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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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REVIEW: Idaho Shakespeare Festival's ‘Romeo and Juliet’ smells as sweet

June 4th, 2012

Published: June 4, 2012

ISF opens with an energetic, fresh take on an old favorite.

BY DANA OLAND doland@idahostatesman.com © 2012 Idaho Statesman

“Romeo and Juliet” is a tough play to produce, simply because everyone knows how it ends.

The payoff, then, is the journey: the progression from innocent all-consuming love — the kind you’re willing to die for — to the real the cost of that love.

Charlie Fee, the Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s producing artistic director, has deftly made The Bard’s greatest love story about that journey.


Photo by DKM Photography

The play’s hurdles, hubris, human failing and missteps are a reminder that love is a powerful drug.

“Romeo and Juliet” opened the Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s 36th season Saturday. The production marks an energetic start to the season with ribald comedy, dynamic fight scenes by fight choreographer Ken Merckx and heart-rending tragedy.

Saturday also marked the 20th anniversary season of the Fool Squad’s Greenshow, a comical prelude that has become a festival signature.

Fee sets his “R & J” in 1920s Verona. Set designer Gage Williams has crafted a beautiful bombed-out city that serves as a physical metaphor.

As the night progresses, Rick Martin’s rich lighting in cool blues and hot amber brings the set to life. Likewise, Peter John Still’s sound design surrounds the amphitheater with bird calls and foreshadowing.

Star Moxley’s luscious and elegant costuming embraces a palette of soft grays and rich purples that binds the show together. As always with Moxley’s clothing, there are things everyone must have: Juliet’s flowing party dress and Mercutio’s military long coat.

Fee installs an act break just as Romeo and Juliet, played by Christian Durso and Betsy Mugavero, run off to marry.

That break divides the play’s comedy from tragedy and further emphasizes the turn from happy promise to dust and destruction.

Many of ISF’s mature company members play the adults: Aled Davies and elegant Laura Perrotta as the Capulets, Stitch Marker and Lynn Allison as the Montegues. David Anthony Smith is the Prince, Lynn Robert Berg is Friar Laurence and M.A. Taylor is comic servant Peter.

Mugavero is a delightful Juliet, able to reach teenage joy and passion along with great depth of feeling.

Durso brims with frustration of young love that allows him only to spout poetry until Juliet undoes him. They have a lovely chemistry.

J. Todd Adams is marvelous as Mercutio, Romeo’s testosterone- and wine-fueled friend. Laurie Brimingham is wonderfully motherly as Juliet’s Nurse. Perrotta is a cool contrast as Juliet’s mother. Dana Oland: 377-6442

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Click to read more at Idaho Statesman

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Pop Quiz with Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s Charlie Fee and Mark Hofflund

May 21st, 2012

By DANA OLAND — doland@idahostatesman.com

Posted: 12:00am on May 18, 2012
Luck and pluck brought Charlie Fee to the Idaho Shakespeare Festival as artistic director in 1992. The board chose the tall charmer from California from a field of about 100 candidates — despite the fact that at the time he had never directed a play by William Shakespeare.

After a solid first season, Fee hired his longtime friend and colleague Mark Hofflund — who had never been a managing director — as his stalwart second in command, and the die was cast. These two first-timers set out to create theater in Boise.

“At the time, I told Mark, ‘Who knows what this will be? It could be one year or five.’ But I knew we wanted to build a theater, and I thought we could do it,” Fee says.

This season marks their 20th anniversary together at the helm. In that time, they have achieved what they set out to do and more.

With Fee’s charisma and creativity and Hofflund’s intellect and attention to detail, they make a formidable team.

They met in the theater graduate program at the University of California, San Diego. They share a vision and creative ethic that strike a balance between savvy business acumen and creative flair.

In 1998, they opened ISF’s multimillion-dollar amphitheater for summer production. They’ve created a strong artistic company that brings artists back year after year to create theater against the backdrop of the Boise Foothills. They acquired Idaho Theater for Youth and developed the theater’s Shakespearience education programs and have a direct impact on kids from elementary to high school age across the state.

But perhaps most importantly, they have changed the model for how a regional theater can operate by forging unique partnerships with Great Lakes Theater in Cleveland 10 years ago and Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival three years ago.

Fee also is the producing artistic director at those theaters, and he moves productions and casts from city to city. That makes ISF the only regional summer repertory company in the country producing work in three states.

