Michael Givens is a kind of burr himself.

For nine years, the Tucson Parks & Recreation employee helped produce the city’s “Shakespeare Under the Stars” at the DeMeester Outdoor Performance Art Center in Reid Park.

But in 2004, he was transferred from the Randolph Recreation Center, which mounted the plays, to El Rio Neighborhood Center.

Givens, who has been involved with theater for most of his 60-some years, missed putting on a show.

Director Michael Givens tries to wait out a monsoon shower during rehearsal for “A Midsummer Night's Dream” at Himmel Park. Givens, a Tucson Parks & Recreation employee, has been tenacious in keeping Shakespeare in the Park, now in its 11th year at Himmel Park, going.

And he happened to have a new boss who loved Shakespeare performed in the open air.

“She really liked the shows and wanted to give us an opportunity to do them,” says Givens, now the recreation coordinator at Archer Community Center. He pauses and then comes clean: “Ok, I kind of begged her.”

Shakespeare in the Park at Himmel Park Outdoor Amphitheatre was born. The 11th annual production, the Bard’s magical comedy “A Midsummers Night’s Dream,” opens Friday, Sept. 15.

Shakespeare Under the Stars at Reid Park brought the curtain down in 2009, 21 years after it had begun. The recession was in full swing and the city could no longer finance it.

But Shakespeare in the Park at Himmel, by then two years old and run on a barely-there budget, continued.

It’s Givens’ persistence and dedication — his role as that burr — that has kept it alive for the last 11 years.

Technical director Chris Kent adjusts the main bank of lights in preparation for the night’s rehearsal session at the Himmel Park Outdoor Amphitheatre for the play. All the cast and crew dedicate hours to the production and in return receive a few dollars for their time and talent.

While the City of Tucson provides a place to store costumes, rehearse, the Himmel Park space and electricity, Givens has to come up with the money for costumes, lights, sound equipment, wood and paint for sets, and, he hopes, money for the actors and crew.

So he formed a non-profit, the El Rio Performing Arts Guild, in order to raise funds.

The Sam Hughes neighborhood association gives a donation every year. But it is during intermission, when costumed actors come out with hat in hand to collect money, that keeps them going.

The donations cover the budget — generally about $3,000 a year. Last year, Givens was able to pay the actors and crew about $80 each.

“I always want to pay them,” says Givens.

Kaylee Wilt, left, as Mustard Seed and Sophia Alexander as Pease Blossom, rehearse their fight choreography as a monsoon storm rolls in over Himmel Park and the El Rio Theatre Project’s Shakespeare in the Park production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Thursday, September 6, 2017, Tucson, Ariz.

“Midsummer” has a cast of 19, plus a dozen or more people who help build sets, do costumes, lights and so on.

“Michael is tenacious,” says Stephen Dunham, who was in the first Himmel production — “Twelfth Night” — and kept coming back for more. This year, he plays Demetrius, one of the young lovers in “Midsummer”.

“He has a rigorous rehearsal schedule, does the lights, the whole shebang.”

There’s that burr again.

Actor Paul Hammock in his role as Starveling breaks the fourth wall to speak to the house while rehearsing the introduction for this year’s Shakespeare in the Park production. Playgoers bring blankets and a picnic to complete the evening.

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at kallen@tucson.com or 573-4128. On Twitter: @kallenStar


Kathleen has covered the arts for the Star for 20 years. Previously, she covered business, news and features for the Tucson Citizen. A near-native of Tucson, she is continually amazed about the Old Pueblo's arts scene and feels lucky to be covering it.