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Review: Sweeney Todd Delights with Blood, Bondage and Belly Laughs, Idaho Shakespeare Festival debuts macabre summer musical

July 10th, 2013

Boise Weekly, July 10, 2013

by Harrison Berry
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street opens with a chorus of singers, their faces painted and eyebrows arched, waxing on the musical's titular character, who sends his victims “to their maker impeccably shaved.” This bit of wit sets the tone for the enigmatic Todd–played with gusto by Tom Ford in Idaho Shakespeare Festival's production of the musical–whose drive for vengeance is transmuted to comedy by irony in this charming rendition.

Stephen Sondheim's musical centers on a barber sentenced to exile when his wife becomes an object of lust for Judge Turpin (Darren Matthias). When the barber returns, he assumes the name of Sweeney Todd, vows revenge and shacks up with the unbalanced (and unsuccessful) meat pie chef Mrs. Lovett (Sara M. Bruner).

The plot thickens when it is revealed that Todd's daughter, Johanna, is the betrothed of the sneering Turpin; that Todd's only friend, Anthony Hope, is in love with Johanna; and that Todd's rival and would-be blackmailer, Adolfo Pirelli, has been given a Columbian necktie, leading to the dubious innovation of a chute, through which Todd slides his victims down to a bakery where Mrs. Lovett processes them into the best meat pies in London.

It's all executed with a tip of a hat, and many artful quips and puns that won belly laughs from the audience. The music, though not something one would want a significant other humming around the house, is lively and catchy, while the lyrics explore Todd and Lovett's ghastly enterprise.

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Ford and Bruner make a hell of a team. Ford's despondent visage puckers into a glower by the second act while Bruner's wild-eyed infatuation evolves into romantic desperation and insanity. Their gallows humor is livened by a blindness to their respective singular devotions and a large and kinetic cast.

But the highlight of ISF's Sweeney Todd is the props: Todd's shining, silver-handled straight razor and his plush, red barber's chair that pushes his victims down a chute into Lovett's bake house. Add to that buckets of blood and gore, a guffaw-inducing portrait of Todd and Lovett and a basement meat grinder oozing pink human sludge, and the macabre mood is set. The vibe also gets a healthy dose of darkness with Charlotte Yetman's costumes, resplendent with leather bondage-esque attire and glimmering surfaces.

Sweeney Todd is still a tragedy: The machine that sends the corpses to the kitchen ultimately reveals the horror of Todd, Lovett and Turpin's respective monomanias. But the tragedy of the ending didn't dampen the ISF audience, which was thrust out of its seats for applause when the cast took its bow opening night.

Click Here to Read More at Boise Weekly

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Review: Idaho Shakespeare Festival makes evil fun in stylish production

July 10th, 2013

Published: July 8, 2013
By DANA OLAND / doland@idahostatesman.com — Idaho Statesman

It's one thing to take on a landmark piece of musical theater, such as “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” It's another to turn it into a transformative work of art, and that's what the Idaho Shakespeare Festival achieved Saturday.

Director Victoria Bussert and a cast of 16 actor-singers brushed the cobwebs from the Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical as they transported the audience from aghast discomfort in the opening to a dark, blood-soaked revelry by the finale that had them cheering as the lights went down.

It's raw, gruesome, devilishly funny and unflinchingly honest. Bussert never backs away from the darker realities of the early industrial urban life: the timeless excesses of power, corruption and institutionalized cruelty that fuel the story.

Charlotte Yetman's costumes, a mix of rich colorful fabrics and modern twists on Victorian style, breathe life into the production, as does Jeff Herrmann's purple-hued, mechanized set of rotating panels and trap doors. As darkness comes, Mary Jo Dondlinger's lighting deepens the impact.

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Music director Matthew Webb leads the orchestra – filled with many Boise Philharmonic players – with a keen musical skill and attention to detail.

Tom Ford in the title role and Sara M. Bruner as Mrs. Lovett are as delightfully a sinful, bawdy pair of evildoers as you could want.

Turns out that Ford, though mostly a tenor, is a powerhouse baritone. He brings a conscience to his Todd, as he is hollowed out by his own evil deeds and lust for revenge.

Bruner continues to surprise with the depth of her performances. She attacks Mrs. Lovett with lusty avarice and evil genius. She proves herself vocally, handling this extremely difficult and demanding score with near athletic prowess and tender expression.