How did you choose Mark as your managing director?
CHARLIE: Mark and Lynn (Allison Hofflund) came through on a vacation that first summer. We had dinner and when they left, Lidia (Fee’s wife) said, ‘You’re looking for a managing director. Why not Mark?’ I was like, ‘You’re absolutely right. Done.’ We made the call the next day.
It took a little bit of pushing Mark to take this kind of risk. The truth is, we were both at a point in our careers that if we weren’t going to do it at that age, we weren’t ever going to.
MARK: Lynn and I were driving through the desert on our way back to San Diego, when Lynn asked me the same question. ‘Did Charlie ask you about a job?’ But I wasn’t really looking for a job. (Mark was literary manager at The Old Globe theater.) When I got the call, I wasn’t sure. I asked one of my mentors at The Old Globe, (managing director) Tom Hall, for advice. He said, ‘If you like and want to work with Charlie, you should do this because the two of you will come up with a model that we don’t know yet,’ not knowing what he meant.

What makes you two good partners?
CHARLIE: I trust Mark. He’s from the same theatrical tradition. I knew he’d be strong in community relations, just from knowing him. He would be a good fundraising team for me and for our board of directors. And after being at the Globe for 10 years, he has that deep institutional programming, which we needed here because we wanted to create a more institutional theater company.
MARK: I’ve always had a high regard for Charlie and Lidia. On a fundamental level, Charlie’s someone who has been among my peers and also among my mentors. I had some good mentors at the Globe.

How did you start creating your company?
CHARLIE: I wrote a five-year plan that first summer that included building the amphitheater. First, I deeply believe in a company structure. I grew up around ACT (American Conservatory Theater) in San Francisco, a large repertory theater, sustaining artists over many years. I knew we would bring together people we wanted to work with to develop a body of work. We would define and create our aesthetic as a team. We were looking for people who would make multiyear commitments.
I looked for emerging artists who had just left grad school or were in their first professional blush. It’s this period where you lose a huge number of talented people because they can’t get work and they think they have to be in the big city. I’d go to them and say, ‘OK, fine, but in the meantime come and do this and work on developing a company with us.’
MARK: Charlie had an incredible vision that I didn’t fully appreciate at the time. It was a little against the way theater was going. Then it was moving away from the repertory idea, but in Boise that’s what made sense. And then, it was just the two of us in the office most days. We got to invent how we were going do this.

So who came on board then?
CHARLIE: Bart was the first director I hired, who we knew from San Diego. (Bartlett Sher directed at ISF from 1992 to 1999. He has gone on to direct at the Lincoln Center Theatre and the Metropolitan Opera. Sher won the 2008 Tony for Best Direction of a Musical for “South Pacific.”) We also brought in costume designer Kim Krumm Sorensen and Peter John Still (resident sound designer). By the second summer, we had Mark, Gage Williams (resident set designer), Rick Martin (resident lighting designer). The same thing with actors — a lot of people who come back year after year.

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Is that still how you’re building?
CHARLIE: We’re older now, so we’re hiring people who are older and who come from deeper backgrounds. The acting company is still being found in the same way. We’re bringing a lot of new young talent in this season, people I’ve not worked with before. There are new designers, a new composer, a new director (Jesse Berger of Red Bull Theatre in New York City will direct “The Winter’s Tale.”) The company is growing faster than ever now because of this new model. With three theaters, there are literally more roles to fill.

What’s next?
CHARLIE: There are lots of nexts. You know us, we don’t just set out in one direction. We have a bunch of ideas that are percolating all the time, waiting for the opportunity. The next could be a fourth theater — but it’s not the thing I’m focused on. When Tahoe happened, we had been focused on finding a third theater. Right now we have to solidify and expand Tahoe’s season (two plays for next season). It’s really becoming clear that there are other ways to move our work to other cities that don’t have to do with having another full-on company.

Touring?
CHARLIE: Yes. We could do “Mousetrap” and “Winter’s Tale” (the two shows originated in Boise) in Cleveland, then take them to Columbus (Ohio), for instance. Then bring the focus back to Boise. The whole point is to keep the company working.

In all of history, with whom would you most like to dine?
CHARLIE: Benjamin Franklin. It would be fun. He just knew everything.
MARK: Lynne Rossetto Kasper. (Host of American Public Media’s “The Splendid Table.”)

