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Richmond Shakespeare Festival's new courtyard setting 

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The Richmond Shakespeare Festival's new digs are just across the yard from where last summer's festival played. But the west lawn of Agecroft Hall is roomier and more rustic than last year's intimate courtyard setting. Because it's surrounded by trees and it slopes gently down to the banks of the James River, the new spot also attracts more nonhuman spectators than the old. One of the things that most impresses Artistic Director Grant Mudge about the west lawn, he says, "is the sheer amount of wildlife we've seen."

Three deer watched the audience file in last Wednesday evening, and an enormous flock of geese flew overhead the following night. A few days before that, the cast spotted a family of red-tailed hawks riding the evening's updrafts and fishing in the river. The scent of magnolia blossoms regularly wafts over to the audience, making "A Midsummer Night's Dream" every bit the sensual experience it's designed to be. And when the characters make reference to the outdoors, Mudge says, the actors don't have to just pretend there are trees all around or the moon overhead. "I'm stunned every night by the beauty of the place."

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