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2016 August 26

Santa Cruz Shakespeare last weekend for 2016

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This is the last weekend for Santa Cruz Shakespeare (one show tonight, two each on Saturday and Sunday). I’ve seen all three plays this year, and definitely liked the Hamlet best (see 2016 Santa Cruz Shakespeare season and Santa Cruz Shakespeare has released Hamlet photos).

Santa Cruz Shakespeare has just released the photo call for the intern’s fringe showOrlando, which we saw in the sold-out closing performance last Wednesday.  The intern’s shows are always lively, low-budget romps, and this one was no exception. The directing reminded me a lot of the directing that John Pasha has done for the conservatories at WEST—a lot of choral work and lines split among several actors.  I don’t know whether this is just currently trendy (perhaps to equalize the number of lines per actor) or whether it is a considered choice for actors who are not quite up to long monologues and dialogues. Either way, it worked fairly well, and the cross-dressing and gender changing played well to a Santa Cruz audience. (Note: Orlando is all about gender roles and gender changing, so this was not a Santa Cruz interpretation put uncomfortably onto the play, but integral to the original concept.)

My son went to Ashland last week with WEST to see six plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  OSF was also doing Hamlet this summer, but their take on it had heavy metal guitar music. My son reported that the OSF Hamlet was good, but not as good as the Santa Cruz one (which he saw twice, once with us and once with the WEST conservatory group). I can see heavy metal music as appropriate for Hamlet, but not for Ophelia, whose madness is of a gentler sort.

2016 August 1

Santa Cruz Shakespeare has released Hamlet photos

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Santa Cruz Shakespeare has now released photos from their production of Hamlet on their blog. This complements their previous release of photos from Midsummer Night’s Dream.

For my review of the two productions, see my previous post.


2016 July 30

2016 Santa Cruz Shakespeare season

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This year, Santa Cruz Shakespeare is presenting two plays by their professional cast in their brand new Audrey Stanley Grove in Delaveaga Park, in addition to a play performed entirely by their unpaid interns. The main plays this year are Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet, two of the most popular plays Shakespeare wrote, and the intern’s play is Orlando, an adaptation by Sarah Ruhl of Virginia Woolf’s novel.  I’ve now seen both the Shakespeare productions and will be seeing Orlando after it opens.  The company has posted photos of the Midsummer cast, but not (yet) of the Hamlet cast.

I always enjoy seeing plays in repertory, seeing the same actors in very different roles—there is too little repertory theater in the US nowadays, so the summers in Santa Cruz are a treat. I urge everyone to see both the Shakespeare plays this year, but if you can only see one, Hamlet is by far the better production. They made a number of changes to the play, in order to get equal roles for both genders, and I worried about what damage might have been done by making Hamlet, Polonius, Rosenkrantz, and Guildenstern all female roles (not women playing men’s roles, which is often done, but Hamlet as the princess of Denmark).

There were a couple of unedited lines in Hamlet that didn’t quite work (like referring to Polonius’s beard), but Kate Eastwood Norris was the best Hamlet I’ve ever seen—utterly convincing in all of Hamlet’s varied moods.  A lot of the lines that seem overplayed in most productions resonated with new depth.

The very simple set and effective lighting (having Hamlet’s shadow on one of the towers during a soliloquoy, for example) increased the impact of the lines. Having the fog come in during the performance was an unplanned, but mood-enhancing addition—I can’t promise that in future performances!  The costumes for Hamlet were not distracting, but the “Denmark” of this production seems to be set in no particular century and on no particular continent.

All the actors were at the top of their form opening night, and the audience gave a standing ovation (which is not all that common for Santa Cruz audiences—we tend to be a tough crowd). Even the Player King’s speech, which was left in, not hacked down to a couple of lines as in many productions, was moving.  (My wife agreed with Polonius that it was a bit too long, but was surprised at how a good performance made even the rather overblown lines resonate.)

Patty Gallagher did a marvelous job as Polonius—her Polonius was a wholly convincing pedantic counselor, and the gender swap making her Laertes and Ophelia’s mother instead of father may actually have made the role more believable. (Polonius has always behaved more like an old woman than an old man.) Having Ophelia cast as a black woman and Claudius as a black man did raise some questions about Polonius’s earlier relationship with Claudius and his dead brother.

There were some parts cut that we missed, like Horatio’s attempt to kill himself at the end, and some we didn’t (they cut out Fortinbras, who never seemed to belong in the play anyway).

