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‘A Late Summer Night’s Stroll’ Through Forest Park

A Late Summer Night’s Stroll runs through Sept. 6 in Forest Park.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
A Late Summer Night’s Stroll runs through Sept. 6 in Forest Park.

Outdoor activities are all the rage these days, especially those that allow for social distancing. But St. Louis’ Shakespeare in the Park tradition regularly draws dense crowds — and its actors were hesitant enough about the idea in 2020 that this year’s iteration was ultimately canceled. In the midst of all of that, the festival team and a host of local artists got creative, and A Late Summer Night’s Stroll was born.

Now through Sept. 6, attendees can enjoy both Forest Park and Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” like they never have before. Beginning in Shakespeare Glen near the St. Louis Art Museum, the 1.25-mile walking tour is anchored by 14 Painted Black STL art installations, with an audio companion and interactive elements to be enjoyed any time of day.

Each evening, a reservation experience at 10-minute intervals offers open-air performances such as live music to dance. (While all of those slots are currently booked, there is a waitlist system online.)

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske talked with Tom Ridgely, producing artistic director for St. Louis Shakespeare Festival. Joining the conversation was Javyn Solomon, co-founder of Painted Black STL, and the segment also included audio highlights from the event’s opening night earlier this week.

Ridgely said the project “couldn’t have happened without a lot of other arts organizations in town jumping on board and bringing what they do best to the equation.”

Organizers started by dividing Shakespeare’s “Midsummer” play up into 14 different moments and seeing which local groups were interested and willing to take one of them on.

“You might hear an opera interpretation, a dance version, a theatrical one, a jazz one,” Ridgely explained.

Solomon, whose organization has been paying Black artists to paint boarded-up windows in recent months, said he was glad St. Louis Shakespeare Festival reached out to Painted Black STL for the visual art elements.

All told, the work of 14 local Black artists now fills A Late Summer Night’s Stroll, adorning 14 archways in the style of St. Louis’ iconic Gateway Arch. Solomon said it’s hard to choose a favorite, as they are all unique. But the third one along the tour came to mind for him.

“There’s actually a full composition wrapping around the entire arch,” Solomon said, “which sort of forces you to move around this piece as there’s actually a performance going on at the same time, so it really helps ground you in the experience.”

Another one that especially stands out to Ridgely features the work of Brock Seals.

“It’s very abstract. … It represents the wedding between Theseus and Hippolyta and also the lovers that have been at odds throughout the play,” Ridgely said, “and so it’s this sort of coming together of two different worlds or two different sides, or just two different people. And it’s right there on one of the bridges that goes over the canal that leads into the Grand Basin, and it’s just gorgeous.”

He added that there’s “such an incredible variety among the 14 — individually they're all beautiful, but taken together, seeing them in person is really breathtaking.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.