This is Hazel Robinson.
Who is Hazel Robinson? Well, if you live near Asheville NC and have ever trekked over to the Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre in the past 35 years or so to see the Montford Park Players performing Shakespeare in the Park, you, like me, may have wondered who this Hazel Robinson was. I had always imagined her as a wealthy, intellectually snobbish and probably deceased benefactress whose interest in the arts had led her to include in her will the bequeathing of a sizeable portion of her considerable financial assets to have an amphitheatre built just outside Asheville for the performing of Shakespeare. Unless, of course, she never really existed. She might have been legendary. Or she might have been someone's auntie who loved Shakespeare and would have loved to watch regular performances thereof, had she lived to see the establishment of a free outdoor theatre in her neighbourhood.
We went to our favourite nearly-local Shakespeare in the Park amphitheatre a week ago to participate in the Montford Midsummer Faire...a kind of mini-Renaissance fair held on June 20, at which various vendors represented the SCA. "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was performed in the amphitheatre that evening and we were able to stay to watch that too. A chat with one of the actors (also a member of the Montford Park town council) revealed that not only was there a real Hazel Robinson, but there IS a real Hazel Robinson. Not only that, but she still lives just a few blocks from "her" amphitheatre. And to top it all off, she was going to be coming to the Midsummer Faire that very day.
What a treat it was to invite Mrs. Robinson to sit down in one of my folding rockers and share with us the vision she had in the early 1970s for the future of Asheville's community theatre, and how it led eventually to the rearranging of a small local venue (the original Montford Park--yes, there really is one of those, too) for the performing of Shakespeare for the public at no charge, and, some ten years later, to the building of the amphitheatre nearby which bears her name.
Hoping to eventually post the notes my husband and I took during our conversation with this very interesting lady. If you live within driving distance of Asheville and it's between May and September as you read this, check out montfordparkplayers.org for a list of plays being performed this summer. All performances in the Amphitheatre are free (actors in costume pass the hat during intermission--contributions strictly voluntary). There are concessions available onsite. There are nice washrooms. Parking can be a bit difficult on the more popular evenings, so come early...the show starts at 7:30 pm Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so try to make it before 7 pm for a better chance at finding a spot. The setting is relaxed and informal, and you are welcome to bring your own picnic supper/snacks, some comfortable folding chairs and blankets or whatever you prefer to sit on, and a nice portable crib for the baby to fall asleep in, should you have one (a baby or a portable crib). We've been going to see these productions for maybe 8 years and have only been actually rained out twice, although of course this is a possibility...and we were also told last week that some money was recently donated to the Amphitheatre for the building of a "visitor centre" which will have large CCTV screens and space for rained-out audience members to view the rest of the play in peace and relative dryness. What about the actors, you say? Well, the money is slated to put a roof over their stage, as well.