Summer 1998

"As You Hike It"
Article from American Hiker Magazine, October 1998

Chicago actor and director Frank Farrell was mentally rehearsing lines for a play and in the midst of pursuing his other love, hiking, when the idea of combining his two loves came to him.

"It all seemed to fit," said Farrell, whose brainstorm evolved into the As You Like It Hike, held this past June in the Cook County Forest Preserve southwest of Chicago. also known as As You Hike It, the play took audiences on a 3-4 mile hike past a lakefront, in the woods, around a meadow and through a winding trail, all the while telling the story of the Forest of Arden and its denizens in about three hours.

Each scene had a new setting, with both actors and audience members on the move. Rosalind (Nancy Nickel) and Celia (Michelle Goltzman) made plans for their disguises while skipping stones across a like filled with water hyacinths. Jaques (Richard Henzel) made his famous "Seven Ages of Man" speech in a small forest clearing, the audience perched around him on logs, tree stumps or blankets.

Farrell, who's also appeared with Santa Cruz Shakespeare in California and directed John Mahoney and Barbara Harris in Love Letters, gathered fellow members of the Equity Library Theater (ELT) of Chicago for the performance. The actors, all members of Actors Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers, donated their time. The performance was partially funded by a City Arts I Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, and the Illinois Arts Council. Audiences were also asked to give a $5 donation.

The performances began on National Trails Day (June 6) and ended June 27. "As far as we know, it's the first time (the concept) has been done anywhere," Farrell said. "I know of Shakespeare being done in unique exterior settings, but never on a hike. So we think this is a first. And it coincided with National Trails Day, got people aware of the day, got them out of doors and enjoying hiking."

As the play/hike's director, Farrell chose to keep the focus on the setting and the actors' props and costumes at a minimum. Oliver (Norm Boucher) for example, wore a three-piece suit and carried a cell phone in his early scenes. Paul Connell (Orlando), in his first scene, shouldered a pitchfork in front of what conceivably could have been a real orchard.

Oliver was later dunked in some very real water by the Duke's (John Marshall) henchmen during the interrogation scene. Silvius (Luke Wilkins) dashed through the woods calling Phebe's name. Farrell, who served as both hike leader and Amiens, produced bread, cheese and fruit during the banquet scene so the audience could eat along with the actors. However, most participants brought their own water and snacks.

"You've all hiked before," Farrell cracked when almost all the food was summarily finished by the end of the scene. Nature also cooperated by providing a plethora of wildflowers and more than a few birds as scenery. Farrell and his troop returned the favor by taking it easy on the ecologically sensitive portions of the trail.

"We got permission to use areas that hikers are usually asked to leave alone," Farrell explained. Farrell says his troupe was instructed on how to perform in the area without damaging the ecosystem.

The play/hike drew a much larger crowd than Farrell said he had even hoped for, with more than 60 people attending the June 20 performance.

"We didn't know what kind of response we'd get," said Farrell, visibly excited by the turnout. "It's just wonderful to see people out enjoying Shakespeare," he added.

Farrell is already thinking ahead to next year, when he hopes to mount As You Like It in a variety of forest preserves around the Chicago area. Also, next year, he hopes to expand ELT's repertoire.

"We'd like to do A Midsummer Night's Dream, preferably in the early evening," he mused. "I'd love to get permission to use the Chicago Botanical Gardens." Ever the visionary, Farrell foresees the troupe doing Shakespeare in other parts of the Midwest, and one day, in a national park.