From the April 2021 Desktop News | On a typical summer weekend, dozens of Tuscaloosa residents and their families flock to the Park at Manderson Landing, where they watch Shakespeare’s tragedies and comedies come to life during Shakespeare in the Park. Here, they see daring sword fights and passionate monologues performed by the Rude Mechanicals, an amateur group of actors who want to share their talents with their community.
Since 2003, the Rude Mechanicals have performed a variety of Shakespeare’s works to packed-out crowds each summer. Although they first performed where the Ferguson Center’s fountain now sits, their current stage is the banks of the Black Warrior River.
Steve Burch, a theatre professor at UA, has directed these performances since 2005, when founding member Mark Hughes Cobb asked Burch if he would join the group. After Burch directed his first show that June, he was hooked.
“I decided to do Pericles, a fairly unknown play of Shakespeare’s that we could take some liberties with, and it was a lot of fun,” Burch said. “For months afterwards, people would come to me and comment upon the production.”
Since that first performance, Burch has directed the Rude Mechanicals show in June, while Cobb began directing the second show of the summer in 2012. Burch said that each production is unique, not only because of the variety of works performed, but because of the ever-changing makeup of the group. Because new members appear each year, Burch has had the opportunity to change the genders of characters and make the shows more inclusive. But to him, the most important part of the casting is that it’s representative of the community around him.
“The group’s makeup is really amazing,” Burch said. “There are current students, alumni, Tuscaloosa natives, people connected with theatre in Tuscaloosa. There are even kids occasionally. When I directed Midsummer Night’s Dream, I needed some fairies, and some of the local 10 and 11-year-olds were cast and did great. So it really does involve the community.”
Over the years, the Rude Mechanicals have seen their audience grow, mostly by word of mouth. But once people start attending, they keep coming back season after season. Shakespeare in the Park has become a crucial part of many locals’ summers, Burch said. And it’s allowed the community to enjoy something together, even when times are tough.
“The 2011 tornado happened just a month before we opened, and the show happened to be Shakespeare’s The Tempest,” Burch said. “We decided to still perform. And it became a cathartic experience for the audience. They connected with the play, and a lot of them were so grateful that, with all the devastation and everything, we were still in the park still doing shows.”
Although the COVID-19 pandemic put the 2020 season and first half of the 2021 season on hold, Burch is hopeful that the Rude Mechanicals will be able to perform at the Park at Manderson Landing as soon as they safely can. To keep up with the Rude Mechanicals’s performances, follow their Facebook page or contact Steve Burch.