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The Groundling's Guide

June 26, 2008|David Ng

In the Elizabethan era, groundlings paid a penny to occupy a patch of dirt in open-air theaters to see plays such as Shakespeare's. Though many aspects of the experience haven't changed, we do have to contend with parking, helicopter noise and other modern annoyances.

TO RESERVE OR NOT TO RESERVE, THAT IS THE QUESTION

Many theater companies allow you to make reservations, even if tickets are free. It's a good idea to secure your spot in advance, especially if you're going in a group, because seats can fill quickly. Performances tend to get more crowded toward the end of the season, so you should consider reserving a spot if you plan to attend in August or September.

'TIS BITTER COLD

(EVEN IN SUMMER)

No matter how hot it gets during the day, evenings can often get quite cool, so be sure to bring a jacket and even a blanket. Bug spray is a must, especially if the performances are in a park and you're sitting on the ground. A flashlight may help you navigate to your car.

MY KINGDOM FOR A HORSE

Parking is free in most public parks, but spaces can fill quickly. Plan to arrive early. Take the train if you can. Barnsdall Park (where the Independent Shakespeare Co. performs) is near the Metro Red Line stop at Vermont and Sunset. The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (where Shakespeare Festival / LA performs) is a short walk from the Civic Center station.

A KING OF INFINITE SPACE

Some companies provide chairs; others leave it to you to furnish your own. Folding chairs make your evening more comfortable. If you prefer to sit on the ground, a picnic blanket is a must -- these are public parks, people.

IF MUSIC BE THE FOOD

OF LOVE, PLAY ON

Food and beverages are welcome at most venues, but call ahead. Glass containers are discouraged because they can break. Beware: You could get a ticket for consuming alcohol in city parks.

THE REST IS (NOT) SILENCE

Anything can happen in the theater, and that's doubly true for outdoor performances. Helicopter traffic is a constant fact of life in Barnsdall Park because of its proximity to Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. Other parks have idiosyncrasies, whether it's ambient traffic or noisy panhandlers. Don't fight it; accept it as part of the experience.

WORDS, WORDS, WORDS

No one ever said understanding Shakespeare was easy, and it never hurts to read the plays beforehand. As a general rule, the comedies are easier to grasp than the histories. A drama like "Henry IV, I and II" involves as many as 20 characters and requires some knowledge of the Plantagenet lineage. Not that that isn't common knowledge, but, you know, it wouldn't hurt to refresh your memory.

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-- David.Ng@latimes.com

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