What are you reading?
CHARLIE: I read magazines. The Atlantic, which I just love, and it’s my favorite reading on planes. I am a podcast addict. My top podcasts: The BBC “In Our Own Time with Melvyn Bragg” — it’s history and philosophy and it’s the best podcast on Earth; “Start the Week with Andrew Marr,” also BBC; Slate Magazine “Culture Gabfest” and “Political Gabfest” and “This American Life”
MARK: “The Years with Ross” by James Thurber. (Originally published in 1958, it’s available from Perennial Classics, paperback edition, $14.99). It’s a biography of The New Yorker founder Harold Ross. He’s a guy who came out of the American heartland and started a thing that failed. Then he started it again until it was successful. I was at an arts meeting and a friend was telling me I needed to read this book. He literally found a copy on a decorative bookshelf in the hotel lobby, and they gave it to me.

What’s on your playlist?
CHARLIE: I get addicted to a single thing, and I listen to it for several weeks. Right now I’m addicted to Mumford and Sons and the soundtrack to “Pina.” That’s our party music now. I loved the movie, but the music is just great.
MARK: I don’t really listen to music although I’m surrounded by it; I grew up with it and love it. I don’t have an iPod. If I can unplug, I go out for a run, and I listen to the music in my head.

What keeps you in Boise?
CHARLIE: The most obvious things — friends, the lifestyle. I love to mountain bike in the Foothills. When I’m in Cleveland, I pine for them. Boise is a really great place to live because it’s not filled with the daily indignities you have to suffer in most cities, where it takes so much energy to do anything, like go grocery shopping. And, of course, our work.
MARK: I agree. It’s that combination of quality of life, quality of the people and the opportunities, for both me and Lynn. She’s been able to carve out a very creative life for herself here as an actor and director. The opportunities here are stunning, and they’re ones we wouldn’t get as readily someplace else. Boise is a place where you have the ability to accomplish things that benefit other people in schools, in politics, in so many walks of life.

What’s your guilty pleasure?
CHARLIE: I have too many is the problem, and I don’t want to talk about the ones I really have. I know — crime novels. I love Henning Mankell. He’s one of the Swedish guys. He’s got this character Kurt Wallander who’s really human and wonderful. I can’t wait for the next book.
MARK: Running in the dark.

Whom do you most admire?
CHARLIE: Nick Hytner, artistic director of the National Theatre in London, for transforming a huge company and creating thrilling work.
MARK: Everyone who has ever tried to teach me something.

What is your motto?
CHARLIE: Feature what you can’t fix.
MARK: Love what you do.

Click to read more at Idaho Statesman

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“And then is heard no more”

April 13th, 2012

When someone asks me what I do for a living and I say “I perform abridged Shakespeare plays in rural high school gymnasiums across the state of Idaho at 8 o’clock in the morning in the middle of winter.” It sounds less glamorous than it feels. It feels… important, and I truly believe it is. I know that an old school wooden gym in Hanson and the pulpit of a converted church in Sandpoint might not be the stage of the RSC… but I treat it as if it were. I think everyone in our cast and crew shares the same belief or feeling, which is one of the reasons we all work together so well and why I love this job so much.

