by Lorie Lewis Ham
This week for our Local Live we are chatting with Greg Taber, the Executive Producer of the Woodward Shakespeare Festival in Fresno, which begins their 2013 season this weekend!
KRL: Your name and position with the Woodward Park Shakespeare Festival?
Greg: My name is Greg Taber and I am the Executive Producer for the Woodward Shakespeare Festival. I’ve acted off and on in local theatre since the late 1980s, and I directed productions with Theatre Ventoux, a company I founded with my wife, Lisa. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting from the University of Southern California. The Executive Producer position is something of a combination of Managing Director and Artistic Director. My primary focus over the last two seasons has been on defining the WSF experience as we move into the end of our first decade and prepare for our next 10 years of Free Shakespeare in the Park.
KRL: What shows will you be presenting this season?
Greg: This season we will be presenting: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, and Julius Caesar. Midsummer will run Thursday through Saturday from June 13 to July 6 (Dark July 4) and is directed by Aaron Spjute. Inherit the Wind will run Thursday through Saturday from July 18 to August 10, and is directed by Gabriela Lawson. Julius Caesar will run Thursday through Saturday, August 22 to September 14, and is directed by Erica Riggs.
KRL: Why do you now pick one play that isn’t Shakespeare to do each season?
Greg: We added the non-Shakespearean show to broaden our audience appeal and to give our directors, designers and actors the opportunity to tackle some of the more profound (and challenging) American pieces that community theatres often shy away from.
KRL: Will there be any different twists to the shows this year–such as will any of them have a modern setting?
Greg: Midsummer will be a pretty straightforward take on the play, with part of the show taking place in semi-classical Athens and the part in the surrounding faerie-woods. Inherit the Wind is written to be performed in a non-specific time and location, but the style tends to set it an approximation of the American rural south. Julius Caesar will not take place in Caesar’s Rome, but will have a bit of a modern twist by setting it in a 60s era time of cultural and societal shifting. Of some note is the fact that all three plays will work from a single, basic set design that is somewhat abstract, allowing each play to “shape the setting”, so to speak, instead of the setting shaping the play.
KRL: Will we be seeing some familiar actors from past seasons in this year’s shows?
Greg: WSF veterans Hal Bolen, Michael Peterson, Gabriela Lawson, and Charles West will be making appearances this season, as will returning performers Aaron McGee, Erin Baird, Cat Evangelho, GJ Thelin, Broderic Beard, Daniel Lee, Jessica Reedy, Suzanne Grazyna, and Russell Noland. Several first timers will be joining us, including Moahammad Shehata who recently performed at the Irene Ryan Awards. And returning to WSF after several years will be Jay Parks and Brooke Aiello, who will be reprising the role of Titania that she first performed for WSF in our second season.
KRL: How do you pick what shows you will do?
Greg: Our shows are selected, ultimately, by our Board of Directors who rely heavily on the input of the Executive Producer. In turn, the Executive Producer relies on the input of the Production Team (especially the Technical Director) and the Artistic Team to generate a selection of plays that we feel capable of producing and that excite us artistically.
KRL: For those who have never attended, can you tell us a little more about what the experience of seeing Shakespeare in the park is like?
Greg: Seeing Shakespeare in the park is a different experience, and a special one. Our permanent home in the northeast corner of Woodward Park has a natural amphitheatre feel to it, and enjoys a wonderfully cooling breeze as the sun sets behind our stage. We provide free seating, but our patrons are encouraged to bring their favorite lawn-chairs or picnic blankets, and a picnic dinner if they feel so inclined. The open area, our full-stage lighting and microphone system ensure that every seat in the house is a good seat. One of my favorite things that we do, and something that is fairly non-traditional in the theatre, is our tradition of meeting our audience after every performance. This gives everyone a chance to really connect not only with the production, but with the performers.
KRL: Will you be offering refreshments to purchase again this year?
Greg: Tyler Baker and his crew will be on-hand this season with the best brownies in Fresno, a variety of other tasty treats, and cool drinks for a warm summer evening of Shakespeare in the Park.
KRL: Location of the shows?
Greg: The WSF Stage is located in the northeast corner of Woodward Park, nearest the Friant/Fort Washington entrance.
KRL: Cost to get into park?
Greg: The cost to enter Woodward Park is $5.00. All WSF performances are free.
KRL: Why do you feel that offering Shakespeare plays free to the public is important?
Greg: As Board member, Hal Bolen, is fond of saying: “Fresno is the fifth largest city in the state; we have to have a Shakespeare festival, and it has to be free!” Shakespeare speaks to us all. In its brilliance, Shakespeare allows theatre artists to tackle what is both the easiest and most challenging work that we have in the English language. Shakespeare takes us into the Great and Secret Show of our own existence like no on else: performing it is an pleasure and a joy and a revelation; gifting it to our patrons is an honor.
KRL: Anything else you would like to add?
Greg: There is also a Shakespeare Youth performance on August 16 at 7 p.m. at the Park. For the first time this summer, we are running a Shakespeare theater camp for high school students, called the YES! Project (Youth Engage Shakespeare). For three weeks, participants will work on scenes from our summer Shakespeare plays, and create some of their own work as well. We’re still receiving registrations for that.”
We look forward to sharing our work with you; we’ll see you at the park!
You can learn more about history of the Woodward Park Shakespeare Festival in a past KRL article & more about this year’s season on their website.