The Australian Shakespeare Company is set to bring its  26th production to the Royal Botanic Gardens  this summer with  themes celebrating love and joy, As You Like It, is sure to prolong the  spirit of the season.

WAAPA and Ballarat Arts Academy graduate Louisa Fitzhardinge has the fabulous job of giving life to one of Shakespeare's most recognized heroines. Rosalind is charming, intelligent, quick witted and strong.

Shakespeare's Rosalind is still an inspiration and how wonderful to learn that she was written for in 1600.
The play is light and fun and described as one  of Shakespeare's most playful and deceptively clever satires. For Fitzhardinge  the best part of being involved in this show is definitely the people she gets to work with. "As You Like It is a comedy so, unsurprisingly, the cast is made up of a stack of terrifically funny people, and it makes for a very enjoyable workday," she says. "Plus, I'm a huge language nerd – hence my love of Shakespeare – and it's great to have found a group of people who feel the same way about the English language… and appreciate my awful puns. A close second would have to be the script itself, which is easily one of the silliest and most hilarious Shakespeare plays in the canon."

Open-air theatre is a wonderful Melbourne Summer tradition and the ASC does it like no-one else. Actors from all over are clamouring to become a part of these iconic performances and for Fitzhardinge this was no different. She tells me about a 'dirty trick' that was played on her by director Glenn Elston a few days after her call-back.

"He called me and asked whether I could come back to the theatre so he could check something with me. It turned out he just wanted to tell me face-to-face that I'd gotten the part! So I was right in front of him when I found out. I'd been a ball of stress for days – manically rehearsing for my audition and call-back and checking my phone every few seconds. When I found out I'd landed the lead role, I was totally overwhelmed. I remember leaving the theatre and wandering around the Melbourne CBD not quite knowing what to do with myself – I was just so thrilled and excited to start rehearsing."

This is Fitzhardinge's main stage debut and already she is under a gruelling schedule of rehearsal which involves six days a week for the last two weeks and then two more weeks of full-time rehearsal before  opening on 30th December. "It's been an intense rehearsal period for me, especially with the sheer amount of text there is to learn (Rosalind is Shakespeare's most verbose female character – as she says in the show, "Do you not know that I am a woman? When I think, I must speak") but it's been loads of fun too."

Along with other actors in the show, Fitzhardinge is adept at improv and this is a definite plus. "We improvise a lot during the rehearsal process – although the text is pretty much set in stone, Shakespeare is famously scarce with his stage directions, so we have a lot of opportunity to play around physically, " she says. "I think play is so important to the process, especially in a comedy like As You Like It. I'm lucky enough to be working opposite Charlie Sturgeon, who I've improvised with a lot as part of Impromptunes: The Completely Improvised Musical. We've been very playful when rehearsing our scenes together, and it's helped us to discover some great moments and add a bit more to the comedy of the show! Impro is all about listening to your scene partner and I think our impro experience will serve us well going into performance – if you're always really listening and reacting, your connection stays strong and spontaneous."

Having a botanical garden as a stage is certainly not an everyday occurrence and requires very specific understanding as a performance space. Fitzhardinge acknowledges that acoustically, the space is very different from an indoor theatre, so being secure in your voice and able to project across a large area is key. "Fortunately we've had some fantastic voice workshops throughout the rehearsal process to help with that. We're also dealing with the elements – rain, wind, and even heat can play havoc with your performance. The upside is that we get to use the garden as part of the show, as most of As You Like It is set in a forest – there are no trees or shrubs to play around with in a traditional theatre!"

The long and rich history of Shakespeare in the park is certainly not lost on Perth girl Fitzhardinge who has seen many a summer Shakespeare production in King's Park, plus last summer she saw ASC's A Midsummer Night's Dream in the botanical gardens, and all, she says,  have been of an extremely high quality. So, as they say, the pressure as creatives to keep the high standard, is on. "Shakespeare is a tricky beast because a lot of people are familiar with the plays, and so you want to be true to what is written but also bring your own angle to the characters in order to deliver something that's fresh and a bit exciting. Everyone on the show is doing such a great job of breathing life into these characters – with many of the actors playing multiple roles – so I have no doubt the show is going to continue that grand tradition."

"I can think of no better way to spend a summer evening than sitting under the stars and watching a show with a picnic, a few friends and perhaps a cheeky bottle of wine! As You Like It is exactly that: as you (the audience!) like it. It's a thoroughly entertaining romp through a forest that's witty, farcical and full of great music. Plus, it's Shakespeare, so you can tick 'be cultured' off your list of New Year's resolutions…"

December 30 – March 14