by Deanna Darr
Boise Weekly June 22, 2011
Matters of the heart are never simple, but when your best friend goes after your girlfriend and in the process gets you banished from your city, that will put a strain on a friendship.
Such is the situation that arises in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, the opening production of the new season at Idaho Shakespeare Festival. The comedy is full of the Bard’s favorite devices: forbidden love, rejected lovers, stern parents, comedic servants and a touch of cross-dressing. But the production offers a fresh interpretation of the classic, creating a sort of Bohemian-coffeehouse take on the tale.
From the costuming by Star Moxley that combines modern and traditional pieces to the use of pop music performed by a live band, the production manages to feel both extraordinarily contemporary and timelessly classic. The singing voices of Sara Bruner and Jodi Dominick help transform the play into a musical of sorts, each interlude serving both as a transition and a guidepost.
Neil Brookshire and Dakotah Brown play the lead roles of Valentine and Proteus respectively, two best friends who are separated when Valentine goes off to see the world while Proteus stays put in order to win the heart of his beloved Julia (Lee Stark). But when Proteus is forced to follow Valentine, things get messy.
Valentine has fallen in love with Silvia (Nika Ericson), whose father intends to marry her off to a man she hates. The would-be lovers’ plot to run away is thwarted after the newly arrived Proteus falls in love with Silvia and betrays Valentine. In the meantime, Julia sets her sights on Proteus and dresses like a young male page so that she can follow him.
ISF veterans David Anthony Smith and M.A. Taylor provide the bulk of the play’s comic relief. Smith in particular faces a daunting duty: acting opposite an animal. The animal in question is a French bulldog (Scooter Moose de Chumber) who may well be the most laid-back pup to ever grace a stage. Including an adorable animal is a guarantee that any human actor will be upstaged, yet Smith makes the most of it, creating some of the most memorable moments of the production.
The set design is stunning, yet simple and functional. Clean lines of a scaffolding tower connected by two movable staircases and a rotating backdrop of bright orange, red and blue work perfectly to create the foundation of the production, while the actors’ skills lead the audience’s imagination to fill in the blanks.
The overall effect is a production that audiences will be sure to embrace, as well as serve as an amuse bouche for the rest of the season.
Brevity may be the soul of wit, and a trio of festival players finds a wealth of humor in “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)”
BY DANA OLAND – firstname.lastname@example.org © 2011 Idaho Statesman
When I heard the Idaho Shakespeare Festival would produce “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” I gave a little groan. I’ve seen it.
Producing Artistic Director Charlie Fee, with his penchant for bringing back festival favorites, programmed the work in 1996, 1999, 2001 and 2005. Now he’s brought it back, again, for the festival’s 35th anniversary season.
So, then, why am I laughing? The source of my mirth is this: Tom Willmorth, Joe Conley Golden and M.A. Taylor — three of the funniest guys you’ll see work on this or any other stage. In their hands, the show works.
The show opened on a blustery Saturday night, which made it a little hard to hear Willmorth. The show ended with a little rain, which only chased a few people from their seats.
With as many times as ISF has produce this show, it is a surprise that this is the first time these three have performed it together.
Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield wrote this clever deconstruction of Shakespeare’s canon in 1987 for their Reduced Shakespeare Company, which performed parodies of the Bard’s plays. It takes you through many of his best works, lingering on the ones that make for the best comedy, which just happen to be the tragedies. The comedies are treated to an uber-mashup and condensed into one long-winded play.
So you have “Titus Andronicus” as a cooking show, “King Lear” as a cameo in a football-game take on Shakespeare’s histories, and a “Hamlet” that goes both forwards and backwards. There’s enough room in the formula for the three to riff and improvise, so each night is slightly different.
Some of the bits are dated (the character formerly known as Prince, etc.). View those as groaners, like a familiar knock-knock joke or obvious pun. But Willmorth, Golden and Taylor infuse a mix of relevant pop and local culture that freshen things up.
You’ll find more than a few Sarah Palin jokes, a few Tom Luna jabs (Willmorth and Golden are both teachers), some rap, loads of physical comedy and even a few Idaho Shakespeare Festival references to past productions.
And just to remind you that these guys also are well-heeled actors, when Taylor dives into Hamlet’s famous “What a piece of work is man” soliloquy, he more than does it justice.
