The Bard cometh

Colorado Shakespeare Festival producing artistic director Timothy Orr on the upcoming season and beyond

Scene from 2013\'s production of Richard II
Patrick Campbell/University of Colorado

Timothy Orr isn’t exactly new to the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. He started acting there in the mid-oughts, moved up to associate producing director in 2011, and spent last season as the interim artistic director after the departure of Philip Sneed. But this season is his first year as a permanent fixture in the top slot, and that frees Orr to look beyond just the summer season, and toward the direction he wants to take the festival on the whole.

“I’m going to try to grow the festival and grow our offerings,” Orr says.

That means more performances, more productions and trying to improve on the already high production value. Let no one say Orr isn’t ambitious.

One area he’s particularly interested in expanding on is CSF’s educational outreach.

“We’ve been doing our Shakespeare and anti-bullying tour for about two years now,” Orr says. “It keeps getting bigger and reaching more and more schools every year.”

The anti-bullying program was something CSF dreamed up in 2011, as they were preparing to take a production of Twelfth Night on the road.

“We thought, there’s so many practical jokes in Twelfth Night, we can turn that into a conversation about bullying and intimidation,” Orr says.

CSF has spent the years since going into classrooms statewide, performing an abridged version of a classic piece, and then leading a discussion with students about better ways to solve some of the conflicts depicted in the play.

“One of the things we talk about is girl violence and — a term I hate, but — slut-shaming,” Orr says of the program’s current play, Much Ado About Nothing. “What happens to Hero in that play? These guys, Don John and Borachio, they start spreading rumors and ruining her reputation. And they’re doing it to get back at someone else.”

Orr says the kids don’t get lost in the language, and often pick up new and subtle plot points that even he missed.

“They have penetrating questions at the end,” says Orr.

But even with all that on the horizon, there is still the looming summer season, which opens Saturday, June 7.

CSF is staging five plays this summer: The Tempest, The Merry Wives of Windsor, I Hate Hamlet, Henry IV: Part 1 and Henry IV: Part 2.

While perhaps not immediately visible on the surface, Orr says those selections are thematically linked.

“I think there’s a strong through-line in this season of parenting, and the choices we make and how difficult it can be and how rewarding,” Orr says.

There is the mentor relationship between Prospero and Miranda in The Tempest, the parent’s advice for all the sons and daughters getting married in The Merry Wives of Windsor, and the mentorship triangle between Hal, Falstaff and Henry in parts one and two of Henry IV.

Falstaff is another element that links the pieces together, as he appears in The Merry Wives of Windsor and both parts of Henry IV.

“The great comedic convention of Falstaff appears in all three of those plays,” says Orr. “It felt like an ambitious thing to do to find one actor to play Falstaff in all three plays.”

CSF found the one ambitious actor, in Michael Winters, a veteran who has done stints in Seattle, at Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore., and plenty of TV shows, including 53 episodes of Gilmore Girls and several episodes of Ally McBeal.

“He’s a phenomenal name in the regional theater circuit,” says Orr.

The season’s only non-Shakespeare piece is I Hate Hamlet, by Paul Rudnick, the story of a Hollywood actor who trades a big-money TV gig for the role of Hamlet in a Shakespeare in the Park production, and must be coached through the process by the ghost of acting legend John Barrymore, which once again captures the mentor theme.

“It’s a great comedy,” says Orr, who is directing that show himself. “A thing that really inspires us when we pick non-Shakespeare titles is to pick plays that analyze Shakespeare, or involve it in some way. Our audience seems to understand that.”

The season opener, The Tempest, hasn’t been produced at CSF since 2006.

“For us at the company, it’s one of our all-time favorites,” says Orr.

But CSF especially wanted to bring it back because of the feel of last season’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Geoffrey Kent.

“[When envisioning The Tempest,] we kept thinking along those lines, and we thought it was a great chance to collaborate with him again,” Orr says. “It takes place in a jungle, and it’s full of magic and monsters, and it’s a great love story.”

Orr is also excited to pair the play’s setting with the vibe of the outdoor stage.

But if you want to see The Tempest, or any of the other shows this season, Orr says it’s always a good idea to book in advance.

“We’re selling out on many performances,” he says. “So don’t wait.”