By DANA OLAND — firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Enjoy an incredible glimpse into the making of our tours- Shakespearience and Idaho Theater for Youth. It takes a village and they are talented!
Thanks to all involved- especially Lori Regan, Jessamine Jones and Kiely Prouty.
Rules of the Road: We’ve just finished the second full official day of touring, and I thought I’d take a moment to give you a glimpse of what being on the road means. These are our “rules” by that, I mean, these are things that make all of our lives a lot easier on the road, both as an acting company and as friends traveling together. So, in no particular order, other than the first rule is the most important and most often used rule:
Shakespearience cast of Macbeth shares their thoughts on week 2 of rehearsal.
We are now, officially in full swing of rehearsals for Shakespearience’s Macbeth. “Why, Whatever is this Shakespearience of which you speak?” one may ask, if they spoke in a very formal manner. Well, I could tell you, but it’s a rather lengthy explanation, and it turns out someone has already done all of that for me. Basically, it’s a bunch of really cool organizations (click here to check out the list of awesome supporters) stepping in to make sure everyone who would usually never get to see Shakespeare, gets to see some Shakespeare! Shakespearience is wonderful for a multitude of reasons, but mostly, right now… Guess who’s got two thumbs and isn’t waiting tables? This girl! That’s right friends, I’m making money doing what I love more than anything in the world, and things are starting to look up.
I thought I’d devote a little time to break down exactly what being in rehearsals means. It’s only recently become apparent to me exactly how foreign the theater world is to those of you who have “real people jobs” (meaning that you either have an office/cubicle, you spend a large portion of the day looking at the computer or you work from 9a-5p (or more, in some cases, days a week). Similarly, how foreign having a real person job would be to me.
In case you didn’t follow the link above, this particular production is a condensed version of Macbeth which is focused on making the play accessible for high school audiences (more on that later). The day-in-the-life picture of the rehearsal process looks something like this:
Get up early. Warm up my body. Coffee. Not too much. I’m thankful every day for the espresso machine my sister and brother-in-law gave me for my graduation. It’s saved me a lot of money on early tour mornings, and likely a few heart palpitations. Go to rehearsal around 8:10. We’re very lucky, it’s about a seven minute walk to the space, and taken briskly is an excellent warm up. Set up. Set up involves putting coffee on in the office (where the admins have real people jobs and work in a theater! Amazing!) Getting out weapons and putting the set together… er… what we have of the set so far. This year it’s two ladders, a ten foot tall rolling staircase, and three large flats to hide us when we’re not onstage. Then; rehearsing.
Right. What does that mean? Our main job as actors (not to mentions the director, set designers, sound designers, costume designers, etc.) is to tell a story. To tell a story that’s over four hundred years old in a way that’s very clear to understand to you, the audience. As actors, we know our lines and mostly know what they mean (certainly will by the time we open) So the main job of rehearsal is to make things clear. We run scenes, work scenes to figure out how a certain moment can be more clear, or more specific, figure out how to indicate the passage of time from one scene to the next without saying, “Meanwhile, back at the Macduff’s house…”. Our job is to let you know what’s going on so you can sit back and enjoy the story, because that’s really what this is all about; the story.
So. We rehearse for six hours, with two ten minute breaks and one twenty minute break. We work on the timing of our entrances. Dissecting exactly what we’re saying, working different moves with umbrellas (lots of umbrellas in this world of Macbeth), tracking where props go, figuring out who will be backstage to hit a sound cue, etc.
We go on like this for three weeks, which never feels like enough time, but we always pull through. This year, however, we missed the first three days because designers were brought in from out of town, our fight choreographer couldn’t make it yet, etc.
So. That’s pretty much rehearsal life. It goes by pretty quick, and we’ll be on the road performing in one week from today, which is an entirely different job and thereby, will have an entirely different blog post.
And I suppose I owe you an explanation for the not-so-positive-sounding-post-title.
Blood: Rehearsal does not come without muscle soreness or bruising. My legs are coated in bruises from different fights (let it be noted that I may be the only one, as I bruise much like a well ripened peach). I did also gash my thumb open on a particularly ornery umbrella.
