Video summary: Pre-show crowd, green show stage and one of the entertainers teasing my friend Bruce’s daughter by swiping her cell phone and calling one of her friends.

Since 2001, St. Louis residents have had a chance to see a Shakespeare play live in Forest Park for free.

If you have never been to the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, here is the rundown.

The play starts at 8:00 pm, but seating fills up early. Most people arrive between 5:30-7 pm to stake out a place for their blankets and chairs and to enjoy a picnic dinner before the show. If you can get there by 6, you’ll get a pretty good seat. If you want to sit up close or in the blankets-only area, I would suggest arriving around 5:30.

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis blanket seating and stageI strongly recommend bringing lawn chairs since sitting on the ground behind a few hundred lawn chairs will make it pretty impossible to see. Your only option would be to sit back really far so you are high on the hill (the stage is set at the bottom of a hill), pay for a rental lawn chair or arrive early to sit up front in the blankets-only area.

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis twitter seats

You can also go onto twitter and contact @shakesfestSTL for a reserved tweet seat.

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis entertainer 2010Prior to the performance is a Green Show where the actors perform a cliff notes version of the play so you understand what will be happening. It is a HUGE help when watching Shakespeare to either watch the Green Show or to read a summary of the play in advance. Plan on getting lost in the language at times, but you’ll catch enough of it to follow along.

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis entertainer 2009They also have performers wandering the crowd to entertain everyone. Last year they had belly dancers to go along with the ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’ theme. This year the guy in the video joked around with the crowd for about a 90 minutes.

Food and beverages are available for sale, but you can also bring in anything you want, including coolers and alcohol.

This year’s show is Hamlet with performances every night until June 20 except for Tuesdays and June 5.

And don’t forget the bug spray. You’ll be glad you brought it along.