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“It has all the elements of a great night at Shakespeare mashed into one,” Alan Paul says of The Winter’s Tale, whose hard-to-characterize plot incorporates elements of romance, comedy, tragedy and fantasy. An associate artistic director at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Paul is directing the Bard classic as the kick-off to the company’s 28th season and as its annual Free For All production.
“It’s the thing I’m most proud of, being a part of the Shakespeare Theatre,” Paul says. “The idea for the Free For All — which is that everybody deserves to see a really great production for free.” Since 1991, the STC has offered one show a season for free to the public as a way to increase exposure to a wider audience — and not just to the work of the Bard. “This may be somebody’s first production of Shakespeare that they’re seeing — adult or child,” he explains. “But it also might be the first play they’ve ever seen. So we have a huge opportunity to make them fall in love with theater.”
Every Free For All show is a revival of a production presented in a previous season. “It’s not necessarily the biggest hit that we’ve had,” Paul explains. “It just has to be something we think is worthy of a revival.” Originally directed last year by Rebecca Taichman in a co-production with Princeton’s McCarter Theatre Center, The Winter’s Tale was deemed worthy because of its unconventional style — staged relatively intimately and told from a female approach. Billed as STC’s “first foray into small-scale Shakespeare,” nine actors double up on parts, often in stark relief — one role tragic, the other comedic. “There are only a handful of people that have the technical and acting chops to do it,” says Paul, who singles out cast members Michael Hayden and Nancy Robinette for pulling off the feat.
“We all fell in love with the production last year,” Paul says. “It has a whimsical aspect to it, and it’s hugely heartfelt.” – Doug Rule
The Winter’s Tale runs to Aug. 31 at the Harman Center for the Arts, 610 F St. NW. Tickets are free, distributed through a daily online lottery system as well as a ticket line prior to each performance. Call 202-547-1122 or visit shakespearetheatre.org.