Dana Oland: 377-6442, Twitter: @IDS_DanaOland

Click to Read more at Idaho Statesman

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Review: Hats Off to 'Noises Off' at Idaho Shakespeare

September 7th, 2012

Boise Weekly, Published September 5, 2012

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by Tara Morgan

The set for Idaho Shakespeare Festival's Noises Off feels instantly familiar–like it was borrowed from an old British sitcom. A well-worn couch and a doily-covered recliner rest center stage, framed by seven wooden doors–three upstairs, four down–and a staircase that winds up stage right. A number of bad tapestries, awkward portraits and tchotchkes fill out the rest of the warmly dated space.

And that TV comedy feeling continues as Mrs. Clackett ambles out in the opening scene, wearing a crocheted blanket housecoat and fuzzy pink slippers, her hair in curlers. As she stumbles through her lines and fusses with a plate of sardines, director Lloyd Dallas' voice booms from above, giving her stage direction.

“How about the words, love, am I getting some of them right?” she asks. “Some of them have a very familiar ring,” he chides.

Clackett, played by the fictional Dotty (who, in turn, is played by ISF vet Lynn Allison), is in the final hours of rehearsal for a farce called Nothing On. Soon, her fellow cast members–a ragtag team of regional theater half-wits clad in vibrant '70s leisure suits and mini dresses–come stumbling through the set's doors, botching their lines and timing with equal dedication. As the clock ticks toward opening night, the Valium-popping Dallas (played by Richard Klautsch) gets more and more exasperated.

While the ISF cast makes this play-within-a-play concept look easy–switching between characters and accents fluidly, developing the narrative of the fictional play and the real play in unison–the production requires the technical precision of a ballet.

With every door that slams shut, another one opens. As Clackett leaves the stage momentarily, real estate agent Roger (played by the Ben Stiller-esque Christopher Williams) swings through the front door with a giggling blonde named Vicki (played with robotic vapidity by Betsy Mugavero). The second they duck into a bedroom for an afternoon tryst, the house's tax-evading owners Phillip and Flavia (played by Shad Willingham and Kathryn Cherasaro) come barging on stage. And things continue in this manner for the remainder of the sexual innuendo-filled Nothing On.

And while there is plenty of slapstick comedy going on in the fictional play–with dresses disappearing and actors emerging in sheets to look like Arab sheikhs–the company's rapidly intertwining personal relationships provide for even more hilarity. When we're taken behind the curtain in Act Two, we learn that Dallas is sleeping with both Brooke (who plays Vicki) and the play's stage manager, Poppy. Dottie is having a tryst with the jealous Garry (who plays Roger), who thinks she's also seeing Frederick (who plays Phillip). These petty jealousies and ego bruisings play out mostly silently–and sometimes confusingly–backstage during a performance of the fictional play.

Though Noises Off can be a lot to follow visually–with characters swinging in and out of doors and squabbling in various corners of the set–it's ultimately a fast-paced, finely timed farce that promises to only get better with time.

Click here to read at Boise Weekly.

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Review: Comedy and magic blend in Idaho Shakespeare Festival's ‘Winter’s Tale’

August 6th, 2012

Published: August 6, 2012

By DANA OLAND — doland@idahostatesman.com

Once upon a time there was a king afflicted by jealousy and madness, a family torn apart and a kingdom thrown into chaos — and so begins “The Winter’s Tale,” which opened at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival on Saturday.

Written late in his life, this is one of Shakespeare’s best and most complex plays, both in language and theme. He takes elements he worked on in other plays and weaves them together.

Jesse Berger’s production unfolds like a pop-up storybook full of magic and art.

From David Barber’s whimsical set, tinged with symbols of astrology and alchemy, to Sara Tosetti’s colorful 19th-century-esque costumes, it’s an enchanting night of theater.

Berger and his design team tell this story exceedingly well, with clarity and charm.

Kings Leontes (David Anthony Smith) and Polixenes (Lynn Robert Berg) rule Sicilia and Bohemia, respectively. And they are lifelong friends — “brothers,” they say. And just like Cain and Abel, their love for one another is tinged by suspicion and doubt.

In a moment of vulnerability at a winter solstice celebration, Leontes suspects that Polixenes has won the affection of Leontes’ pregnant wife, Hermione (Lise Bruneau). Leontes accuses her, immediately becomes a tyrant and devastates his family and subjects.

