The Bard is back in Boulder

Colorado Shakespeare kicks off this week

Sebastian Murdock | Boulder Weekly

After months of deliberation, the final plays have been chosen for this year’s Colorado Shakespeare Festival, bringing together top theater directors to put on shows that will last throughout the summer months.

Philip C. Sneed, producing artistic director for the festival and director of this year’s production of Twelfth Night, says the festival rotates the Shakespeare plays annually to keep the material fresh.

“We haven’t done Twelfth Night in seven years, so it was simply time to do it again,” Sneed says. “Plus we all love the play. It’s a much more rich and layered comedy, unlike Taming of the Shrew or Comedy of Errors, which audiences love and which we like too, but Twelfth Night is a much deeper and richer play.”

Along with Twelfth Night and Richard III, the festival will also include non-Shakespearian plays, including Treasure Island, Noises Off and Women of Will.

“That’s a fairly new thing,” Sneed says. “When I came in ’06 we had been going for 49 years, and in that time we’d only done eight plays that weren’t by Shakespeare.”

Sneed says the decision to include more plays by other writers has helped open up the theater company to a broader audience. In 2008, the festival saw the best attendance in more than a decade, which may have been in part due to a larger variety of plays being performed.

“We made the decision to consistently do plays by other writers. In that, we’re simply doing what our peers around the country do virtually every Shakespeare festival — exploring plays by other writers,” he says.

Tina Packer, a veteran theater director and playwright who founded Shakespeare and Company based in Lenox, Mass., has been working in the theater business for what she describes as “a hell of a long time.”

This year, Packer will be directing Richard III and putting on a performance of Women of Will, a five-part play she has written about the way women are portrayed in Shakespeare’s plays and how his views on women changed over time.

“There’s definitely a progression in what Shakespeare’s writing about,” Packer says. “He starts using the women as the truth tellers, so you start seeing things in the plays about the power structures that you don’t often see just from the men’s point of view.”

Women of Will includes monologues from the Bard’s plays followed by commentary from Packer and her partner, Nigel Gore, who will help provide banter between the two.

“I talk and then Nigel challenges me so we have fights all the time, going back and forth, and he says loads of rubbish,” Packer says with a laugh.

While the play has five parts, Packer says they can be seen in any order and will be broken up throughout the months of July and August.

Eric Tucker, director of Women of Will, says he’s excited about showing this new play to a fresh audience.

“Nigel, Tina and I are all collaborators on the script, so we’re all very much involved in the creation of the script and moving things around,” Tucker says, adding that the script continues to change and evolve even as they come close to performing it for an audience. “We completely changed the script for part two, and so that needed a lot of work. We spent a lot of days just working on that script, reordering and reformatting it.”

While Packer has been working on the script off and on for more than a decade, Tucker has been helping with the completion of it for the last four years along with Gore. He says the close connection he has with his fellow playwrights and actors provides for an easier rehearsal period.

“Tina and Nigel have worked together for the last six to eight years, so in rehearsal it makes for a good shortcut because they aren’t inhibited around each other and can just do the work,” Tucker says. “At the same time, when you know someone that well it’s hard to hold back. It can be dramatic, but it’s all in the name of doing the work.”

With a short rehearsal period for all the actors and directors involved in the production of this year’s festival, preparedness is key.

“Once we get to Colorado we really don’t have but a day to rehearse five parts and a couple tech days,” Tucker says. “It’s so much material. It’s kind of amazing Tina and Nigel can remember it all.”

Sparse time to rehearse hardly has Tucker worried though.

“I feel really good about it. I know that as actors, Tina and Nigel get more anxious and get up there and worry,” he says. “Luckily, we get to just take one part of the play at a time, one each week, and I think that’s going to be great. It’ll be great to see them in front of an audience and get that audience response. When we open Women of Will in New York, they’re going to run it for six months minimum.”

Tucker says his biggest challenge in directing Women of Will will be making the scenes as fluid as possible.

“My goal all along has been to make it as theatrical as possible and less like a lecture series,” he says. “So what we’ve managed to do is sort of turn it into a very theatrical evening. Each part of the play is very theatrical and different, and each one stands on its own. The play is really a discussion between Tina, Nigel and the audience.”