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Who knows, performing in a gymnasium may actually be the greater challenge. First off, you are in a gym. It is 8 AM You are performing Shakespeare for high school students and not all of them are convinced that they want to be there. It might be better than being in class for some, but maybe not much better. The best thing I will say for playing gyms is that you never step out of your light and by the third week of tour, you will know if you are supporting your voice properly. If not, that’s about the time it disappears.
And yet… places get taken, music starts and this amazing thing happens. I don’t see the walls of the gym for another 48 minutes. If we do our job then “neither time nor place” holds the audience down either and they go on the journey beyond the gym walls with us. Happy to say that most of them, most of the time, do…and that’s sayin’ somethin’!
Every year of tour is more incredible than the last and I am continually grateful for the experience.  I learn so much each year about acting, teaching, Shakespeare and myself. Partly, because we have the opportunity to perform a single show 70 to 90 times. Even though we perform a cut down version of the script, Shakespeare’s poetry is so layered, it constantly yields new discoveries and insights. In fact it’s usually performance number 56 when you say a three-word line and suddenly, like a bucket of water in the face, you are hit with the true meaning of what you are saying in those simple three words. Moving from knowledge to wisdom through experience.
This year in particular has been special for me because it is the fourth year in a row I have done Shakesperience. It has been incredible getting to know the theater and literature teaching professionals across the state and the soon to be professionals they teach. I can say with pride that there are some amazing teachers and educators across this state and they are doing great work with the future of tomorrow. We have also gotten to know many wonderful administrators and janitors in the process, as well as the importance of protecting the shine on basketball gym floors. (We only leave boot scuffmarks, I swear.)
Some of the students I have gotten to know over the performances and workshops are graduating this year. I was able to talk with a lot of them that I have had the privilege of performing for and teaching each year they were in high school.  It has been incredible to see them grow as artists and people over the years.  It’s not only in the choices they make in the workshops but they way they talk about theater and Shakespeare and the growing confidence in themselves and their abilities.  I know I learn so much about theater each year from the tour and from them; I hope the students see this progression in my work and might learn what I have learned, maybe sooner than I did.
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My greatest hope in these performances is to share with students the passion I have in the belief that theater (and the plays of William Shakespeare in particular) truly help us to better understand ourselves and each other and how important that is. I believe this program creates that kind of theater because I have been fortunate enough to experience it first hand. I am so grateful for the students, teachers, schools, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, the NEA and all our wonderful sponsors, Penske, rural Idaho diner’s with chicken fried steak, my tour mates, the director and design crew, the ISF office, and all the incredible people of this beautiful state that have shared your hospitality, directions and recommendations with us for the last 11 weeks.
This year I also developed a healthy respect for the curse of the Scottish play when I broke off the top of my finger in the middle of the show two weeks before the end of tour. I won’t bore you or gore you with details but I will say this. Adrenaline is the best numbing agent on the planet. Dr. Jeremy Frix and his staff must have all attended Hogwarts because they are magicians in their field as well as some of the nicest people you’ll meet. Thank you for understanding the show must go on and making it possible for me to help it do so.  Sword fights with a broken finger aren’t easy but they're not impossible. Thanks for that.
I have to give a quick shout out to the office and our tour management team for an amazing performance in coordinating 5 actors, two vehicles, 6,800 miles of road and uncountable performances and hotels. You rock!!!!!
Oh, and episode 2 of the Macbeth tour will be up soon.
until then…
Luke
(The artist formerly known as Macbeth)
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Out, Out , Brief Candle

April 9th, 2012


The end of tour is always bittersweet. On one hand you’re saying goodbye to long hours, long drives, and way too early mornings. But on the other hand, you’re saying goodbye to the wonderful students, the most precious towns, and this show that you have lived with for 3 and a half months. This is life in the theater. Learning to say goodbye to one good thing and embrace the next. So even though, I am going to miss it, I can walk away knowing that this tour has made a difference. There were so many amazing moments that reaffirmed why I do what I do. Idaho Shakespeare Festival does such an incredible thing with this tour and I’m not just saying that because they give me a paycheck. My tour mates and I have witnessed first hand what tour does. I feel like the greatest testament to this is during almost every load out when we have one or more students come up to talk to us. They want advice and, I think, someone who they can relate to. Someone who is doing exactly what they want to do. And that is a precious thing to have, especially in high school and even more so in high school in Idaho. So I wanted to include a list of my favorite moments, in no particular order:
  • Students recognizing Dakotah and being very upset that he changed his hair.
  • Noah experiencing his first time teaching a workshop, and being so inspired by the kids that he wants to teach more.
  • During a talk back a girl said that she didn’t want to watch because Shakespeare is boring, but then she found herself really enjoying the show.
  • All the schools that made us signs welcoming us. Especially the sign that said “Thanks Shakespeare for revealing me to me”
  • All the students who came up to us to tell us how inspired they were
  • “The Luke Crew”, as we call them, which are the students who have seen Luke each year through high school. Especially the one who said that Luke was the reason he got into acting.
  • All the workshops
  • Holding a baby goat in a gas station
  • Every girl wanting Sarah’s cool hair
  • Autographing backpacks, shoes, and arms. (I’m sorry to the moms about that)
  • Working with my fabulous tour mates
  • Working with Sara Bruner. (Enough said)
  • Seeing  all that this state has to offer
  • Performing “Macbeth”
  • Being Lady Macbeth!
  • And lastly, and maybe most importantly, feeling the energy in the room when we know that a group of high school kids are actually engaged in Shakespeare. It’s a wonderful feeling and one that proves that this tour makes a difference.

Well, that’s it for me! It’s been a great ride! Thank you to the schools, the teachers, and the kids that make my job so wonderful!
–Veronica Von Tobel



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Behind the Scenes Video: the making of the tours!

March 15th, 2012

Enjoy an incredible glimpse into the making of our tours- Shakespearience and Idaho Theater for Youth.  It takes a village and they are talented!

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Thanks to all involved- especially Lori Regan,  Jessamine Jones and Kiely Prouty.

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