Smith turns in a wonderfully heartrending performance. His jealousy comes on as if a disease — a “tremor cordis,” he calls it.

His suspicion deepens and Smith physically diminishes, falling deeper into madness in Lear-like fashion. The more he accuses her, the bigger toll it takes.

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Berg, an actor who’s been with this company since he was a college student, continues to mature into powerful and commanding roles. His Polixenes is such a role.

Bruneau is a compelling and wise Hermione, and brings a lovely sense of grace to the role. Richard Klautsch is delightful as the stalwart Camillo.

Laurie Birmingham, who was marvelous as Juliet’s nurse in “Romeo and Juliet” earlier in the season, is a revelation as Paulina, a courtier who comes to Hermione’s defense. She’s a no-nonsense, don’t-mess-with-me best friend.

The second act takes us to Bohemia, a wildly colorful and exotic land filled with a patchwork of country styles all stitched together with Slavic style.

Kimbre Lancaster as the grown-up Perdita — Leontes banishes this daughter as an infant because he suspects she’s not his — and Miles Gaston Villanueva as Florizel, Polixenes’ son, are terrific as young lovers who must overcome their parents’ histories.

M.A. Taylor and Juan Rivera Lebron are hysterical as the Old Shepherd and his son.

And there are loads of fun character performances in the cast, including Lina Chambers, Veronica Von Tobel and Tom Ford as the musical rogue Autoyclus.

Dana Oland: 377-6442, Twitter: @IDS_DanaOland

Click to read more here.

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Who: Stitch Marker

July 25th, 2012

Getting to know one of the most familar faces on Boise's stages

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By Deanna Darr

Published in Boise Weekly July 25, 2012

Stitch Marker has one of the most recognizable faces in Boise—but then he should, considering he's in his 29th season with Idaho Shakespeare Festival.

Marker has played everyone from peasant to villain to king to comic relief and earned a place in the collective consciousness of area theater-goers in the process. He's been part of the beloved summer festival since the very beginning and watched the valley's theater scene transform over the decades from the vantage point of the stage.

What drew you to theater?

I was chronically shy … and I just sort of ended up in a drama class almost accidentally … and ended up in a play and I was terrified. I didn't talk to people much on a one-on-one basis, let alone in front of a whole group of people. But this acting coach I had was just so wonderful. He really coached us about getting into a role, letting the role sort of take you over, and it was so liberating I couldn't believe it. I think one of the first things I played was sort of a really assertive, aggressive, bullyish sort of a guy, and it felt great. It felt so liberating. I had permission to just let 'er bust, and I was just hooked from that point on out.

How did you get involved with Idaho Shakespeare Festival?

When I started here at [Boise State] in 1970, there really wasn't any kind of professional, or, I think, even semi-professional theater going on in Boise at that time. … I was just really fortunate to be in a class with a bunch of people who were really motivated theater people who were frustrated and wanted to get out on their own and do something exciting. So that core group of people started this theater we called Theater in a Trunk in a warehouse on 16th and Bannock. And out of that came the people who essentially started Idaho Shakespeare Festival. … Originally we were talking about doing Hair as a first production, but that was like a $10,000 royalty, blah, blah, and we were like, “Oh, real theater costs money? Well, we can't do real theater then.” We just decided on Shakespeare because it was dead and free.

What do you remember about your first performance?

What I just loved–what knocked me out–was the original location for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival was at Ray's Oasis, which is now Angell's. … At that time, they didn't have any of the trappings on the patio for the restaurant, so it was just bare space out there. Outside of acting on hard concrete, it was just perfect, just wonderful­–lots of really cool entrances and exits and just the environment was really magnificent to do a big play. We'd have to block off the streets in downtown and people would get so pissed off at us. They'd run barricades and yell at us and call us names because, of course, we're in tights. So we got a lot of verbal abuse that way. But when you weren't in a scene, a lot of the time you were up on one of the streets … just averting traffic.

How would you say Boise's theater scene has changed and where is it now?

I think Idaho Shakespeare Festival was a real pivot point for the direction of theater in the Treasure Valley. In the '70s, it became apparent that “Yeah, there's an audience here that's willing to pay and support a professional theater,” and so that was really the biggest door opening. … Touring, that was a really huge thing that I thought the festival was really smart to take on–educational, school-outreach tours. So that was maybe my favorite job I've ever had.

Do people still recognize you from that?

