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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 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 https://www.santacruzshakespeare.org/ and buy tickets, make donations, or both!

2014 June 9

Summer theater: Santa Cruz Shakespeare

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Tonight I went to a “Meet the Directors” event for donors to Santa Cruz Shakespeare.  (I’m a tiny donor, but I plan to give more this year, now that I know we can afford my son’s college expenses.)

The event was at Vino Cruz, a local wine shop that specializes in Santa Cruz Mountain vintners (there was wine served donated by Sones Cellars, local vintners who have been long-time supporters of Shakespeare Santa Cruz).  There was seating for about 20 people, with standing room for another 10 (I gave up my seat for some women who were less able than me to stand for the hour-long event).

Santa Cruz Shakespeare will have the Festival Glen at UCSC, and they’ll be doing two comedies: Merry Wives of Windsor and As You Like It (and the interns will be doing a no-budget production of the farce The Bard of Avon, which sounded hilarious as described by its director). I’ve already got my season tickets purchased (very nice seats), and I urge others to get theirs soon.  Anyone who will be in the Bay Area 2014 July 1–Aug 10 should try to get tickets for at least one performance.

The schedule and ticket sales can be found at http://santacruzshakespeare.org/  All ticket sales and donations go to provide the budget for next year’s shows—they are using a strict forward-funding model, with no borrowing.

Santa Cruz Shakespeare has been having some trouble getting the word out that there will be Shakespeare performed in the glen this summer and really wants as much word-of-mouth advertising as they can get.  So tell your friends about it!

Mike Ryan made some jokes about Santa Cruz Shakespeare having its first season, but having a 32-year history as well.  Many of the people associated with the productions this year (actors, directors, production staff, donors, dramaturges, …) have had long associations with Shakespeare Santa Cruz, some renewing associations that had lapsed.

There were no startling revelations from the directors, but I heard a little about how they viewed the plays and what period they were setting them in (roughly 1830s for As You Like It, and 1920s England for Merry Wives of Windsor).  The actor for Falstaff will be the same one who has appeared for the past few years in the Henry plays, and he’ll be great. Rehearsals have started (somewhere on Shaffer Road, on the far west side of Santa Cruz).

The costumes will be by B. Modern (who did a lot of the costuming for Shakespeare Santa Cruz, sometimes brilliantly and sometimes just a little too weird).

They couldn’t afford a large crew to reset the stage between plays, so they’ll be using a single set for all three plays (with minor modifications), to save money. The directors have discussed the set needs for each play and think that they have a workable compromise.  It won’t be quite the very elegant bare stage that I remember from a previous production of As You Like It (was it the 2006 production, or the 1997 one?), but it won’t be overly elaborate like the 2007 Tempest.

In any case, I’m very much looking forward to the summer season of Santa Cruz Shakespeare.

In other theater news, I also have ordered season tickets for the five shows that Jewel Theatre is doing: Saint Joan, Enter the Guards, Harper Regan, Complications from a Fall, and Woman in Mind.  We managed to select dates so that my son will be home from UCSB for 4 of them, so we got him a 4-play season ticket to go along with our 5-play season ticket.  (See http://www.JewelTheatre.net for more information.)

 

2014 March 4

Summer theater: Santa Cruz Shakespeare and WEST

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Santa Cruz Shakespeare has announced their summer season on their new website http://santacruzshakespeare.org/ They will have the Festival Glen at UCSC, and they’ll be doing two comedies: Merry Wives of Windsor and As You Like It.  My family had predicted Merry Wives of Windsor and Hamlet, but I guess the artistic director or the board decided that comedies sold better than tragedies, and they need to make enough money to do another season next year.

We’ll be getting season tickets as soon as we figure out our summer schedule.  The main constraint on our summers has traditionally been WEST summer theater programs, and WEST has recently released their summer schedule. My son is aging out of most of their offerings—he’ll probably want to do the teen conservatory, which is July 28–Aug 16, and he might want to do the teen production of Beetlejuice, June 23–July 11, if he is still eligible after his senior year of high school. I think that this is the first year that they’re doing 3-week, instead of 2-week, productions. The Beetlejuice ones are just half days, 5 days a week, but the teen conservatory is 10 a.m.–5 p.m. 6 days a week. The one thing that might interfere with my son’s summer theater plans is college orientation—we have no idea when that will be, because he has not yet gotten any admissions offers. (Despite T.S. Eliot, for high-school students March is the cruellest month, not April, as admissions offers trickle out during March.)

I suspect that the last week of the WEST teen conservatory will include instructors from Santa Cruz Shakespeare, as their season ends August 10.

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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