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From tricky props to unwanted critters finding their

From tricky props to unwanted critters finding their way on stage, take a look at behind-the-scenes secrets the historic playwright himself couldn't have told you. (Credit: Getty Images / Michael Loccisano)

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Secrets of Shakespeare in the Park

81 Central Park West, New York, NY 10023

For the past 55 years, the Public Theater's free Shakespeare in the Park has been bringing the Bard's classic plays to life and without costing New Yorkers a dime.

The event has only gained popularity since its inaugural performance of "Othello" in 1962. More than 5 million people to date have gathered under the stars at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park to be transported back in time, more than half a million of them within the last five years.

The theater kicked off its annual event on May 23 with a performance of “Julius Caesar,” starring Corey Stoll and Gregg Henry. It'll run through June 18."A Midsummer Night's Dream" runs July 11 through Aug. 13.

amNewYork spoke with actress Donna Lynne Champlin to get the inside scoop behind the park’s performances. As a Shakespeare in the Park performer ("The Taming of the Shrew") who's also made appearances on Broadway and in hit television shows like the CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” Champlin knows her way behind the stage’s curtain.

From tricky props to unwanted critters finding their way on stage, take a look at some behind-the-scenes secrets the historic playwright himself couldn't have told you.

Lighting crews on an indoor set can visually

Credit: Joseph Moran

From lighting to rehearsal, everything has to be done in real time

Lighting crews on an indoor set can visually recreate any hour of the day, no matter what time your iPhone actually reads. But that's not an option for a Shakespeare in the Park production.

Being outdoors, the crew isn't able to test out scene lighting unless the cast is actually performing in real time. "The lighting changes as the sun sets, so the tech process has to be very particular," Champlin said. If a scene will hit the stage during a performance at 8:30 p.m., then the crew needs to test the lighting at exactly 8:30 another night. Some performances can call for up to 1,400 lights, depending on their scenes.

The actors and actresses of Shakespeare in the

Credit: Donna Lynne Champlin

The actresses have to do their own hair and makeup backstage

The actors and actresses of Shakespeare in the Park have themselves to thank for looking so flawless come set time. Backstage, they all do their own hair and makeup before the show, Champlin said. The only exception to the rule is if their character's makeup is so extensive that they'd be unable do it themselves.

"Generally, from leads on down, you sit and use that time to get into the zone of where you need to be to do the show," said Champlin, who loves to use this time to get into character.

Warm spring nights + bright stage lights =

Credit: iStock

Braving the weather — and bugs — is a serious challenge

Warm spring nights + bright stage lights = actors accidentally swallowing bugs. Yes, it happens.

Bugs, bees, rain and humidity have all made unwanted appearances during Shakespeare in the Park productions, Champlin said. But, the show must go on!

"The mother nature elements of performing outdoors can be frustrating [at times]," Champlin said. Shakespeare in the Park performances, however, are seldom canceled -- even if it starts to rain or a swarm of mosquitoes and gnats invades the stage.

"I recommend to anyone who comes to see the show: You want to bring an umbrella, a raincoat -- and bring the OFF!" she said.

Speaking of unwelcome critters, a raccoon actually ran

Credit: Getty Images / Michael Loccisano

Anne Hathaway shared the spotlight with a raccoon

Speaking of unwelcome critters, a raccoon actually ran onto the stage in the middle of the 2009 production of "Twelfth Night" starring Anne Hathaway. When the baby raccoon made its way on stage, the cast panicked, director Daniel Sullivan told the NY Daily News.

But, this wasn't the first or last time the cast and crew ran into this road bump. Performing in a very uncontrolled environment comes with its fair share of challenges, including unwelcome critters finding their way on stage, Champlin said. Turtles and birds have also been spotted wandering across the set.

He's just a Shakespeare-lovin' raccoon

Credit: Shakespeare Raccoon via Twitter

One of the raccoons even has its own Twitter account

He's just a Shakespeare-lovin' raccoon "trying to get my big break," his Twitter bio reads. Known as the Delacorte Raccoon, he's been tweeting before performances since 2011, letting ticket holders know when he'll be in the spotlight.

"Looking forward to tomorrow's tech run of #JuliusCaesar here at #shakespeareinthepark @PublicTheaterNY. Feeling stabby," the Delacorte Raccoon tweeted on May 19.

The Twitter account, with more than 1,000 followers, is not associated with the Public Theater.

Shakespeare in the Park -- being free and

Credit: The Public Theater

The lines are incredibly long and the actors appreciate it

Shakespeare in the Park -- being free and all -- comes with very long lines. New Yorkers waiting for their tickets will set up picnics and break out their instruments to create a sociable, theater-loving environment, Champlin said.

"My favorite thing to do is to walk by the standby line which is stretched out and to see all these people that wanted so badly to share this experience with you," Champlin said. "They'll camp out for hours just to see you."

But the wait is worth it. During 2009's "Twelfth Night," Anne Hathaway bought pizza for everyone waiting in line to thank them. The once-Princess of Genovia even handed out slices at the park herself.

A scene in Shakespeare's

Credit: The Public Theater

The crew gets creative with edible props

A scene in Shakespeare's "King Lear" calls for the king to bite into a juicy steak, and to the 2014 production's audience, it looked like actor John Lithgow was doing exactly that. But he wasn't.

The prop crew had used brown food coloring to dye a piece of watermelon to resemble steak -- a cheaper, easier alternative to the hunk of meat. Lithgow cut and ate the brown watermelon on stage as if it was exactly that, prop shop manager Sara Swanberg said.

The first time

Credit: Joan Marcus

Many notable celebs kick-started their careers in the park

The first time "The Taming of the Shrew" hit the Delacorte Theater stage in 1978, Meryl Streep was in it. Streep, along with Christopher Walken, James Earl Jones, Al Pacino, John Lithgow, Morgan Freeman, Mandy Patinkin, Stacy Keach, Raúl Julia and Martin Sheen kick-started their careers with a little help from free Shakespeare in the Park, according to the Public Theater.

Plus, before he was "Modern Family's" Mitchell Pritchett, Jesse Tyler Ferguson (pictured, left, opposite Hamish Linklater in a 2010 production of "The Merchant of Venice") actually earned his Equity card right after performing in the 2000 production of "On The Town."

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