It's shocking, and they're getting quite old themselves–”Really, you saw me in high school and you're how old? 50?”

Why do you think the festival is so loved?

Just from the very first year, from the get-go, it was not just doing a play, it was an event. It was where you could go and have a picnic, eat and hang out on the lawn and drink, be as verbose as you wanted to be–be as sloppy drunk as you wanted to be.

What keeps you going back?

It's the scariest fun anybody could ever have. I think it's absolutely terrifying almost every time. You kind of get hooked on the fear. It's such a gratifying feeling.

Click here to view more of this interview on video and photos at Boise Weekly.

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Review: The Imaginary Invalid is a Joyful Romp

July 17th, 2012

ISF's new play is an intelligent, slightly bawdy, slap-stick farce

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by Deanna Darr

Published in Boise Weekly July 11, 2012

A play rarely manages to be both a fast-paced, intelligent comedy with rapid-fire dialogue, and a slightly bawdy, slap-stick farce filled with potty humor and sight gags. Yet, somehow, Idaho Shakespeare Festival's latest production, The Imaginary Invalid, achieves that rare, magical combination. And what that means for audiences is a whole lot of laughter.

Playwrights Oded Gross and Tracy Young adapted the classic French comedy by Moliere, transforming it into a modern romp that blends witty dialogue with a little song and dance and a big-old wink to pop culture. First staged at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, director Young–who directed last season's Taming of the Shrew–brought it to Boise and Idaho audiences should make a point of catching it while they can.

Set in 1960s France, the production is a Technicolor dance with the distinct feel of a classed-up episode of Laugh-In. The cast seems to have as much fun with the high-energy piece as the audience does, clad in everything from bell bottoms and go-go boots to leisure suits, Afros and a certain sequined mini-dress that leaves a lasting impression.

The story is relatively simple: A wealthy French hypochondriac (Tom Ford) is dealing with the bizarre treatments concocted by quack doctors and contending with a gold-digging second wife (Lise Bruneau) who is happily awaiting his death. Not to mention, his eldest daughter happens to be a hunchback (Jodi Dominick) and his younger daughter (Kimbre Lancaster) has no shortage of suitors.

The cast works beautifully as an ensemble, and even the smallest part is a juicy one–a point proven the moment Lynn Robert Berg steps onto the stage as Doctor Purgon in his white platform go-go boots.

Ford, Sara M. Bruner as Toinette–the maid who is the only one who sees what's going on–M.A. Taylor as Guy, Toinette's would-be musician brother, along with newcomers Lancaster and Juan Rivera Lebron, who plays a suitor, all turn in strong performances. Dominick and Ian Gould, who plays another would-be suitor, have the enviable roles of clowns within a room of clowns, each playing their physical props to the fullest.

It's clear that scenic and costume designer Christopher Acebo had fun. From the pop art mixed with classic French paintings to the primary-colored wardrobe, the set visually matches the slightly frantic, over-the-top feel of the play.

While it's not a traditional musical, the original songs that punctuate the show are standout moments, as are the times when the cast breaks the fourth wall and brings the audience into its world. The lovely asides make the audience feel as if they're in on some sort of inside joke.

It's hard not to get caught up in fun of The Imaginary Invalid. It's a joyful romp that will leave a smile on your face.

Click to read at Boise Weekly

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Review: The Mousetrap has Stamina Idaho Shakespeare Festival Tackles the Long-Running play by Agatha Christie

