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Veteran Montana Shakespeare In The Parks Actor To Play Lead In Hamlet

Veteran Montana Shakespeare In  The Parks Actor To Play Lead In Hamlet Veteran Montana Shakespeare In  The Parks Actor To Play Lead In Hamlet

Riley O’Toole has performed more than 600 times with Montana Shakespeare in the Parks, but this summer’s tour will be extra special for him as he expands his contributions on and off the stage.

Now in his seventh summer tour with MSIP, O’Toole will play the lead role — a first for him — in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It will also be his first tour as associate artistic director at MSIP, a full-time position he started in March, making him the first member of MSIP’s executive team to travel with the theater group in recent years.

“I’m excited to go through that journey with all these folks and all these communities that have kind of gotten to know me over the years and to grow as an actor, as an artist, as a tour manager and as a leader,” O’Toole said.

MSIP, an outreach program of Montana State University’s College of Arts and Architecture, will kick off its 52nd summer tour with a fournight run of Hamlet at the MSU Grove, starting June 12, where O’Toole will be front and center pondering whether “to be or not to be.” The play will be performed in Wolf Point on July 2.

O’Toole, the group’s 10 other actors and dozens of other contributors are hard at work, rehearsing and preparing for the grueling summer tour that will visit 65 communities in five states. The troupe just started outdoor dress rehearsals after practicing inside and creating the costumes and stage elements from scratch during the past five weeks.

After the opening performances in Bozeman, the actors will load the stage, costumes, props and sound system into a custom-built 25foot trailer and hit the road for the summer.

At each tour stop, the group spends about three hours setting up the stage before the evening performance. Then they tear it all down, pack it all up and start over again at the next town.

But amidst all the hustle and bustle, the actors get to make connections with the audience, which sometimes includes three or four generations of a family.

“What’s kept me coming back is how it’s so much more than just being an actor,” O’Toole said. “It’s about engaging with communities. I mean, people host us in their homes. They feed us their favorite meals.”

O’Toole’s first role with MSIP was in a 2016 production of The Comedy of Errors, where he played Dromio of Ephesus. He hopes to bring some of that comedic energy — playing clowns has been his forte, O’Toole said — to the role of Hamlet, which, he said, “can be so doom and gloom.”

In The Winter’s Tale, O’Toole will perform as the old shepherd, a smaller role, hopefully making his packed schedule more manageable.

As associate artistic director O’Toole helps with fundraising, marketing, production and grant writing. More than 80 percent of MSIP’s funding comes from donations, grants and sponsorships.

O’Toole became interested in acting in high school after the three-sport athlete fractured his ankle wrestling. He said acting helped him gain confidence in himself and transformed him from a shy, reserved individual into a leader.

He has worked on MSIP’s fall and spring tours, where the group performs for, and visits with, high school and elementary school students.

“I came out here and was given opportunities to do so much more than I could do as just an actor on stage,” O’Toole said. “I found that I had so much more energy to be serving the mission of this company, to be engaging communities, to be putting something good out into the world.”

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