One of the fun aspects of “Complete Works” is that you’ll actually learn something about Shakespeare and his plays. You don’t need to have seen or read them to get the jokes. Although if you know the plays, the jokes are funnier.
The trio also gets the audience involved in hysterical way — so be prepared to play along — and beware if you sit in the first few rows.
Gage William’s sweet little Globe Theatre-esque set works as a glorified changing room, as the guys dash in and out for costume and wig changes.
They’re helped by a trio of dressers who whip Charlotte Yetman’s Velcro-heavy costumes on and off.
Dana Oland: 377-6442
The Treasure Valley summertime institution celebrates its 35th anniversary with plenty of Sir William’s works
Friday, June 3, 2011 11:35 am
By Dan Lea email@example.com Idaho Press-Tribune
BOISE ― More Shakespeare … more often. That’s what director Charlie Fee promises audiences who come to bask in the early evening summertime twilight at the 35th annual Idaho Shakespeare Festival that opens this weekend.
“We have a really great, broad mix of plans and experiences for audiences this summer,” Fee said in an interview with 3G. “We’ve got more Shakespeare than we’ve done in a single season in some time with “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” “The Taming of the Shrew,” and of course, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).”
What that means for audiences is that they will see every play in the Shakespeare canon this summer.
Fee gleefully admits that might be a bit of a “send-off” but quickly added that performing so much of Sir William’s work is a blast for the company.
“I think it’s going to be a great year for us,” Fee said. “It’s our 35th anniversary and we were kind of hoping to pull out all the stops and I think we’ve got a fantastic company and a great line-up for it.”
“‘The Complete Works (Abridged)’ is kind of a signature piece for us,” Fee said. “We’ve done it before and it’s super fun.”
What makes this year’s production of “The Complete Works” extra special, according to Fee, is that the Fool Squad duo of Joe Golden and Tom Willmorth return to the stage to star in the production after last year’s hiatus. The duo wrote and starred in a Boise Contemporary Theater production last summer and only appeared in their “Green Show” prior to Shakespeare performances.
“‘Two Gents’ is one of the great early comedies of Shakespeare and a piece we’ve created a very interesting production that features live music being performed and sung by our company,” Fee said. He said the live music sets the mood and rhythm for the play.
“It’s a different kind of experience and a big experiment for us,” Fee said.
Cast blends veterans and exciting newcomers
This year’s Shakespeare Company boasts loads of familiar faces and some bright new talent. Veterans Sara Bruner, Jodi Dominick, and David Anthony Smith join Golden and Willmorth among the regulars that audiences have come to love.
“The two young lovers in ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’ are new to us but are doing a spectacular job,” Fee said. “We’ve got lots of new, talented performers we are excited for audiences to see.”
‘The Two Gentlemen’ debuts
Fee said that “Two Gents” has been the poor stepsister of Shakespeare plays for too long.
“It is a play that has been largely kind of dismissed by Shakespeare scholars because it’s an early comedy, but I think they are really making a mistake by doing that. It’s a great play,” Fee said.
“It’s a play where we see the development of all of these characters Shakespeare is going to continue to work on from later plays. It is the beginning in the line of great characters from Julia who dresses as a boy in order to negotiate her way through the world to the clowns we see in later productions.”
“Two Gents” is extremely accessible to audiences, Fee said.
“It’s four kids who are really trying to figure out what it means to be friends, what it means to fall in love and how to negotiate the difference between friendship and passion, and how to love someone,” Fee said. “Of course they do a terrible job of it,” he laughed.
In the end, “Two Gents” is about forgiveness and understanding.
“It’s not a physical comedy … much more like a romantic comedy and quite dramatic in many ways,” Fee added. “And the live music being played live gives it a very, very beautiful rhythm. I think audiences will love it and it is a contemporary setting of the play.”
An Explanation from Holly Thomas-Mowery- ASL Interpreter for ISF
I would say I put about 100 to 120 intense hours into preparing for a Shakespeare play, so a team of two interpreters are working about 200-240 hours of prep for one play.