June 13th, 2012
The Boise Weekly, by Deanna Darr
Published June 13, 2012
For something to become a cliche–before it gets replayed, tweaked and spun off–it has to start somewhere, a point when it's a groundbreaking idea that sets the template.
It's rare that we get to go back and examine the origins of such an idea, but that's exactly the chance Idaho Shakespeare Festival is offering audiences with its latest production, The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie.
And popular is an understatement when it comes to this play–it has been running for 60 years in London. In honor of the anniversary, 60 theater companies around the world were granted permission to stage their own productions this year.
In true who-done-it form, The Mousetrap pulls audiences through a maze of hidden motivations, secret identities, red herrings and, of course, murder in grand fashion, keeping everyone guessing the killer's identity up until the big reveal.
The ISF production is a new take on the classic, giving it an edgier interpretation. Plot points are introduced by characters using old-fashioned microphones onstage–a nod to the radio play that was the origin for the theatrical production–and the dialogue of the final scene is a recording played as the actors go through the motions. The effect highlights the contrast between the devastating effects such an event would have and the light wrap-up of the script.
Director Drew Barr plays up moments of levity made possible by the sometimes antiquated language (haughty vs. hottie, for example) and eclectic cast of characters. While fun, it sometimes breaks the building tension necessary in a mystery.
The set somehow combines period 1950s while radiating a steampunk, industrial vibe. A single central set piece serves as the entrance, and its Tim Burton-esqe angled door, black color palette and walls covered with radios set the tone.
The cast of eight rarely leave the stage, instead using the background to serve almost as a police lineup for the audience to continually review the suspects.
The cast is a nice mix of familiar faces (Lynn Allison, Sara M. Bruner, Jodi Dominick) and new players (Paul Hurley, Dan Lawrence, Ryan David O'Byrne), and all found their rhythm.
Unfortunately, there are some moments of what should be quick, tension-filled dialogue that are instead peppered with overly long pauses. Additionally, the choice of leading into intermission with a modern song rather than a period one is jarring and messes with the continuity.
Still, the play is undeniably fun and audiences are pulled into the guessing game with such ease that they don't realize how involved they are. For those who love a good mystery, you can't go wrong with Christie, and the ISF production does a great job of honoring the master.
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Click here to read at Boise Weekly

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Review: Get caught in Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s production of ‘The Mousetrap.' It’s worth it.

June 12th, 2012

Published: June 12, 2012 By DANA OLAND — doland@idahostatesman.com

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The Idaho Shakespeare Festival is one of 60 theaters commemorating the 60th anniversary of Agatha Christie’s classic mystery. Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s production of “The Mousetrap” is a big, juicy bite of theater as director Drew Barr employs layers of storytelling and theatrical techniques to reenergize Agatha Christie’s solid whodunnit.

The play opened Saturday and will run in repertory until July 27.

“The Mousetrap” evolved from a radio play titled “Three Blind Mice” that Christie wrote for Queen Mary’s 80th birthday in 1947 and later adapted into a short story of the same name.

Both were inspired by the real-life case of 12-year-old Dennis O’Neill, who died of neglect and abuse in foster care in Shropshire, England, in 1945.

(Dennis’ younger brother Terence, who was 10 at the time, recently published a memoir about the case.)

In the next few years, Christie merged her two versions into the stage play that has been running in London’s West End since 1952. It is the longest-running play in the history of modern theater.

On its 60th anniversary, the producers decided to allow 60 other productions to happen around the world. This is one of them.

In his 10 years at ISF, Barr has proved his ability to reinvent trite and well-worn theater, such as “The Fantastics” in 2003 and “The Woman in Black” in 2010.

With “Mousetrap,” Barr digs deep into the play’s history and the techniques of mystery to bring it solidly into contemporary times.

Christie’s story has become a central core of the mystery writing formula. Eight strangers are trapped in a country guest house by a snowstorm. They each bring their own secrets with them, then the mystery really gets going when someone is murdered.

Two murders in the outside world — an old woman in London and the O’Neill case — are referenced, but what could they mean?

The ensemble cast is a wonderful mix of longtime company members and talented newcomers.

Jodi Dominick and Paul Hurley hold the center as hotel owners Mollie and Giles. Dominick shows a real vulnerability as Mollie, who has dark secrets of her own. But should she trust Giles, her new husband? He’s hiding something, too.

Lynn Allison is perfect as the difficult, complaining Mrs. Boyle; Sara M. Bruner makes an affable cross-dressing Miss Casewell, who hides her tragedy under men’s clothing; Aled Davies is the stalwart Major Metcalf, who slinks around and hides in cupboards; Tom Ford is delicious as the creepy and very foreign Mr. Paravicini; Ryan David O’Byrne is delightful as the tragic and childlike Christopher Wren; and Dan Lawrence makes a dashing Detective Sargeant Trotter, who skis in to the rescue.

In grand Christie tradition, no one is what they appear to be, and there are clues to help you solve it if you pay attention. But for 60 years, audiences have been sworn to secrecy about who did it, and that tradition will continue here.

Barr sets his production on Russell Metheny’s angular, hypnotic set — an off-kilter square suspended above the stage by metal bars that look like radio wires. Its perspective reminds one of Alfred Hitchcock’s camera tricks.

The center square is packed with old radios that light up and play during the performance. Two old-style microphones stand on each side of the stage, from which actors announce themselves; and like an old radio show, when the actors aren’t on stage in their scenes, they wait in chairs.