In both plays I was impressed by Larry Paulsen (Puck and Philostrate in Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Player King and Gravedigger in Hamlet).  It is, perhaps, an unusual choice to make an older man be Puck, but his Puck was the best part of Midsummer Night’s Dream. Bernard Addison as Nick Bottom was also quite good (better than his Claudius in Hamlet, which was solid, but not inspired).  The two women, Katherine Ko as Hermia and Mary Cavett as Helena, were good, and for once the heights of the actresses matched the insults in their fight scene.  Kate Eastwood Norris was quite good as Penny (not Peter) Quince, with the extra byplay of having a crush on Nick Bottom adding to the normally rather thin lines for Quince.

But the directing and costuming for Midsummer were a bit lackluster—the fairies moped about the stage like hungover teenagers wearing boring pajamas.  Patty Gallagher as First Fairy bossed them around and had some rather stylized movements that seemed rather awkward—it might have been better to let one of interns have that role and given the fairies a bit of life.

I guess I’ve been spoiled by having seen Danny Scheie’s 1991 production of Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Festival Glen by Shakespeare Santa Cruz—it is hard for a rather mundane, traditional performance like the one Terri McMahon directed this year to compete, even if there were some good additions (like the miming of the potions by Puck and Oberon).

On more mundane matters—the Grove is a comfortable place to see a play (but bring blankets—it gets colder even than the Festival Glen did), but it is rather inaccessible by public transit, bike, or walking (the two-lane access road to the park is very narrow and unlit). We ended up taking taxi and Uber, but cellphone reception in the Grove can be a bit spotty, so calling a taxi can be tough, and the taxi drivers don’t have any idea yet where Santa Cruz Shakespeare is, and the official address on Upper Park Road is misleading.  We ended up walking out of the park after Midsummer Night’s Dream, after the taxi we called got lost, and we met a taxi at the golf-club clubhouse after Hamlet, choosing there as a more findable location.

I like the new benches for the reserved seating, but they need cup holders or, better, little shelf tables on the back of the bench in front (which I saw they had started to install). The boxes for the groundlings are a bit confusing, as there was no indication whether any of them had been reserved by a group.  Perhaps they need a sign for each box, either saying in red “reserved” or in blue “open for groundlings”.

The bathrooms are rather hastily installed trailers, but they did have hot water, which one doesn’t always get in public bathrooms these days.

The Grove was finished on time (about 3 months from permission to start to opening night), if not quite on budget (they still need to raise about 16% of the cost of the Grove, being $219k short).  They are also looking for donations to fund next year’s production, since they are using a forward funding model, where the ticket sales and donations this year determine next year’s budget, rather than building up debt the way the former Shakespeare Santa Cruz company did.  (It was that debt to UCSC that killed SSC.)

So go to and buy tickets, make donations, or both!

2016 February 25

Santa Cruz Shakespeare announces 2016 season

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I attended the season announcement party for Santa Cruz Shakespeare tonight, at which they announced their line up for the season.  They really need a blockbuster season this year, to help pay for the $1,000,000 construction of the new “Grove at Delaveaga Park” performance space, for which they have a 2-year lease.  Naturally, they picked very well known and popular plays:

  • Hamlet
  • Midsummer Night’s Dream

For the Fringe play by the interns (which is often as good or better than the plays by the professional actors, except for the inevitable intern who can’t project well enough for outdoor theater—but they’ve had that problem sometimes with professional actors), they chose a less well-known play:

Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, adapted as a play by Sarah Ruhl.

According to the play’s web site, it was first performed in 2010, so it is a relatively recent work.

Mike Ryan is continuing the practice of gender-balanced casting, which should work well for the couples in Midsummer Night’s Dream—that play is nearly gender-balanced as is. 

For Hamlet, the title role will be played by a woman.  I don’t know whether she will be “Princess of Denmark” or whether she will be playing a male role. I think that Hamlet could be a female role, though the parts of the plot involving Ophelia would change somewhat in tone.  If Hamlet becomes a female role, what about Horatio? Also, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern could be male, female, or one of each, equally plausibly. I’m curious to see how they work this out.

I’ve seen an all-female production of Hamlet in Santa Cruz (April 2012, produced by San Francisco State University, and presented by Jewel Theatre), in which the roles retained their original gender, despite an all-female cast—it was a good production, particularly for student work.  I suspect that SSC will try a more challenging adaptation, in which some of the roles change gender, rather than cross-casting the actors.

