There is some belief that Shakespeare’s The Tempest was intended to be set on Martha’s Vineyard. This theory is based on the rumored friendship between William Shakespeare and Bartholomew Gosnold, the explorer who discovered the Vineyard in 1602. Of course, those rumors are impossible to prove, but they do provide an interesting link between one of the most celebrated poets and playwrights of all time, and the Island where we so often stage revivals of his work.

“There is a theory that it was sort of like a little nod, a little in-joke to their friendship,” said Shakespeare for the Masses cofounder Nicole Galland this week. “The only connection between Martha’s Vineyard and Shakespeare would be The Tempest. So that may be what they were thinking.”

Ms. Galland is referring to the people at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, who, she said, for years have been requesting that Ms. Galland and Chelsea McCarthy’s theatre series, Shakespeare for the Masses, stage a performance of the play.

And so on Friday, Ms. Galland, Ms. McCarthy and a dozen actors will stage a script-in-hand reading of The Tempest at the Edgartown Lighthouse. The performance will be a collaborative effort; the Martha’s Vineyard Museum is the steward of the lighthouse and will collect small fees for tours after the show. And the people of Shakespeare for the Masses will be able to share their creative flair with a new audience: summer residents.

That’s unusual for the theatre series, which has, until now, performed only during the off-season. After this summer, Ms. Galland remembers why. “We thought, Oh, we’ll do it in late August. By then, things have calmed down,” she said. Famous last words.

“I am deep in the middle of writing a novel. I was working with ArtFarm, which is the new theatre company in Edgartown. Chelsea was in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and working two jobs and costuming almost half the shows at the [Vineyard] Playhouse, and doing the Fabulists,” said Ms. Galland. Other participants were busy as well. “We’ve got people who have got a lot of other commitments and projects going out of their way to make time for us,” she said.

Their schedules were not exactly conducive to squeezing in an extra project, especially one that generally takes somewhat intense preparation over a period of several weeks. “Usually what happens is in the winter we sit down, we start working on [a play], we meet several times a week and we get it done in about three weeks. This was sort of like we met once a month and then once every three weeks. It’s been disjointed because it’s been the summer. It makes us realize why we do it as an off-season project,” she said.

Shakespeare for the Masses was born of a “what if” brainstorming session between Ms. Galland and Ms. McCarthy, back in 2007. The two theatre lovers noticed the same Shakespearean plays being performed over and over again, and looked for a platform to bring forward his lesser-known, or darker scripts. Why not try out script-in-hand performances with little rehearsal time and lots of creative twists? They chose the Vineyard Playhouse as their venue, and launched the series with Hamlet and then Macbeth, which strongly contrasted with the lighter comedies that are commonly staged on the Island. But the tragedies, performed after a single day of rehearsal, were a huge success. People wanted more. And so the two women continued to give it to them, staging creative interpretations of King Lear, Julius Caesar, and Anthony and Cleopatra. They kept expecting a flop, but were always pleasantly surprised.

The project was always intended for the quieter winter months on the Island, when entertaining cultural events are few and far between. And after attempting to squeeze a performance into the busy summer season, Ms. Galland said they’ll most likely stick to their original plan from here on out. But there have been many benefits to staging the play in August. For one, it opens up access to all those thousands of summer visitors who aren’t around to see a play in the fall, winter, or spring. Not to mention the talented actors.

“Now that we have kind of gotten over the hump, over the hurdle of getting through the editing process, we’re really psyched about it,” said Ms. Galland. “We’re so thrilled. It’s also fun because a lot of people who normally wouldn’t be able to do it because they’re only around in the summer, get to do it with us.”

But the crowds should be prepared; the improvisation that the series has come to be known for will be put to good use at this Friday’s performance. “It’s really fly by the seat of our pants, far more than it usually is,” said Ms. Galland.

The regular season of Shakespeare for the Masses will return this fall, though Ms. Galland said she’s not sure what’s in store for the series. Last year, they staged the Triple Crown, which consisted of the three history plays, Richard II and Henry IV, parts one and two. “The Triple Crown was hugely popular,” said Ms. Galland. “We figured we’d follow that up with the next history play, Henry V.”

Nothing is set in stone, and Ms. Galland and Ms. McCarthy may yet change their minds. But fans who gather for the upcoming performance at the lighthouse can expect the same offbeat Shakespearean fun that they’ve always gotten from the theatre group.

“It gets more irreverent every time we do it,” said Ms. Galland.


The performance of The Tempest begins at 6 p.m. at the Edgartown Lighthouse, located at the end of North Water street in Edgartown. Admission to the play is free. Lighthouse tours are $5 for adults, and free for children.