What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger

Colorado Shakespeare Festival seeks to remain timeless

Actors from A Midsummer Night\'s Dream: (l-r) Taylor Fisher, Sammie Joe Kinnett, Sean Scrutchins and Jenna Bainbridge.
Photo by Glenn Asakawa

After a winter spent rearranging house, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival is ready to defend its position as cultural and educational touchstone. The 2013 edition has sprinted ahead of expectations and appears on tap for a successful start to the season. It may not be a make-or-break year, but plenty of eyes will be on the CSF as it unfurls its latest repertoire.

“I can take very little credit for the way things are currently going,” says Timothy Orr, interim producing artistic director of the CSF. “It’s a great team between production, artistic, marketing and fundraising. We are all on the same page and working really well together.”

Orr may be trying to deflect credit for increased web traffic and ticket sales versus last year at this time, but since taking over for departing artistic director Philip Sneed after planning for this year’s festival had already begun, he has emerged as a steadying force for the enterprise. A recent rehearsal for 2013 CSF opener A Midsummer Night’s Dream reveals that everyone involved seems to relish bringing the Bard to Boulder.

In a production room inside the University Theatre building, Midsummer director Geoffrey Kent stalks about in different poses, absorbing the scene coming to life before him. Despite a laid-back feel that includes casual dress and the occasional stifled yawn, cast and crew pay attention during the action. As the scene ends, Kent and his players brainstorm over nuances that will project to audiences at the Mary Rippon Amphitheatre starting June 7.

“To me, the most productive way to run a theater rehearsal is for it to remain a collaborative process,” Kent says. “In the end, my job is really to be the editor that helps them make their good ideas better, and they help me make my bad ideas better. Between us, hopefully we’ve made something that’s entertaining and funny to watch.”

As the first offering of the CSF season, there’s a reason A Midsummer Night’s Dream stays in rotation at Shakespeare festivals around the country.

“It’s certainly a perfect comedy. If you’ve never seen Shakespeare before, Midsummer is your best first Shakespeare, because it lays [the story] out pretty clearly, and the jokes that he wrote 450 years ago are still quite funny today,” Kent says.

When handed the reins to Midsummer following the departure of the previous director, Kent had freedom to make his own decisions. However, a truncated time schedule caused by personnel changes left only about a week to make the play his own.

What he settled on was the 1920s. While a jazz background and swanky dress keep the play moving along, Kent found inspiration in the women’s movement, and has brought that brash courage to the stage with his vision of this Dream.

“As I read the play, what I heard a lot was this rising voice of women wanting to do what they wanted to do, versus what their parents want them to do. While that’s probably timeless, I like the 1920s because of women’s suffrage and the end of the war, where women were becoming empowered,” Kent says.

A week after Midsummer kicks off the season, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) opens at the University Theatre. The comedy interprets the entirety of the Bard’s oeuvre in a mere two hours, with just a three-man cast. At times improvisational and others whimsical, the ambitious interpretation has received positive reviews in previous runs.

Also this summer the great tragedy Macbeth, set among the ruins of Soviet-invaded Afghanistan in the 1980s, will play at Mary Rippon beginning June 28 under the direction of CSF veteran Jane Page. The historical saga Richard II, part of the larger four-play Henriad providing the backstory to England’s famous War of the Roses, opens July 18 and is directed by James Symons. And on the heels of 2012’s acclaimed five-part Women of Will series, CSF brings Tina Packer’s Women of Will: The Overview to the University Theatre July 12-13.

Educational programs CSF participates in on and off campus have taken on added emphasis in light of budgetary issues in recent years. The “CSF in the Schools” program brings the festival to local classrooms, and CSF offers summer camp opportunities for all ages. There are dramaturgical lectures from experts at Boulder Public Library, and prologue lectures before each performance meant to explain the significance of each play.

As for fulfilling its educational mission to CU, with less taxpayer money and more tuition dollars paying the way, CSF is making strides to reach out to students. Shakespeare and Elizabethan times are studied in the theater, English and history departments at CU. Add in professional talent pollinating the campus for a good part of the year, and it becomes obvious that CSF and CU can mutually benefit each other. Orr gets the symbiotic relationship between festival and host.

“We are a professional Shakespeare festival, but we’re in residence at one of the top research universities in the country, so it makes sense for us to be augmenting the academic life on campus wherever Shakespeare is being studied,” Orr says.

It seems congruent with the leadership instilled by Orr after a tumultuous beginning to the calendar year. After all, Shakespeare was written for actors, so what better way to show Boulder the value of continuing this legacy?

“Shakespeare goes big with his ideas and his concepts, and the topics that he tackles in these plays are huge. And there is a lot at stake,” says Orr.

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival begins June 7 and runs through Aug. 11. Visit www.coloradoshakes.org for tickets and a complete schedule.

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