Sweat: Aside from the menial “work-out” I’ve been doing in the morning, Shakespearience shows are marathon acting. If you have anytime backstage, you are not resting, you are doing a quick change, running a sound cue and helping someone else with a quick change. Usually all within fifteen seconds.
Fears: Actors are sensitive. It really is true. We put ourselves into a job that opens us up for criticism and rejection from every angle, Also, considering we’ll be performing for a high school audience, usually around 8am, it sometimes can seem like an uphill battle. Seriously, do you remember being ready to be thoroughly entertained by an assembly at 8am when you were in high school? It’s nerve wracking and sometimes devastating, but it is so entirely and absolutely rewarding.
The first week of rehearsals have come to a close and things have started to take shape. This is a part of the process where the production is full of possibility and mystery and potential. It’s a little crazy to think we only have two more full weeks of rehearsing left before out first preview performance, but our fights are choreographed, and the first quarter of the show is roughly blocked out and in all of our little actor bodies and minds. I think most of us wish we could go back to rehearsal tomorrow instead of having a day off, but breaks are good for you, even if you don’t want to take one, right?
As we leave our first week of rehearsal on simmer, we’ll leave you with a few more photos and a little end of the week video.
Download the podcast from the live broadcast show from January 6th by clicking here.
January 6, 2012 featuring Charles Fee, Producing Artistic Director, Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival.
Charles Fee, of the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, discusses the rewards and challenges of simultaneously serving as Producing Artistic Director for three professional theater companies in three different states.
This time of year is probably the most exciting for those of us headed out on the Shakespearience 2012 tour. True, winter is starting to get even colder, the sun doesn’t seem to stay up nearly long enough, and all of the really exciting winter holidays have passed–but for us, today marked the very first day of rehearsal! A day most of us have been looking forward to with eager anticipation since at least December, when we were officially cast (If not since last year’s tour ended and we went through some major Shakespearience withdrawals.) And so, without further ado, allow me to introduce the cast of Shakespearience 2012’s Macbeth:
Early this afternoon we set out to meet with our really super fantastic fight choreographer, Michael Mueller, who brought a variety of (very real, but very much dulled) weapons. We spent two hours wielding everything from daggers to fancy looking foils to machetes to bowie knives. Now, I hate to be that person, but I now feel obligated to put this* here (see bottom for details).
Our fights are far from done, but we learned a great deal about what it takes to properly and safely stage a pretty awesome looking fight today. After fights, there was a photo shoot for our promotional pictures (coming to your school or city soon!).
You won’t be seeing this shot, of course, this is a “fun one” I snapped of Luke and Veronica while the photographer was changing his batteries or something.
Tomorrow, we look forward to our first “official”, and full day of rehearsal, which means we get there at 10AM, we’ll meet with designers and they’ll show us what sort of world they’ve created with our director for these characters to inhabit (what they’ll wear, where they’ll be, what sounds will surround them), then we’ll start the rehearsing. We’ll break for the day at 4p, head home and individually go over our lines and what we did in rehearsal that day, making sure it sticks for the next day. Rest assured, many of our homes look something like this right now:
We’re all in heavy study mode, memorizing, interpreting, brainstorming and mostly, being really excited about what will come from all of this. Shakespearience for us not only means that we get to explore a new (or in Dakotah’s case, re-visit a new) Shakespeare play, but it also means that the five of us are going to spend the next thirteen weeks traveling together, sharing living quarters with each other, eating together, relying on each other and mostly, working together to uphold the integrity of this performance, whatever it ends up being.
So, a little different from prior years, this year the cast is planning on documenting a lot more. Well, a lot more publicly. In the next few weeks keep your eyes open for some videos, plenty more photos, fun on the Idaho Shakespeare Festival Facebook fan page (click here for ISF Fan Page), food reviews from the casts very own chicken fried steak connoisseur, and hopefully a lot more! For now, I leave you with other “fun ones” I snapped today while the photographer was taking actual photos.
*Do not attempt to do any kind of fight choreography without a trained professional. Michael has degrees is this stuff (yup! You can get a degree in stage combat!) Any weapon, dull or not, is still just that: a weapon.
That’s it for today. More photos and other fun things to come!