Of course, the point of having this season-announcement party for “Producer’s Circle” donors was to ask people to give to the capital campaign, in addition to their annual giving for the operating expenses.  They’ve raised about 67% of what they need, but that still leaves about $330,000 to raise in the next month or two.  I think that they’ll be going public with the capital campaign soon, once they’ve got a few more big donors to make the remaining “ask” seem more feasible.

They are getting a no-interest loan, I believe, backed by donor pledges, so that they can start construction as soon as the money is promised.  The idea is that people can pledge money to be given over the next three years, and the loan makes the money available immediately for the upfront construction costs.  My wife and I have already donated to the 2016 budget and were planning to donate to the 2017 budget, and we’ll probably give something to the capital campaign, but we haven’t figured out how much yet.

The planning permits are approved, I believe, so they are ready to start work on the site as soon as the money is available. They had planning documents at the party, and I spent some time leafing through them.  They look pretty good, but it doesn’t seem like there will be any aisle lighting (though I supposed they could add non-permanent rope lights or equivalents).  There wasn’t aisle lighting at the Festival Glen either, and its lack did not seem to cause  any problems.

They’re starting their season a little later this year (July 12), with the hope that the delayed start will give them enough time to finish building everything.

2014 February 3

More theater

Saturday night, my son and I went to see “the Best of the Rest”, which was a staged reading of the 8 runner-up one-act plays for “8 tens at 8” done earlier in the month by Actors Theatre.  We thought that there was one awful play (bad script, bad directing, bad costumes, bad voice work), and one so-so play, but that the other 6 were better than four of the eight chosen for the main performance. It must be very difficult to select new plays based just on reading the scripts, trying to guess what will work on stage and what will fall flat when the parts haven’t been cast—I’m surprised that they do as well as they do at selecting them.

Last night wrapped up the end of my son’s performances that I listed in Theater month, with a Dinosaur Prom Improv performance.  The troupe was not at full strength with only 6 of the 10 troupe members performing—two were away for JSA (Junior State of America, which I keep wanting to call by its old name, Junior Statesmen of America), one had a broken ankle, and one had not been able to rehearse for several weeks, so just worked tech.  The smaller troupe resulted in a somewhat shorter and less varied show than usual, though my perceptions of the show may have been colored by the bad cold I’ve picked up this weekend.

I must be getting old—I think was close to the median age of the audience at the Best of the Rest performance, and I may have been the oldest at the Dinosaur Prom performance. My wife and I had gotten used to being among the youngest audience members at most theater performances (other than Shakespeare Santa Cruz and shows by kids), looking out over a sea of white hair. So it was a bit strange seeing so many people at the Best of the Rest who were younger than me.

Dinosaur Prom has a loyal following of teens (mostly ones involved in acting themselves), and the audience was almost sorted by age from front to back.  Well over half the audience was under 20. It is good to see youngsters enthusiastic about live theater—it makes me feel that the cultural tradition will not die out.

I spoke too soon in Theater month, though, when I said

Things should quiet down after next week, with just “Much Ado” rehearsals (3 hours a week) and Dinosaur Prom (1.5 hours a week), though there will be a workshop on doing auditions sometime this spring.

All the theater things I listed in the post did happen, but it turns out that WEST is having teen auditioning workshops twice a week for the next three weeks (not later in the Spring), so my son will mostly likely be doing four theater things a week, not just two. I’m one of the parents who has been advocating for an auditioning workshop (WEST doesn’t do traditional auditions for their classes, so the kids don’t have much experience with it), so I’m certainly supportive of my son taking the workshops. WEST has gotten John Pasha to teach the workshops, and he’s done a fantastic job with the summer teen conservatory that WEST and Shakespeare Santa Cruz have co-operated on for the past few years.

There are actually two separate workshop series that John Pasha will be teaching: one for traditional theater auditions, the other for commercial and video auditions, which are done differently.  I think my son should probably do both, but if he’s feeling overwhelmed with theater after his whirlwind month of performances, I could see him opting to do only the traditional audition workshop.

Community-wide the big theater news is that Shakespeare Play On has raised enough money to have a summer season in Santa Cruz.  They’ve not announced the plays yet, but my wife is betting on Hamlet and Merry Wives of Windsor, because Cabrillo College Extension is having a course on understanding those two plays, and the teacher is on the board of Shakespeare Play On.  One further clue: Shakespeare To Go, which usually tours a condensed version of one of the summer plays to local schools, is doing Hamlet this year.

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