NEW YORK - Acting in one of Shakespeare's plays is difficult enough without having to dodge a 3,600-pound SUV.
That's just one of the challenges facing the cast performing "Richard III" this summer in a working outdoor municipal parking lot at the corner of Ludlow and Broome streets in Manhattan's Lower East Side.
There also are joggers, bikers and dog walkers, lost tourists and the drug-addled. There are sirens, bugs and car alarms, and the smells from a nearby French-Cuban restaurant. And, of course, cars zipping in and out.
"This is not easy. If it was, nobody would come and watch," says Hamilton Clancy, the producing artistic director of The Drilling Company, which for years has staged the downtown shows.
"The beauty of the parking lot is that people come and go, stay for five minutes or an hour, and they all get an introduction to the Bard that they wouldn't ordinarily."
The tradition dates back 17 years and was inherited by The Drilling Company, which relies on word-of-mouth and the element of surprise to attract an audience. All performances are free.
"The only thing I ever ask is I put out a hat at the end of the show and we say, 'If you've got something to throw in, it's much appreciated,' " says Clancy, who is directing "Richard III" through Aug. 17.
The bare-boned but enthusiastic summer productions have as many as 77 plastic chairs that are placed in rows around a section of concrete that acts as the stage. If a car needs to get in or out, the actors pause and the patrons pick up their seats and make room.
"People just come, chairs get moved back, blankets get put out," Clancy says.
As night falls, car headlights become spotlights and street lamps switch on with a buzz, adding something thrilling to the gritty neighborhood. Some 225 people showed up for a performance of "Cymbeline" earlier this sweltering summer.
But the challenges of putting on a show have gotten harder, thanks to the city. Until now, authorities had allowed the 25-member company to perform relatively unhassled, but a municipal rule change now requires it to pay for eight parking spots per night and also get additional insurance.
Total bill this summer: $2,400.