The centuries-old works of William Shakespeare still have actors and audiences thinking outside the box -- and outside the theater.
Shakespeare's plays have lent themselves to outdoor productions since they were first performed at the Globe Theatre in London more than 400 years ago, and many will be staged by local theaters this summer at a number of outdoor locations.
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Among the options is First Folio Theatre's production of "The Merry Wives of Windsor," one of many of the Bard's works the theater has staged outdoors at the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oak Brook.
"It's a bit more relaxed at an outdoor theater because people are not surrounded by four walls or a ceiling," said David Rice, executive director and co-founder with his wife, Alison C. Vesely, of First Folio.
Rice said it's tough to nail down why Shakespeare plays remain popular for outdoor theaters, where audiences can enjoy a show -- and maybe a picnic -- under the stars.
"It's difficult to explain why the combination works," Rice said. "It's just something about the brilliance of the plays that hits people while watching outdoors and drinking a glass of wine that's special."
While First Folio performs other works outdoors, Rice said that Shakespeare tends to draw bigger crowds.
He believes that Shakespeare's stories are still relevant today because the playwright created relatable characters.
"When you're watching Shakespeare, you can always find a character who reminds you of someone in your life," Rice said.
"The Merry Wives of Windsor," directed by Nick Sandys, will stay true to the original work, set during the Elizabethan era.
It was supposedly written at the request of Queen Elizabeth I. She wanted to enjoy another play that incorporated the comical "Henry IV" character Sir John Falstaff, who embarks on a journey to seduce two wealthy, married women. It's not long before the women discover his true intentions and give Falstaff a taste of his own medicine.
Shakespeare's language is just one of the challenges that the cast and director face on an outdoor stage. Weather can sometimes be an issue, especially when the heat makes hot, heavy costumes unpleasant.
And without the luxury of a curtain, the set will remain the same for the entire show. It is up to the actors to portray where the scene is taking place without physically changing the scenery.
"Luckily, Shakespeare lends itself to a unit set," Rice said. "And, at the beginning of each scene, actors have a line or two that says where they are and what time of day it was."
The 18 cast members have their work cut out for them as they bring to life one of The Bard's greatest comical characters.
"Everyone can expect a lot of big, boisterous fun," Rice said. "He wrote it to make people laugh."
Oak Park Festival Theatre, on the other hand, is celebrating its 40th anniversary with one of Shakespeare's best-known tragedies, "Hamlet."
"We wanted to choose one that everyone has heard of," said Jack Hickey, artistic director at Oak Park Festival Theatre. "It seemed to work really well with the big milestone anniversary."
"Hamlet" is the tragic tale of a young man mourning the death of his father and his mother's remarriage to his uncle Claudius. His father's ghost returns to tell Hamlet that Claudius poisoned him, and Hamlet sets out to avenge his father's murder.
Oak Park Festival Theatre typically does Shakespeare every summer. In fact, the theater was originally called Oak Park Shakespeare Festival, but the name was later changed to allow the theater to broaden its scope.
Festival Theatre's adaptation of "Hamlet" takes place in Chicago during the late 1920s. Thus, Shakespeare's iambic pentameter will be delivered by Chicago mobsters.
"It makes it easier for us as a modern audience to relate to," Hickey said. "Shakespeare was so good at understanding human conditions that it doesn't matter in what era you set it."
There are a number of chances to see works of Shakespeare on outdoor stages this summer:
First Folio Theatre
Show: "The Merry Wives of Windsor"
When and where: July 12 to Aug, 10 at Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st St., Oak Brook, (630) 986-8067 or www.firstfolio.org
Oak Park Festival Theatre
Shows: "Hamlet" June 12 to July 19, followed by Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" July 24 to Aug. 23
When and where: June 12 to Aug. 23 at the Austin Gardens park, 167 Forest Ave., Oak Park, (708) 445-4440 or www.oakparkfestival.com
Show: "The Two Gentlemen of Verona"
When and where: 5 p.m. most Saturdays and Sundays, June 21 to Aug. 3, at the following Chicago locations: June 21-22 at Chase Park, 4701 N. Ashland; July 6 at Nichols Park, 1355 E. 53rd St.; July 12-13 at Ravenswood Manor Park, 4626 N. Manor; July 19-20 at Touhy Park, 7348 N. Paulina; July 26-27 at Skinner Park, 1331 W. Adams; Aug. 2 at Jackson Park, 6401 S. Stony Island; and Aug. 3 at Sauganash Park, 5861 N. Kostner. www.spectralia.org
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre Parks tour
Show: "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
When and where: July 18 to Aug. 17 in 18 neighborhood parks across Chicago. A schedule of times and locations can be found at www.chicagoshakes.com/plays_and_events/parks2014/parks2014whereandwhen#sthash.Sir8UayJ.dpuf
American Players Theatre
Shows: "The Importance of Being Earnest," "Much Ado About Nothing," "Romeo and Juliet," "The Doctor's Dilemma" and "The Seagull"
Tickets: Start at $44
When and where: Varied times and days through Nov. 9 at 5950 Golf Course Road, Spring Green, Wis., (608) 588-2361 or www.americanplayers.org
Show: "Much Ado About Nothing"
When and where: 6 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays from July 19 to Aug. 24 at the following Chicago locations: July 19-20 and 26-27 at Schreiber Park, 1552 W. Schreiber Ave., in the field at the corner of Bosworth Avenue and Schreiber Ave.; August 2-3 and 9-10 at Gross Park, 2708 W. Lawrence Ave., at the north end of the park along Gunnison St.; August 16-17 and 23-24 at Touhy Park, 7348 N. Paulina St., in the southeast grove along Paulina Street. midsommerflight.wordpress.com
Show: "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
Tickets: $10; free for children under 8
When and where: 6 p.m. Sunday, July 20, at 1s151 Winfield Road, Wheaton (630) 260-8162 or www.cantigny.org