Actors perform “Much Ado About Nothing” during Shakespeare Royal Oak at Starr Jaycee Park last year.

Actors perform “Much Ado About Nothing” during Shakespeare Royal Oak at Starr Jaycee Park last year.

Photo provided by Angela Marsh

Shakespeare Royal Oak to kick off 19th season

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published July 15, 2019


ROYAL OAK — The Bard is back.

William Shakespeare’s verse will resonate once again through Starr Jaycee Park, with the Water Works Theatre Company presenting three shows July 25 through Aug. 4.

The company will usher in its 19th season with “Othello,” directed by Frannie Shepherd-Bates; “The Tempest,” directed by Barton Bund; and “Macbeth,” performed by the group’s teen ensemble.

Ed Nahhat, a Royal Oak resident and attorney who founded the Water Works Theatre Company in 2001, said he is thrilled that the state’s largest professional outdoor Shakespeare festival is approaching two decades.

“When we started this festival a month before 9/11, optimism was high in August of 2001,” Nahhat said. “In 2002, we felt we had to carry on to prove that some good things could stay and grow in our community, and it’s gotten bigger and bigger over the years.”

He attributes the success to a combination of high-quality local talent and an audience drawn to the experience because of its uniqueness.

“You get to enjoy Shakespeare out in the park and have a glass of wine or something,” Nahhat said. “It’s really rare to find that anywhere within hundreds of miles.”

Each year, directors pitch ideas for their own twists on classic plays, which are performed in a theater constructed from scratch for the festival.

Shepherd-Bates, a veteran of the Water Works Theatre Company, also runs a Shakespeare in Prison program through Detroit Public Theatre. She said “Othello” is her favorite play, and she’s excited to bring an element of her work with incarcerated people to it.

“I’m interpreting it based out of my own experience and seeing what they see. There’s quite a lot they saw in the play that I hadn’t seen,” she said. “It’s coming from the personal perspective of people who we don’t hear their perspective. People who have come a lot closer to living (the events of the play) than most.”

She praised the cast of the play for bringing the characters to life in a way that fosters empathy, even for those traditionally cast as villains.

“There’s no villains here, and no heroes,” Shepherd-Bates said. “The audience will be able to get a really neat perspective on the story.”

Performances of “Othello” will take place at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, and at 5 p.m. Sundays, July 25-Aug. 4. Tickets cost $25.

A special First Friday fundraiser will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, July 26. For $100, guests will be able to enjoy drinks and hors d’oeuvres with the cast of “Othello” before the show, and their chairs will be placed in advance for the 8 p.m. performance.

‘The Tempest’
“The Tempest” will be Bund’s fourth time directing with the Water Works Theatre Company. His concept features a pared-down cast with five actors taking on multiple roles.

“I’m not the first person to do it. I’m just doing it my way,” Bund said. “What’s cool about it is it helps the audience follow the play even easier.”

He said he is taking a more realistic approach to the fantastical play — which has magic, fairies, spirits and three-headed dogs — and focusing on timeless themes, such as a father’s desire to want something better for his daughter and the issues of race and gender.

The drama will appeal to people of all ages, Bund said, with unique costumes and technical elements such as bubbles and fire.

“One of the best experiences an actor can have is being out there in the open air doing a play like this,” he said.

Performances of “The Tempest” will take place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 31; 4 p.m. Saturday afternoons; and 1 p.m. Sunday afternoons, July 27-Aug. 4. Tickets cost $15.

The third show, “Macbeth,” will be performed by high school students who pay a fee to learn how to put on a Shakespeare production through two weeks of training and rehearsals.

Performances of “Macbeth” will take place at noon Saturday, July 27, and at 7 p.m. Monday, July 29, and Tuesday, July 30. Tickets are by donation.

Before you go
Nahhat said patrons can purchase beer, wine and snacks at the park or bring their own picnic, but no outside food or drinks are allowed in the theater area. Pets are also not allowed in the theater.

“What we tell people is, if you bring a blanket, sit in the front. If you bring a chair, sit behind the blankets. If you don’t have a chair, we’ll give you a seat on the bleachers and even loan you a pillow,” he said. “If you buy a ticket in advance, it is good for any performance of the show that you bought it for.”

For more information or to purchase tickets, call (248) 399-3727 or visit