by Lorie Lewis Ham
It is almost time for another season of the Woodward Shakespeare Festival in Fresno, so we took some time to sit down with their executive producer Greg Taber to chat about the new season.
KRL: For any who still may not be aware, can you give us a brief history of how WSF came to be and when?
Greg: In 2001, local Fresno/Clovis actors S. Eric Day and Brandon Weis imagined a season of Shakespeare plays produced outdoors in a festival environment. The idea simmered for some years until, in 2004, Christien Sweeney added her energy and vision to the enterprise, and the Festival was born.
Day and Sweeney produced and directed the first two seasons, presenting Much Ado About Nothing and Romeo and Juliet (2005), and A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth (2006). The Festival initially performed in the Rotary Amphitheater of Woodward Park, but in later years moved to the Activities space (near the Japanese Garden) and finally to its current home, the Festival Stage in the northeast corner of the park, overlooking the San Joaquin River valley and bluffs.
KRL: Please tell us about the shows this season?
Greg: Our current season consists of two plays during the summer months (Twelfth Night & Titus Andronicus), and a Library Series from the fall to spring. Our partnership with the Fresno County Public Library goes back to even before the Festival officially began, when staged readings of Shakespeare’s plays were performed at the Woodward Park Library as a way of sharing our passion for Shakespeare with the community.
KRL: Why did you pick these particular shows?
Greg: Twelfth Night was chosen for the variety of the characters and because it’s simply a wonderful show. Titus Andronicus was chosen because it hasn’t been done before and because it provides an opportunity for the edgier work that I like to engage in.
KRL: Why only two shows this year?
Greg: We made the decision to return to only two shows per season in order to allow the ensemble more time to focus on the work at hand. Being completely community-driven, three shows was simply stretching us a bit thin.
KRL: Is there anything else different this year?
Greg: We are looking to make a few improvements to the stage this season, but, otherwise, we are business as usual.
KRL: Will we see some familiar faces in the casts?
Greg: One of the great things about this year’s ensemble is that about half of it is new people. The infusion of new energy and new ideas is always welcome. That said, it’s always good to have the veterans back. Jay Parks will be taking the lead in Titus Andronicus. Renee Newlove will be back as Viola and Joshua Taber will be back as Feste in Twelfth Night. Other familiar faces will include Jessica Reedy, Donna Halliburton, Heather Gibeson, Jonathan Gledhill, and Sarah Sherwood. Jacob Sherwood will be back directing Twelfth Night and Dylan Hardcastle and Tori Lichti will be back stage managing.
KRL: Why do you feel that it is important to have a Shakespeare Festival?
Greg: The San Joaquin valley is a rich and diverse area of California. If you’re looking for it, it’s probably here somewhere. At its heart is the state’s fifth largest city. And running around like mad in that city are some amazingly talented people: musicians, painters, sculptors, singers, poets, dancers, actors…. There is also great generosity and support for the arts if you go looking for it. So, for me, the question isn’t really why Fresno should have a Shakespeare Festival, but why shouldn’t it? All of the ingredients are here; why shouldn’t it exist and do what no one else does from Los Angeles to the Bay Area: provide free productions of the world’s greatest dramatist created, designed, built, directed, and acted entirely by local artists? Before Eric Day and Brandon Weis, how was it possible that Fresno didn’t have a Shakespeare festival, and how would it be possible that we couldn’t continue to have one?
KRL: What are the show dates and times? Location?
Greg: All shows are presented free of charge with admission to Woodward Park and are presented Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 at the Festival Stage in the northeast corner of Woodward Park just off the Friant/Fort Washington entrance. Twelfth Night runs from June 15 – July 8. Titus Andronicus runs from August 3 – August 26.
KRL: Do people need tickets?
Greg: No tickets are necessary. All seats are first come, first seated. Premier seating can be reserved online for a ten-dollar donation beginning June 1.
KRL: Can you tell us more about any other Shakespeare events/readings coming up yet this year?
Greg: Our Staged Reading series in partnership with the Fresno County Public Libraries will be continuing this fall. The YES Project (our youth outreach program under the guidance of Fresno Pacific University professor Julia Reimer) will be having its performance at the Festival Stage July 26 at 7:00. More information on both can be found on our website.
KRL: Website & Social media?
KRL: Anything else you would like to add?
Greg: This will be my last season as Executive Producer for WSF. It’s time to pass the torch and move on to other endeavors. It’s been some of the most rewarding and enlightening work I’ve ever had the privilege to do. I’ve worked with some amazing people. I hope this season’s productions will be the best we’ve ever done, and that what comes next will be even better.
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