “As You Like It,” for modern audiences  

Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It” follows Rosalind as she flees from her aunt’s persecution to the Forest of Arden. Accompanied by her cousin Celia and the clown Touchstone, Rosalind disguises herself as a boy shepherd and sets out seeking refuge. In there, she finds Orlando, who falls in love with Rosalind once she reveals she is a young woman. 

One of the cast members explained the significance of bringing traditional works into a new light. 

“I think a lot of people are intimidated by Shakespeare and taking it out in the park and contemporizing it makes it more relatable and so people can see, ‘Oh, it’s not just people talking funny, it’s actually a story I can understand,’” said cast member, Katie Daniel. 

Daniel graduated from UTEP with a bachelor’s in performance where she was one of Stratton’s students. 

“(Stratton) told me about this and then he held auditions, and he was like ‘I want you to be involved,’” Daniel said. 

The event, which was sponsored by the UTEP English Department, Shakespeare on the Rocks and the Kern Place Association, boasted a significant turnout encouraging Stratton to pursue more events in upcoming years.  

“I’d like to expand the festival,” Stratton said. “Not necessarily making the shows bigger, but bringing more vendors, maybe sword fighting or like a magical grove and grow (the festival) a little bit so there is more stuff going on.” 

Emmanuel Rivas Valenzuela is the sports editor and can be reached at [email protected]: @rivasemmanuel2 on Instagram. 

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About the Contributor
Emmanuel Rivas Valenzuela
Emmanuel Rivas Valenzuela, Contributor/Writer
Emmanuel Rivas Valenzuela is a contributor for The Prospector. He is a senior majoring in multimedia journalism with minors in political science and Chicano studies. Emmanuel served as sports editor at The Prospector and as a writer with Minero Magazine. Now, Emmanuel is interning at El Paso Matters and is a contributor at The Prospector.
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Making Shakespeare fun and free for the fall