Geoffrey Kent's A Midsummer Night's Dream was the highlight of this past summer's Colorado Shakespeare Festival, and now that the festival has just released its schedule for 2014, Kent is already mulling the production he'll direct next year: The Tempest.
"I thought we made some bold choices on Dream," he says. "The cast really grabbed onto the story we were telling and exploded it. The festival was a place where I could make risky choices and it felt like a great summer to make them." See also: Does the Colorado Shakespeare Festival deserve a second act?
It was a great summer for CSF in many ways. The festival had been losing money for several years and the offerings varied widely in quality. Shakespeare aficionados were staying away, and the general public wasn't taking up the slack. The festival takes place on the University of Colorado campus, and crucial support comes from the Department of Arts and Sciences. At the beginning of the 2013 season, the festival's very existence was being called into question, with Arts and Sciences dean, Steven Leigh, demanding fiscal accountability and a clearer idea of the festival's academic mission.
But in spring Philip Sneed left the position of CSF artistic director to take over the reins at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities and Timothy Orr became interim producing director, carrying forward some of the ideas he and Sneed had set in place and instituting new ones. The festival began working with CU Presents, the marketing arm for other campus arts activities, and the results were more focused work in both marketing and public relations. Tickets went on sale earlier than in the past, and the season brochure came out in March instead of May. Mother Nature cooperated so that only one performance -- a preview of Macbeth -- had to be canceled in the outdoor Mary Rippon Theatre.
"Ticket revenue is 18 percent higher than last year," says Orr, "with the same number of performances, and we came in under on expenses. The fiscal year ends in two months, but even very conservatively estimating, we will finish this season well in the black. We're going to be making a repayment to the university on a subsidy we had last year. There were improvements to the Mary Rippon that we were going to amortize over four years; instead we're going to repay that. This really puts us in a good solid position going into 2014."
Leigh's concerns about academic relevance were allayed by the festival's work with university classes. In particular, well-known Shakespeare scholar Harry Berger taught a summer English class. "Every week we were bringing a director, actors or designers into his class," says Orr. "We brought the whole class to rehearsals. At one point, they all did a vocal warm-up with our voice and speech coach to get the experience of putting Shakespeare up on his feet. And we plan to do more this summer."
The application process for a new artistic director closed last month. The selection will be made in spring, in time for whoever is hired to set the 2015 season.
Artistically, last year's offerings were an improvement, though the quality varied. A Midsummer Night's Dream is an assured moneymaker for Shakespeare festivals all over the country, and Colorado's is no exception. But the 2013 Dream outsold previous CSF Dream productions. Lively, inventive, insightful and hugely comic, it also won raves from area critics. It was followed by a solid Richard II, and a somewhat weaker Macbeth, redeemed primarily by the performance of guest actor Nigel Gore in the title role.
The next season's productions are an interesting mix. The festival had planned to show Henry IV Part One and Part Two as a follow-up to Richard II and a prelude to a possible eventual Henry V. But the newly enthusiastic audience is unlikely to sit still -- or even show up -- for two long history plays. So Orr has wisely decided to present Part One in full production, and Part Two in two special showings. A second comedy, The Merry Wives of Windsor -- one of Shakespeare's lesser works -- is also on the docket, and the season is rounded out by an old comic chestnut, I Hate Hamlet. For the first time, audience members will be able to sip full-strength beer and wine as they watch, which should add to the hilarity.
"What I love about Shakespeare's romances," says Kent, still musing on The Tempest, "is they contain the best of the tragedies and the best of the comedies. The play is able to swing from line to line from wonderful comedy to gripping tragedy, and that feels very human to me. There's this long, dark look at the pursuit of revenge and the transformation into forgiveness: To truly forgive and expect nothing in return is one of the most beautiful things a human being can do -- and it doesn't happen in Shakespeare's early plays. When that moment happens in Tempest, it should hit you like a ton of bricks.
"But you also get drunken clowns and smelly fish and magic, and it'll have so much humor."
The Colorado Shakespeare Festival will follow up its critically acclaimed, popular 2013 season with a lineup that includes humor, pathos, magic and mystery, including some plays that haven't been performed at CSF for nearly 15 years.
• "The Tempest" -- Shakespeare's beloved final play includes all the elements that have kept his work alive and fresh for nearly 500 years -- magic, romance, high adventure, humor and pathos. Directed by Geoffrey Kent, director of CSF's 2013 smash hit, "A Midsummer Night's Dream." • "Henry IV, Part 1" -- The second leg in the four-play "Henriad" cycle, begun in 2012 with "Richard II," introduces the licentious, crafty Falstaff and begins Prince Hal's ascension to the throne of England. Our most traditional production of the season. Last performed at CSF in 1999. • "Henry IV, Part 2" -- There will be just two very special "original practices" performances -- Shakespeare as it might have been done in his own time -- about Prince Hal's rise in stature and his old advisor Falstaff's descent into debauchery. Last performed at CSF in 1999. • "The Merry Wives of Windsor" -- Falstaff takes a comic turn at the heart of one of Shakespeare's most hilarious farces, as his efforts to woo two married English ladies result in his being punk'd. Set in a 1960s Catskills vacation resort, you can expect a little flair of "dirty dancing." Last performed at CSF in 1999. • "I Hate Hamlet" -- When a rising young Hollywood star accepts the role of Hamlet at Shakespeare in the Park, everyone thinks he's nuts -- and that's before he starts getting advice from the ghost of the great Shakespearean actor John Barrymore. A comic romp that also explores the meaning of Shakespeare in the modern world. Written by New Yorker contributor Paul Rudnick, screenwriter of the "Addams Family" films. Never before performed at CSF....
Season tickets for 2014 will go on sale Nov. 4 by phone or in person. Patrons may call the box office at 303-492-8008 or buy in person at the University Club on the CU-Boulder campus from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Online sales for season tickets will be available starting Nov. 11 at coloradoshakes.org. Single-tickets will go on sale Dec. 9 online, by phone or in person.
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