by Joshua Ryan Taylor
For eleven years, this group has managed to bring free theatre to the public. They’ve battled weather, the park, and the ultimate artistic challenge – Shakespeare. Through three separate performance spaces, they have put on 24 main-stage productions, and are about to open three more.
The Woodward Shakespeare Festival is a collection of artists striving to provide free theatre for the purpose of education and entertainment, and they have delivered just that for eleven years. For many, it has become a yearly tradition to venture out into Woodward Park to moved, delighted, and intrigued by these artists. There are patrons who have attended every show, and it isn’t difficult to find audience members who saw their first WSF play when they were in elementary school and are now heading off to college.
There is a sense of community to those in the park. Hundreds gather around every summer to be told some of humankind’s greatest stories. Every show begins at 8:00, just when the sun is beginning to set. And they all end at 10:00, just after the stars have claimed their place in the night sky. And one gets to experience this transition all while watching some of Fresno’s most skilled artists perform just for them.
Make no mistake – these are some seriously skilled artists. For the eleventh season, WSF has brought out the big guns, and the cast and crew lists almost serve as an all stars catalog from seasons past.
The first show of the season is Richard III, directed by Executive Producer Greg Taber and Associate Producer Broderick Beard. The two recently teamed together for Theatre Ventoux’s production of ‘night, Mother, and they return to tackle what is commonly regarded as Shakespeare’s first great play.
The season’s second show is The Two Gentlemen of Verona, widely considered Shakespeare’s very first play. Theatre Ventoux’s co-founder Lisa Taber is at the helm (one may remember her as the subtle but confident voice behind the recent Antigone and Ventoux’s Childe Byron, Twelve Angry Men, and The Anastasia Trials in the Court of Women.)
And the final show of the season is The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [Abridged]. Directing is Aaron Spjute, the man behind WSF’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and Taming of the Shrew.
In terms of cast, one feels a sense of occasion looking at some of the names. There are WSF veterans: Jay Parks, Jessica Reedy, Robert Daniels, Charles West, and Renee Newlove (who appears in every show this season.) There are those pulling double (or triple) duty as cast and crew: Joshua Taber, Kayla M. Weber, Broderic Beard, and Greg Taber. And there are some new faces, including Fresno State imports Samantha Hyde, Riley Soriano, and Kia Vassiliades.
So what does this season have in store for us other than a slew of extraordinary artists?
To begin, there have been modifications to the company’s stage. The upper level has been blocked off, so all three productions will be performed solely on the lower level, which has been split into four sections by platforms of various heights.
Additionally, this season’s technical and creative teams will be the same for all three productions. Joshua Taber will provide the season’s sound design, Caitlyn Dick is on lighting design, Kayla M. Weber on set design, and Celeste Saldivar will round out the team with the costume design. The goal behind the uniform team being to bring a sense of cohesiveness to the season.
In terms of the shows, the season kicks off with Richard III, a bloody take on the Wars of the Roses in which two feuding families battle for the throne. Then comes The Two Gentlemen of Verona, which will set Shakespeare’s first romantic comedy in the 1950s. And to close out the season is The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [Abridged], a whip-smart and fast-moving farce based on every play Shakespeare wrote performed on alternating nights by two casts.
Richard III plays June 18 – July 11 (dark on July 4), Two Gents plays July 23 – August 15, and Complete Works plays August 27 – September 9. All show run Thursday – Saturday with curtain at 8:00. Admission is free.
For more information, consult www.woodwardshakespeare.org.
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