Montana Shakespeare in the Parks will perform “Much Ado About Nothing” and “The Merchant Of Venice” during its 2011 tour throughout Montana, northern Wyoming, eastern Idaho, western North Dakota and eastern Washington this summer. A showing of Merchant of Venice is scheduled for September 1 in Big Sky at the Town Center.

This is the 39th season for the touring company, whose performances have become a summer tradition and seasonal highlight for many rural communities. This year, the troupe expects to perform 75 performances in 60 communities in the region.

“This summer, the anticipated audience of more than 30,000 people will be treated to two wonderful performances that cover the broad perspective of Shakespeare’s genius as a playwright,” said Joel Jahnke, MSIP’s artistic coordinator and a professor of theater at Montana State University.

The company launches its 10-week tour with eight performances in Bozeman before hitting the road June 27. An abridged schedule can be found at the end of this story.

All performances of Montana Shakespeare in the Parks, with the exception of those at Bozeman’s Sweet Pea Festival, are free and tickets are not needed for admission. Audiences are encouraged to show up prior to the appointed curtain time with chairs, blankets, a picnic supper, and friends and family to enjoy the evening.

For more information on the plays and a complete tour schedule visit the company’s website shakespeareintheparks.org.

Montana Shakespeare in the Parks is an outreach program of MSU’s College of Arts and Architecture. Performances this summer are supported by grants and corporate sponsorships as well as hundreds of individual donors who give what they can to keep the performances free and available to everyone in the touring area. Major sponsors include the National Endowment for the Arts, NorthWestern Energy, Stillwater Mining, Pacific Steel & Recycling, Barnard Construction, Montana Cultural Trust and the Montana Arts Council.

photo: Montana Shakespeare in the Park’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Arch Park, Gardiner, Montana.

The schedule for Montana Shakespeare in the Parks 2011 summer performances follow:
June 15-18 Bozeman, Much Ado About Nothing, MSU-Grove, 8 p.m.
June 22-25 Bozeman, The Merchant of Venice, MSU-Grove, 8 p.m.
June 27, Hobson-Utica, Much Ado About Nothing, Utica Clubhouse Lawn, 6:30 p.m.
June 28, Lewistown, The Merchant of Venice, Fergus County Fairgrounds-Gazebo, 6:30 p.m.
June 29, Malta, The Merchant of Venice, PC Court House Lawn, 6:30 p.m.
July 13, Laurel, Much Ado About Nothing, Laurel Practice Football Field, 6 p.m.
July 14, Absarokee, Much Ado About Nothing, Fishtail Family Park, 6:30 p.m.
July 16, Townsend, The Merchant of Venice, Heritage Fun Park, 6 p.m.
July 17, Big Timber, Much Ado About Nothing, City Park, 6 p.m.
July 18, Billings, Much Ado About Nothing, Pioneer Park, 6:30 p.m.
July 19, Billings, The Merchant of Venice, Pioneer Park, 6:30 p.m.
July 20, Red Lodge, The Merchant of Venice, Lions Park, 6 p.m.
July 23, Cooke City, The Merchant of Venice, Silver Gate Park, 5:30 p.m.
July 24, Gardiner, Much Ado About Nothing, Arch Park, 6 p.m.
July 25, Anaconda, The Merchant of Venice, Washoe Park, 6 p.m.
July 26, Dillon, The Merchant of Venice, Jaycee Park, 6 p.m.
July 31, West Yellowstone, The Merchant of Venice, 220 Yellowstone Ave.-Library Lawn, 6 p.m.
Aug. 1, Deer Lodge, Much Ado About Nothing, Old Montana Prison Yard, 6 p.m.
Aug. 2, Philipsburg, The Merchant of Venice, Philipsburg City Park, 6 p.m.
Aug. 3, Hamilton, Much Ado About Nothing, Daly Mansion, 6 p.m.
Aug. 4, Boulder, The Merchant of Venice, Jefferson County Fairgrounds, 6 p.m.
Aug. 5, Sweet Pea Festival, Bozeman, Much Ado About Nothing, Lindley Park, 4:30 p.m.
Aug. 7, Sweet Pea Festival- Bozeman, The Merchant of Venice, Lindley Park, 5:00 p.m.
Aug. 8, Great Falls, Much Ado About Nothing, University of Great Falls, 6 p.m.
Aug. 9, Great Falls, The Merchant of Venice, University of Great Falls, 6 p.m.
Aug. 13, Elk Grove, Bozeman, Much Ado About Nothing, Open Space Behind Pond, 6 p.m.
Aug. 14, Chico Hot Springs Resort, The Merchant of Venice, Front Lawn at Chico, 6 p.m.
Aug. 29, Missoula, The Merchant of Venice, University of Montana Oval, 6 p.m.
Aug. 30, Missoula, Much Ado About Nothing, University of Montana Oval, 6 p.m.
Aug. 31, Three Forks, Much Ado About Nothing, Stevenson Park, 6 p.m.
Sept. 1, Big Sky, The Merchant of Venice, Town Center, 6 p.m.
Sept. 2, Butte, Much Ado About Nothing, Mural Park, 6 p.m.
Sept. 3, Manhattan, The Merchant of Venice, Alterbrand Park, 6 p.m.
Sept. 4, Bozeman, Much Ado About Nothing, Ellen Theater, 1 p.m.