Kim Krumm Sorenson’s costumes are spot on — beautifully British drab.

Sound designer Daniel Kluger creates some effective moments by amplifying the radio programs and voices through the microphones and using increasingly creepy versions of “Three Blind Mice.”

Like “The Woman in Black,” this play does rely on a dose of atmosphere to heighten the mystery. Dark and creepy is hard to pull of in sunlight. To that effect, the Sunday performances, with their 7 p.m. start, won’t be as intense as the later nights.

Still, there are moments that transcend lights and sound, and they make “The Mousetrap” work.

After all the secrets are revealed, the guests — strangers no more — must deal with the real effects of their lies. As you hear Christie’s original happier ending over the radio, the characters struggle to find their way back to normal.

Dana Oland: 377-6442, Twitter: @IDS_DanaOland

Click here to read at Idaho Statesman and see photos.

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Voices from the Company: The Boards

June 7th, 2012

You may call me silly, childish, foolish or an idealist. You should then know that I will always be the first to admit that I am still very much a little girl inside, and I wouldn't change that for the world. I am a sentimental sap.

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All prologues aside, you will need a little back-story for the proper level of perspective on this tale.

Twelve years ago, just headed into high school, my parents moved here (with the resentful, ungrateful child that I was) from a small college town in central Pennsylvania. Like many teenagers uprooted from their social circle, I was less than pleased. Already not the most social creature for my age, the amount of self-consciousness, teenage angst and general negativity I carried around throughout the next few years did not make me a likely candidate to make many new friends.

The bright light for my new, uncomfortable home, the only time I felt completely lost in a sheer, full, over-whelming happiness and joy was when I got to see shows at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. I had an unusual interest in Shakespeare from a young age and seeing shows at the Festival, in the beautiful outdoor amphitheater, was unlike anything I'd ever experienced. It was, (watch out, here comes the silly, childish, hopeless romantic) magical.

It was then, at fourteen that I knew I wanted to perform on that stage at some point in my life. Had you known me then, you may have thought that it would have been nearly impossible. I was shy, awkward and couldn't speak in front of a group of people to save my life without getting a severe case of the shakes. Shakespeare's work however, was so mysterious and enticing to me that I awkwardly stumbled onward.

Years later I studied theater at Boise State, graduated and began working for ISF through teaching at The School of Theater (which was where I got my first training as an actor) and performing in Shakespearience, ISF’s educational outreach tour (still the best job I've ever had, luckiest girl in the world, cannot say enough good things about the work that gets done with the tour).

It was over a decade after I had had my first magical experience in the outdoor amphitheater on a nature reserve when I was offered a role in the season's opening production of Romeo and Juliet. For those of you that don't know, the show that opens the season here has already been running at Great Lakes Theater in Cleveland, Ohio for about a month. Many of the cast members are brought along with the production out west, while others that move onto different projects back east, are replaced with different actors from all over, including some local ones. What that really means from an actor’s perspective is that we have a considerably shortened rehearsal process (two weeks, as opposed to the usual three) and a LOT to learn.

Walking into any rehearsal space for the first time has a general thrill of it's own but this one has been particularly amazing. The members of the cast that had already been a part of the production not only welcomed us warmly, but were patient, sweet, and helpful when it came to incorporating new members of the cast. Not only have I been working with some truly inspiring, talented and genuinely kind people, but many of them I have admired from an audience vantage point for years.

And so, on opening night–an experience so surreal and enchanting–I was waiting in the wings to make the final entrance into Capulet's tomb off stage and looked at the nearly full moon, heard the text I'd read fifteen years earlier that convinced me I wanted to be an actor, and I was overcome with an inexplicable joy and satisfaction (okay, yeah, and some tears), knowing that I had made my first traipse across the boards of a stage that I had longed to walk for many years- surrounded by actors that I've admired for years that were suddenly co-workers and friends.

Aptly, for the play selection, and although I am now well into my twenties, I feel like a fourteen-year-old girl with the biggest crush on this show and all the amazing talent and beauty with whom I am privileged to share it.

-Sarah Gardner

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Behind the Scenes at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival Costume Shop

June 5th, 2012

Designers and seamsters prepare for the opening of Romeo and Juliet

Boise Weekly by Deanna Darr

Published May, 30, 2012

Inside a warehouse off Warm Springs Avenue, there's a distinct feeling of the calm before the storm.

