To the amazement and amusement of many theatregoers, Shakespeare continues to be the most produced playwright in summer festivals throughout America. There are at least a dozen California festivals producing Shakespeare this summer, and more than 100 Shakespeare Festivals around the world. If, as the Bard proclaims, "all the world's a stage," Southern California must be Will Shakespeare's summer home.
The biggest summer Shakespeare surprise was Peter Hall's emergence on the L.A. scene with Measure for Measure (closed July 27) and A Midsummer Night's Dream (closed Aug. 1) in the Ahmanson Theatre. Hall, a frequent critic of American productions of Shakespeare and the former leader of England's Royal Shakespeare Company, has enlisted Kelly McGillis, Richard Thomas, Anna Gunn, and David Dukes to headline a repertory company of considerable depth. Evidently, the late Joseph Papp first suggested an American company to Hall. However, it was the Ahmanson's Gordon Davidson who finally persuaded Hall to set up shop in Los Angeles. Hall's 40-years-plus track record with the Bard includes directing 28 of Shakespeare's 37 plays.
The oldest and most prestigious of the area festivals is the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, which has enlisted Daniel Sullivan to direct Cymbeline (July 31-Sept. 4) in the Globe Theatre, and Roger Rees to direct The Merry Wives of Windsor (Sept. 4-Oct. 9) on the Festival Stage. Old Globe Artistic Director Jack O'Brien notes, "Some of our favorite players are returning and we're delighted to welcome internationally acclaimed actor and director Roger Rees to the Festival."
Outdoor Bard Rooms
Respected for its firm commitment to the classics and consistently stellar production values, The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga, Calif., is also tackling The Merry Wives of Windsor (through Sept. 19). The beginnings of the Theatricum Botanicum may be traced to the early 1950s, when Will Geer, a victim of the McCarthy Era Blacklisting, opened up a theatre for blacklisted actors and folk singers on his property in Topanga Canyon. Since 1973, the Theatricum has provided a home for Shakespeare in a charming outdoor amphitheatre run by his daughter, Ellen Geer.
Nearby, Shakespeare Festival/LA Artistic Director Ben Donenberg and Lance Davis are integrating Pete Seeger's popular folk songs into As You Like It for a summer run through Aug. 1. Sing-along sheets will be distributed to audience members as the company attempts to recreate the "warm ambiance that reflects the innocence of America in the late 1950s and '60s." The cast features Jane Longenecker, Kent Faulcon, and Marika Becz, and the company will travel from Downtown L.A.'s Union Station to Burton Chace Park in Marina Del Rey to the South Coast Botanic Gardens in Palos Verdes Peninsula.
Heading East, Shakespeare Orange County Artistic Director Tom Bradac is celebrating his 20th year of producing Shakespeare for the "Inland Empire" with Romeo and Juliet (closed July 11) and Measure for Measure (July 22-Aug. 7). Shakespeare Orange County produces some of the area's best classical work, in an intimate indoor theatre on the beautiful Chapman University campus in Orange, Calif., and Bradac's award-winning work has been key to Shakespeare's popularity in Orange County for almost two decades.
Stuarts, Pseudos, and Scandinavians
Pasadena is best known for the Rose Bowl Parade. However, in the summertime, The Pasadena Shakespeare Company takes a break from both football and Shakespeare. Founder and Artistic Director Gillian Bagwell recently staged the west coast premiere of Stephen Jeffreys' The Libertine (closed Aug. 1). The dark comedy concerns the Second Earl of Rochester, who scandalizes the court of Charles II in Restoration London. The company turns its attentions back to the Bard with a fall production of the 1999 winner for the most produced Shakespeare in Southern California: The Merry Wives of Windsor (Oct. 15-Nov. 21).
In what might be called a semi-Shakespeare experience, the Troubadour Theater Company presented Twelfth Dog Night at the Grove Theatre Center, July 16-24, in Garden Grove, Calif. Known for its freewheeling, "no-holds Bard," commedia-flavored productions (including Spamlet, Shrew!, and Clown's Labors Lost), the Troubadour troupe will be followed by the Grove Theater Center's own As You Like It, Aug. 19-29.
Heading North into the hills and Scandinavian territory, the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts (PCPA) in Santa Maria and Solvang, Calif., has been offering A Midsummer Night's Dream (through July 25 in Solvang and July 30-Aug. 14 in Santa Maria). Solvang is an adorable Scandinavian hamlet that draws thousands of tourists to the tasty restaurants and annual Theaterfest. This season marks the 35th anniversary of the PCPA.
Prepare the Speech
Finally, the award-winning classical theatre company A Noise Within is engaged in a highly interactive "Summer With Shakespeare" (through Aug. 6), in Glendale, Calif. The five-week program leads students through classes on acting, voice, speech, text analysis, and stage combat. "Understanding Shakespeare and classical acting techniques allows young performers to understand their craft and the text of plays they may perform in the future," explains Artistic Co-Director Julia Rodriguez Elliott.
Given the remarkable number of annual Shakespeare plays in Southern California, A Noise Within should be in the Shakespeare training business for years to come! q