An interpreter has to become extremely familiar with the script (the plot, scenes, back-story, the beats, character motivations, jokes, etc.). We sit in on several rehearsals to understand where each actor is taking their character and to understand the director’s vision. We spend about four hours watching a full performance of the play to see how characters play off of each other, and to particularly observe emotionality/sarcasm/cadence/sound effects that can’t be discerned from the script. We have about ten meetings (2-3 hours long each) among the interpreting team to prepare for a play. These meetings include analysis of each scene so that characters can be divided between each interpreter, depending on which characters are in which scene, and who’s dialoguing with whom in each scene. I spend about 50 – 60 hours working alone simply translating and nearly memorizing the play. Because ASL is a visual/spatial language, all of this analysis is necessary to accurately depict the action, plot and resolution. We tone-down or ramp-up the graphic/explicit nature of the translation choices based on if the play is intended for all ages or 14 years old and up.
A significant dimension to our preparation is the double translation needed for a Shakespeare play. We translate Shakespearian English into modern English, and then translate modern English into ASL. The goal is by the time of the signed performance we’re able to hear the original text and produce ASL – we actively translate every phrase/sentence twice in our heads the night of Signing Shakespeare. We also establish sign names for significant characters, typically based on a character’s personality or physical features so that the dialogue flows well, especially when two characters are discussing a third, absent character in a given scene.
As we’ve all heard, humor doesn’t directly translate well into other languages. This is very true of English and ASL. Things that are very funny in ASL might make a monolingual English speaker scratch her head, while a hilarious moment in spoken English might not be funny at all in ASL. This is particularly true when it comes to humor based on sound. What might be funny is the accent the actor is using, the particular misuse of word choices that ‘sound’ funny, the pitch of an actor’s voice for effect, and the speed of delivery – all of which are naturally undetectable and non-funny to a person who doesn’t hear. Interpreters work very hard to tweak jokes just enough and make accents/cadence/pitch/idiosyncrasies visible in order for deaf audience members to laugh right along with the rest of the audience. We work to never have the non-deaf audience laughing while the deaf audience is not (and vice versa). A clever example of this is in Complete Works, where there’s an entire scene (Macbeth in ridiculous Scottish accents) where they macspeak maceverything with mac in macfront of every macword, which sounds hilarious to non-deaf people. Our translation uses an odd handshape that we continually repeat throughout that one scene that is visually very funny and over-the-top to the deaf audience.
Analysis of the Greenshow is a whole other piece to our preparation.
The biennial accolade honors the people and groups that fuel Boise’s arts and cultural scene.
BY DANA OLAND – firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright: © 2011 Idaho Statesman
The 2011 winners include visual, literary and performing artists, longstanding cultural organizations, lifelong arts lovers, people who work to preserve Boise’s past and one of the city’s most enduring voices.
Mayor Dave Bieter made the final decision with recommendations from a community panel and members of the Boise City Department of Arts and History.
The awards will be handed out at a dinner and ceremony at 5 p.m. Sept. 22 at the Old Penitentiary, 2445 Old Penitentiary Road, Boise. Tickets will go on sale in August.
Here are the winners for 2011:
Æ Jane Oppenheimer died last year at age 92 and left a rich legacy of artistic support and integrity. She ardently supported the Boise Art Museum, Idaho Botanical Garden, Idaho Shakespeare Festival and Boise Philharmonic, among other groups. She served on the Idaho Commission on the Arts and provided leadership at a critical time that ensured the ICA’s support reached the entire state.
Æ In his 36 years as an Idaho Statesman columnist, Tim Woodward documented the events, people and culture of Boise with a warmth and humor that made him one of the city’s treasures. He chronicled most of our shared milestones, and brought a few to our attention that would have escaped notice without him. He told each story with a particular Woodwardian style that touched our hearts and helped us care a little more about where we live. He retired from the Statesman on June 1.
EXCELLENCE IN THE ARTS
Individual: Painter and multimedia artist Surel Mitchell has been a creative force in Boise’s arts community for many years. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the early 1980s. Rather than let that become a setback, she used her struggle against the disease to deepen her artistic process and inform her subject matter. It gave her a way to cope, she says.
Organization: The Cabin, formerly called The Log Cabin Literary Center, was founded in 1995 to bring together people who love reading, writing and literary discourse. It blossomed into an organization that reaches the entire state through its Writers in the Schools program and summer writing camp. It offers area writers a forum for their work. Through its “Readings and Conversations” series, it also brings nationally recognized authors, such as Amy Tan and Jonathan Franzen, to Boise.
EXCELLENCE IN HISTORY
Individual: Mark Baltes combines his passions for art and history in his life and his work. Through his company, Landmark Impressions, he makes interpretive markers for historical sites. He also uses history as a context for his public art pieces, such as “Penny Post Card,” a mural at Boise City Hall that features historic images of Boise. He’s also served on several local historical preservation boards, including the North End Neighborhood Association.
