Market Square's stage has gone through a temporary makeover within the past month in preparation for the annual Shakespeare on the Square play series that began Thursday July 11.

Shakespeare on the Square, presented by Tennessee Stage Company, features "Twelfth Night" and "Richard III" for this year's 23rd anniversary. It takes place in the heart of downtown Knoxville for anyone to enjoy free of charge, said Tom Parkhill, founding artistic director of the Tennessee Stage Company.

"It's a different kind of performance [in the square]," Parkhill said. "It's non-musical, it's a live event and it's a theater event. Plays are tremendous fun to go and see. Live theatrical entertainment is different from other entertainment."

Each year, two Shakespeare plays are selected based on various factors. One play is a comedy and one is a darker play, according to Parkhill. The comedy of the two, "Twelfth Night," directed by Parkhill, will supply the traditional Shakespeare feel, with more humor. "Richard III," directed by Mark H. Creter, co-founder of the Tennessee Stage Company, is a tragedy with a much darker tone.

Shakespeare on the Square moved to Market Square in 2003, after the original location in the Tennessee Amphitheater.

The environment is unlike any other for the audience, according to Lesley Cox, Shakespeare on the Square attendee.

The audience does not have to plan ahead or dress up for this play, and it is still great quality production, Cox said.

"It's fun because it's outside," Cox said. "You get to enjoy the pretty weather. You can show up with your lawn chair, have a little picnic or get something to-go from one of the restaurants and enjoy the Shakespeare."

While convenient for the audience, performing in such an open space proves to be more challenging than in a controlled environment, says Parkhill. The average audience size is 350 people spanning the space of Market Square.

"To put a good spin on things, we relate it to how the environment for a play in Shakespeare time might have been," Parkhill said. "We think that his crowds were not necessarily the respectful, sit in your chair and enjoy the play audience that we know today. They were pretty unruly.We have a great audience that comes and watches the play, but it is a challenging environment."

Each play is cut down to around two hours long for the Market Square performances, Parkhill said. This is done to avoid long, poem-like parts of the play, which could become hard to understand, given the surroundings of the audience in the Square.

Shakespeare on the Square began with "Twelfth Night" Thursday at 7 p.m. and continues with "Richard III" tonight at the same time. The performances alternate the plays every weekend (Thursday-Sunday) until August 11 on the outdoor stage in Market Square. Each of these performances is free to the public.

Jonathan Thomas, UT alumnus in theatre, 27, is playing Sir Andrew Aguecheek in "Twelfth Night" and Lord Stanley and the Second Murderer in "Richard II." Thomas said that his favorite part of performing the series is the distractions and the language.

"In normal theatres people sit in their seats and be quiet, no one does that on the square," he said. "[The language] can be scary at first, but once you become familiar with the text and the rules of Shakespeare it does all the work for you."
Blount County Public Library will hold a performance Monday, July 29 at 6:30 p.m. This performance is also free to the public.

Additional performances will take place Saturday, July 20 and 27 at 2 p.m. at the Square Room, located in Market Square. These performances are $10.

For more information on Shakespeare on the Square and for a compiled schedule, visit tennesseestagecompany.com.