Racks of carefully labeled clothes line the walls and the dull hum of sewing machines punctuates the quiet as sleeves are taken in. Bolts of fabric rest in a corner, while carefully styled wigs wait for their wearers.

Soon, the sense of urgency will increase as final fittings are done and last-minute details are ironed out before opening night for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival's first production of the 2012 season, Romeo and Juliet.

“It's stressful but we know how to handle it,” said Rachel Reisenauer, costume assistant for ISF.

The shop crew has been doing fittings for two weeks, and crunch time has arrived. But when the star-crossed lovers take the stage on opening night Saturday, June 2, the chaos of preparations will transform into the thrill of performance as the cast and crew transport audiences to Italy in the late 1920s.

It's a transition that costume designer Star Moxley has grown used to after 31 years of working with ISF. Moxley started as a volunteer during the company's second season, and her work has grown to include memorable productions like ISF's Japanese-inspired production of Macbeth, which won a World Stage Design award.

But good costume design rarely earns audience accolades–in fact, when done best, it becomes a seamless part of the entire production.

“It's good design in any production,” Moxley said. “Costumes alone won't carry a show.”

For Romeo and Juliet, the process started in Cleveland with the Great Lakes Theater, where the company spends its winters. The closing show there is transported west, where it becomes the opening show in Boise. But it's not quite as easy as just boxing up a bunch of costumes.

The new season brings new actors, and costumes have to be re-fitted or sometimes changed altogether. For this production, the crew of 18 at the ISF costume shop had more than 30 costumes to fit for 13 actors.

On a recent afternoon, stitcher Jeni Montzka worked on the cuff of a suit jacket while draper and assistant shop manager Leah Loar reworked the sleeve of a dress, and wardrobe supervisor Angela Dunn carefully styled several wigs.

Between fittings, the shop staff craft, recraft or seek out each item an actor will wear on stage. They do everything from dying fabrics to creating custom jewelry to putting a rubber coating on the soles of shoes.

For every production, Moxley said the process starts with finding a common idea with the director and then bringing in the set designer–a process that can start up to six months before the production hits the stage.

“It's always about the text, too, especially with Shakespeare's work,” Moxley said. “I like grounding it, rooting it in some kind of historical timeline, but not necessarily staying true to that so that it can become somewhat abstract. I need to know where theses characters live, what kind of life, what kind of world I'm creating.”

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Moxley works on rough sketches, which she brings back to the director before she creates final line drawings, at which point the color palette is finalized.

“Color is everything to me–everything, as far as my design work,” she said.

Her use of color has been one of her trademarks, like the punch of red in the otherwise black-and-white world of Macbeth, or in the upcoming Romeo and Juliet, where a monochromatic world of gray is punctuated by Juliet's violet.

Once designs are set, then comes the balancing act of deciding which pieces can be constructed, which can be reused from the company's stockpile, and which need to be bought or rented.

A large portion of the costume shop is packed with items from past productions, each carefully labeled. Body padding and petticoats hang above racks of period gowns, which are just down from religious clothing and armor. A dizzying array of shoes rests in one corner.

“Shoes are our bane,” sighed Reisenauer as she looked at the pile.

For the pieces that will be built, Moxley heads to Los Angeles to find fabrics, spending days pouring over thousands of options.

Then comes the shopping. While Moxley said she buys pieces locally when she can, her dependence on online shopping has grown exponentially in recent years.

“You'll be in a dark theater and a pair of shoes doesn't work and you'll literally get on a laptop and order a pair of shoes almost in the middle of the night so you can get them the next day,” she said.

Then, of course, there's the challenge of moving a production from an inside theater to an outdoor amphitheater.

“Some colors don't work when you get them on the stage,” Moxley said. “It plays different outdoors vs. indoors. … It's like designing two different pieces.”

If one of those moments happens, it might be a matter of last-minute re-dying or even rebuying something.

But once the actors take the stage, the designer's work is done and he or she moves on to the next project. For Moxley, it will be revamping last season's production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona for the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival.

The shop crew is already working on costumes for the next two productions, The Mousetrap and The Imaginary Invalid, but regardless of the production, Moxley's favorite part comes at the end.

“I love curtain calls–when they're all standing out there and the magic of it, to a warm welcome after all their hard work,” she said.

Click to read at Boise Weekly with photos

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