Gunshots erupt during Shakespeare’s performance in West Side Park

AUSTIN — A family theatrical event in Columbus Park ended in chaos Thursday night after someone fired shots while performers were on stage.

The shots occurred around 6:45 p.m., just 15 minutes from Shakespeare in the Parks performance at Columbus Park, 500 S. Central Ave., police said.

Witnesses saw families taking cover and lying on the grass to avoid being shot as others in the crowd sprinted from the playground where the shooting began.

No one was injured, but a parked car was hit by gunfire, police said.

The free event saw musicians, actors and dancers perform songs on popular scenes from plays by William Shakespeare, as part of a series of pop-up events in the parks of the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.

Filming didn’t begin until three songs into the event, said Nicole Miano, who brought her two children to enjoy the park on a hot summer night.

“They looked like firecrackers to me. Frankly, I was a bit in shock,” she said. “People were running and there was a lot of commotion. My friend was like, ‘Get down, get down.’

Credit: Keith Yearman
Performers from the Chicago Shakespeare Theater were performing on stage when filming began.

Miano and his children were watching the Shakespeare performance in the back of the audience near the playground when filming began. When she realized what was happening, she had her children lie down to protect them from the gunfire, she said.

A boy with a gun ran nearby, Miano said.

The incident caused Miano to fear for the safety of her children and how they will be affected growing up around the threat of gun violence. No child should be “unnecessarily traumatized” or have to “go through this because of where they live,” Miano said.

“There are other upcoming park events that I have on the calendar. … I’m honestly wondering if I’m going to take my kids there,” she said. children at the summer balls in Grant Park or Millennium Park, because there are also things going on there.”

The rest of the show was cancelled. Officers arrived at the park shortly after and are investigating, a police spokesperson said. No one has been arrested.

Keith Yearman was photographing the performance when he started hearing loud noises which he initially took for fireworks. It wasn’t until he saw crowds of people rushing for cover and fleeing the playground that he recognized the 15 loud bangs he had heard were shots of fire.

“Fear didn’t hit me at the time. … He didn’t really register until later. I’ve never experienced anything like this before, and I hope to never experience this again,” Yearman said.

Credit: Keith Yearma
Keith Yearman photographed one of the park shooters running away.

Yearman saw Shakespeare performance staff hiding behind equipment. He also saw the director wave her hands to stop the show and get the performers to safety.

Yearman took a photo of one of the gunmen running through the park, he said.

“I saw a group of people in the audience start running while others bend down and lay flat on the ground,” Yearman said. “A few people actually left their stuff, blankets and folding chairs and things like that.”

The Chicago Shakespeare Theater has canceled two performances scheduled for Friday and Saturday at Ogden Park and Ping Tom Park due to the incident, executive director Criss Henderson said. The organization is working with the Park District to plan future events and provide support for its society members, Criss said.

“Everyone is safe and no one is injured, but we recognize and are concerned that this has been disturbing and distressing for everyone involved,” Criss said in a statement. “We remain committed to the neighbors and communities that have made the Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks program so dear to our hearts for 11 years. We will come back and we will continue to create together.

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