Organization: The Basque Museum and Cultural Center won this award for “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Basques,” historical exhibit the museum created for the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. Since 1985, the museum has been the connection point for Boise Basque heritage and culture, preserving Boise Basque oral history, artifacts, manuscripts and photography. In 1998, it founded the country’s first Basque preschool, Boiseko Ikastola, which teaches Basque language and culture to kids 2 to 6.
The Arts: Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center will be recognized for its dedication to integrating the work of local artists into its Center for Advanced Healing. Art consultant Jacqueline Crist guided the process by commissioning artists to create glass and ceramic sculpture, fiber art, enameled work and custom-designed furniture. Saint Al’s also created an artist-in-residence program.
History: Through his company, Planmakers Planning and Urban Design, John Bertram works to help communities and companies understand the character and historical significance of a particular place. He helped develop C.W. Moore Park, the Old Boise district and the 8th Street Marketplace in Downtown. He has served on the Idaho Humanities Council and the Boise City Historic Preservation Commission.
EXCELLENCE IN EDUCATION
The Arts, individual: Modern dancer Leah Stevens Clark turned her love of her art into a way to nurture a new generation. Since founding Balance Dance Co. in 1997, she has trained and inspired hundreds of young dancers to feel empowered as artists and as women. Many go on to pursue dance as a career. Others follow other passions, but they all become stronger individuals for the experience.
History, individual: Boise High School history teacher Doug StanWiens created the Boise Architecture Project in 2007 to inspire his students to take an interest in historic and contemporary architecture. The students document Boise’s cityscape through oral history, photography, art and other mediums.
Organization: It’s hard to imagine how many Idaho students have been inspired by the Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s Shakesperience and Idaho Theater for Youth educational outreach performances. More than 50,000 school children see one of these companies perform each year. The festival also helps prepare the next generation of performers through its drama school, summer camps and the festival’s apprentice program, through which young actors work with the professional company during the summer season.
Dana Oland: 377-6442
BY DANA OLAND – email@example.com
Copyright: © 2011 Idaho Statesman
“Man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion.” These words, spoken by the much more mature Benedick in Shakespeare’s more mature “Much Ado About Nothing,” find their seeds in the Bard’s earlier comedy “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.”
The season opened on a perfect warm night, with the sky clearing just before the play began.
It’s thought that Shakespeare wrote “Two Gents” early in his career, and so academics and some theater artists tend to trivialize it, but thankfully not producing artist director Charlie Fee. In this play Shakespeare introduced ideas and themes of human behavior — principally the fickle nature of love and loyalty — that fascinated him his whole career.
In it, lifelong friends Proteus (Dakotah Brown) and Valentine (Neil Brookshire) part ways as, to put it in modern vernacular, Valentine goes off to college and Proteus stays home to be with his girlfriend Julia (Lee Stark). In Milan, Valentine finds Silvia (Nika Ericson) and falls hard for her. The problems start when Proteus — forced by his father to follow Valentine to Milan — sees Silvia, and he too falls for her, forgetting all about Julia.
This is Fee’s second take on this play, and appropriately in his 20th season with the festival, this “Two Gents” shows Fee’s maturing as a director. He’s broken his habit of restaging his greatest hits and taken a fresh look at this play. This time he goes for the heart instead of the obvious laugh. The only thing that could use more punch is the not-so-wacky chase scene at the end.
Fee strips it down to a Modernist view, with a stunning, colorful rotating geometric set by designer Russell Metheny that works in beautiful tandem with Michael Chybowski’s dynamic lights. As the sky darkens for the second act, you see an intense green wash on the grasses behind the stage. Star Moxley’s stunning costuming will make you wish she ran a boutique. Lush designs, elegant draping and fabulous shoes made every outfit a standout.
Instead of hip recorded music, Fee appointed musical director Matthew Webb and assistant director Sara M. Bruner to create a live musical soundtrack, anchored by Webb on keyboards and Todd Chaves on drums. Bruner, Jodi Dominick and Stitch Marker sing, play instruments and step into roles as needed.
It’s a great idea transforming the band into a Greek chorus, commenting on and punctuating the scenes through song. Yet with music by quirky vocalists Regina Spektor, Ingrid Michaelson and Nick Drake, there’s an obvious collision of style when the songs are translated to more trained theatrical voices.
