Wayne Willinger will go from portraying the son of an earl to acting as a servant and back again numerous times this summer with the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company.
But stranger than taking on different personalities, he said, is going from one of Shakespeare's darkest tragedies to one of his wildest comedies -- and back again -- as the company presents King Lear and Taming of the Shrew at the ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City.
"It is a totally different world each time," Willinger said.
Willinger is among dozens of cast and crew members who will produce the shows on different nights -- and both shows back-to-back June 24 -- as the company returns to the historic park for its fourth open-air summer season tonight through July 9.
Artistic director Ian Gallanar said audience members suggested he put on more than one show in the summer, and added "I think this year is the right time."
Last year, the company drew a little less than 2,500 people to the outdoor shows, said Lesley Malin, managing director of the company. This year, they expect to increase attendance by expanding to six weekends from four last year, and getting audience members to come to both shows.
Also, Malin said, with a grant from Group 1 Software, CSC is offering free admission to everyone under age 18 when they are accompanied by an adult.
Once the company considered doing two shows, Gallanar said, the first issue was "how do we do that without breaking the bank."
The answer was to use the same cast for both shows.
Having one company of actors prepared to perform a number of shows -- or playing "in repertory" -- was common in Shakespeare's time and for several centuries after, Gallanar said, although today it is much more common for theaters to choose a new cast for each show.
He also said "It felt like it fit well with our company ... We have developed a group of artists that work with each other over and over again."
In choosing the plays, "we wanted two contrasting shows," Gallanar said. He knew he wanted one comedy, and chose Taming of the Shrew, in which a father declares that his much-sought-after daughter cannot marry until someone weds her tart-tongued, older sister.
Then, he said, he chose King Lear, which he is directing, because it is a well-known, very dramatic play and one of his favorites. The show is the story of a ruler who meets with tragedy when he wills his kingdom to two scheming daughters and disinherits their loyal sister.
With support from Patrick Kilpatrick, who is directing Shrew, Gallanar chose to set both plays in Medieval times.
That helps cut down the number of costumes because characters can use the basic elements of their outfits for both shows.
Plus, Gallanar said, the distant time period communicates a mythological feel while making some of the sexist elements less glaring than they would be if the setting were updated.
The actors said they were eager to take on both shows.
"It is a great acting exercise," said Willinger, who lives in the Bolton Hill neighborhood of Baltimore. He said the chosen shows "complement each other very well. ... We have the different sides of humanity, basically."
Another actor, Bob Alleman, of Charles Village in Baltimore, said he likes the idea of an audience member seeing the actors in one show and then seeing the same people take on completely different roles in the other show.
"Everyone who is in both shows is really versatile," he said. "It shows people ... what Shakespeare can do and what Shakespeare can do for an actor."
Company members also say they like the grandeur of the restored ruins of the 19th century girls school, the natural acoustics and the relaxed atmosphere at the site, which opened as a county park in 1995.
Sometimes working in the outdoors can be challenging, said Valerie Fenton, of Beltsville, recalling how cicadas clung to the women's veils during the production two years ago. Other times, she said, nature can appear to act on cue, like when the clouds part at just the right moment.
"Theater is very in the moment," Fenton said. "That is the amazing thing about it. When you are outdoors there are so many other aspects ... There is always something else to play with."
Gallanar said the last year has been an exciting one for CSC as the company has grown and further established its place in the Howard County community.
In August, the company will move its offices and rehearsals from Baltimore to the Howard County Arts Center in Ellicott City, where it already performs several times a year.
The group, which Gallanar and his wife founded in 2002 after moving from Texas to Baltimore, has also built a reputation outside the county. CSC has been invited to take part in an international Shakespeare Festival in Washington D.C. next year led by The Folger Shakespeare Library, The Shakespeare Theatre Company and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
"We try to have as much fun as we possibly can," Gallanar said. "We're not lovers of Shakespeare because he's difficult to understand and high-brow ... The joy should be, and can be, an engaging experience for everyone on different levels."
The Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park is at 3691 Sarah's Lane in Ellicott City. Shows begin at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and family performances, with activities for children before the play, begin at 5 p.m. on Sundays. The gates open 90 minutes before the show for picnicking and pre-show entertainment.
Information: www.chesapeakeshakespeare.com or 866-811-4111.