Shakespeare and Stone Soup share the “stage” at the McCracken County Library this spring
It’s amazing what a community can do with a bit of cooperation, a dash of participation, and a pinch of imagination; that’s the moral of The Story of Stone Soup. Though the details of the story vary from telling to telling, it almost always involves a hungry traveler who passes through a hungry village unwilling to share what little food it has for a stranger. Unperturbed, the wise traveler fills a cauldron with water, sets it over a fire, and with great ceremony drops in an ordinary stone as the villagers look on curiously. One by one the villagers come by to see the traveler. “I’m making some stone soup for us all,” he’d say, “but it sure would taste better with some onions.” One by one, the villagers add an onion here, a carrot there, and before long the traveler’s stone soup becomes a real and quite delicious cure for his and the village’s hunger.
On May 11 at 4 PM, the McCracken County Public Library will host a stone soup session of its own with an outdoor performance of Shakespeare’s The Tempest by the Stone Soup Shakespeare theater troupe.
Stone Soup Shakespeare does with The Bard’s tales what the traveler did with his cauldron and stone. Every spring, Stone Soup visits towns throughout the midwest to bring communities together through story. They travel light, with little more than a Shakespearean story and the imagination and acting skills it takes to tell it, but with a willing audience, that’s really all they need. The Tempest will be Stone Soup’s third annual performance at the library.
Stone Soup Executive Director Jeffrey Golde explained that while bringing free, professional theater to audiences across the midwest is one of their troupe’s main motivations, it’s really about connecting with the communities they visit and bringing people together by sharing what they love: theater, especially Shakespeare.
“Shakespeare lends itself to having music, to being done outdoors, and to interacting with the audience,” Golde said. “There’s something about Shakespeare’s plays that allows everyone to share together rather than just be in their own world. It’s just so different from sitting in a space where everything is happening on stage and you’re in the dark.”
The first time Stone Soup came to Paducah, their plans to perform at the park were thwarted by flood waters. Luckily the McCracken County Library’s courtyard garden was dry, and the library was more than happy to help out. Golde said they fell in love with the space the minute they saw it. The walkways surrounding the garden, the lush greenery at its center, and the steps that connect the two were perfect for Romeo and Juliet’s grand entrances and exits.
As soon as Stone Soup Artistic Director Julia Stemper saw their impromptu venue for Romeo and Juliet, she knew they had to do Midsummer Night’s Dream for their next Paducah show. “I just thought to myself, ‘this is Midsummer right here!’” she said of the library’s garden. “It’s just so magical. And this year we’re coming back with a totally different look on magic with The Tempest. I can’t wait to bring it to life!” Though Stemper has traveled to many-a-faraway land for her theater education and career, she’s a midwestern girl at heart. Doing theater for the community and with the community in places like Paducah and her hometown, Carbondale, IL is her dream come true.
In the spirit of performing with the community rather than simply putting on a show, Stone Soup hopes to work with a local high school and also put together a theater workshop that will be open to the public and compliment The Tempest.
“The mother of one of the girls from our workshop came up to us after the show and told me, ‘You don’t understand, my daughter didn’t even like singing in the church choir, and now she’s ready to run away with you guys as part of your troupe!’” Stemper remembers. “That’s been one of my favorite moments the past couple of years. It’s so fun to hear those kinds of stories and to be able to share what we love.”