"Some say the Earth was feverous and did shake," a character warns in Shakespeare's "Macbeth."

It's one of many cues in Shakespeare's classic tragedy that led the state's traveling outdoor company toward a new dystopian look for their production.

"The play itself, the language within it, has so much reference to an upheaval in nature," said Kevin Asselin, executive director of Montana Shakespeare in the Parks.

"We're using the concept of a dystopian society related to natural disasters as a foundation," he said. That's just in the visuals. The company always preserves Shakespeare's language, although the performances are abridged so they can last two hours during daylight.

The costumes, though, will have a shade of "Fury Road." Asselin said the costume designer ripped apart costumes and mixed and matched them to create the appearance of scavengers who use what resources they can find some 100 years after a natural disaster. After the politically scheming family rises to power, their clothes reflect a new, elite status.

While wildfire smoke would be an appropriate backdrop for a world in ruins, the touring company selects back-up indoor locations for its 61-community, five-state seasonal tour.

In Missoula, they'll make a determination on Tuesday and Wednesday whether the performances should be moved from the Oval at the University of Montana to the nearby University Center Theater.

While the entire region has been coping with wildfires and unhealthy air, so far the company hasn't needed to move indoors yet, Asselin said. Last week, Seeley Lake was clear enough for an outdoor play.

The Missoula performances, which always coincide with the first week of classes, are among the 45-year-old tour's most popular.

The cast is primarily selected at auditions in Chicago and Minneapolis, drawing professional actors from around the country. This year, five out of 10 are returning from previous seasons. Asselin said its quite different from casting for a home-stand production. The cast has to set up and break down the portable set after each performance, and have the right temperament for 7,700 miles of windshield time with only a handful of days off.

The payoff is an adventure, he said, and the uniqueness of performing in small communities like Seeley Lake, Thompson Falls all the way to Sheridan and Big Timber. Performing in rural, outdoor settings also offers less of a "fourth wall" than an urban production and they can function as ambassadors for their artform.

"The uniqueness of the company is not just bringing free live professional theater, it's how receptive and appreciative and in tune the audiences are in Montana," he said. "The Shakespeare literacy in this state is remarkable."


Missoula, like many major cities in Montana, gets to see both plays in the touring company's repertoire.

The second is a comedy, deliberately selected to give an entirely different mood: George Bernard Shaw's "You Never Can Tell."

Shaw, an Irish playwright who was born in 1856 and died in 1950, is often considered the Shakespeare of his time, Asselin said. (His characters in "You Never Can Tell" often quote the Bard.)

"Beyond that, his usage of rhetoric, the comedic points in his language related to character and the amazing relationships he initiates, is in tune and so in line with what Shakespeare did 400 years ago," he said.

While the "Macbeth" is dark and foreboding, the Shaw play will feel bright, airy, light and playful.

The play, set at the turn of the century at a seaside resort, has themes in tune with the present political climate. Shaw places "emphasis on a woman's agenda in terms of equality and the role of being a powerful woman, particularly at a difficult point," the burgeoning women's rights movement, suffrage and starting a business.

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Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Entertainment editor for the Missoulian.