The success of this production owes much to the performance by this young crew of fresh talented faces.
Stark is thoroughly winning as Julia and Ericson makes an elegant and earnest Silvia, who sees through Proteus’ manipulations. Brookshire, who returns to the festival after a four-year absence, is a charming, stalwart Valentine and Brown, in the play’s most difficult role, manages to make Proteus a likeable fellow in the end. Love them all and want to see more of them.
These actors keep it real and keep the play centered, which allows the real comedians to shine: David Anthony Smith does an hysterical turn as Proteus’ servant Launce — performing with the newest company member Scooter Moose Chumber, who plays his dog, Crab. M.A. Taylor plays Speed, Valentine’s man, and takes full advantage of the character’s name for physical humor. Together they are comic masters. This is a great beginning to a promising 35th season.
COMMENTS FROM THE CROWD
Marylyn Luna, Boise: “It was wonderful. I loved the singing. It was like seeing a play I know, like it was the first time again. And the dog was great. How can you go wrong with a dog on stage.”
Glen Scott, Eagle: “This was my first play ever and it was splendid. The comedy was great and it felt very real.”
Bernadette Beck, Kuna: “It was very funny. The actors were very good at conveying their emotions.”
Jeremy Beck, Kuna: “It was very entertaining and worth the drive. This was our first time. The comedy and the characters were very good. You really felt part of the journey.”
Dana Oland: 377-6442
This band of players puts a spin on the Greek chorus
– Idaho Statesman
Copyright: © 2011 Idaho Statesman
“I was, like, honestly, ‘Oh, no.’ I had a sense of dread,” Bruner says. “I thought this is going to be a disaster. I just couldn’t imagine it.”
But creativity and collaboration soon took over, as Bruner and music director Matthew Webb began pulling songs together and placing them in the scenes.
“So far, it’s been a blast. We’re like a real kickback Greek chorus,” Bruner says.
You can see and hear the Two Gents band — Bruner (guitar, vocals), Jodi Dominick (vocals), Stitch Marker (guitar, vocals), Webb (keyboards) and Todd Chavez (drums) — when the play opens the Idaho Shakespeare Festival season this weekend.
As a director, Fee is a master of manipulating music to help tell his story and offer a new context. He did that artfully in his Beatles-infused “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and his 2000 production of “Two Gents.”
But here he wanted to do something different, he says.
“Why not just perform the songs live? Turns out it’s so much better,” Fee says. “It just opens up this whole new possibility.”
Through a mix of songs by Regina Spektor, Ingrid Michaelson and Nick Drake, the musicians create a bridge between the play’s characters and the world around them.
As singers, they comment on the action, like a Greek chorus, but because it’s music, they also can subtly — and often slyly — highlight and underscore the intention of a particular scene.
They also are company actors, so they easily step into smaller roles in the play, those who act as guides and advisers for the main characters.
“Two Gents” is one of Shakespeare’s early comedies. In it, two bosom buddies, Proteus (Dakotah Brown) and Valentine (Neil Brookshire), find their friendship challenged when Proteus falls in love with Valentine’s girl, Silvia (Nika Ericson). When Proteus’ girlfriend Julia (Lee Stark) suspects something is up, she disguises herself as a boy to discover the truth.
Through Julia’s riotous and heartbreaking journey into the world of men, we meet some of Shakespeare’s funniest characters, Speed (M.A. Taylor) and Launce (David Anthony Smith).
The live music performance gives this very funny play a little more heart, Bruner says. There are moments when the singers become involved in the action, in one scene serenading Silvia as Proteus seeks to woo her.
It’s like producing a play and a musical at the same time. It works because classical text is already musical, says Dominick, who comes from the world of musical theater. Her first role at ISF was the Baker’s Wife in “Into the Woods” in 2008.
“In the text, you find your peaks and your operative words, just like you do in musicals,” she says. “If you let yourself live in the moment, the worlds blended very easily. It was organic the way we would find a song that would heighten the scene or tell what’s to come.”
Bruner, Webb and Dominick originated the band in this production at Cleveland’s Great Lakes Theater Festival, ISF’s sister company.
In Boise, they will put their act on the outdoor stage, and add longtime company member Marker, who is very much a troubadour, Bruner says.
She recalls touring with Marker in the educational outreach program Shakespearience.
“We’d do the Shakespearean play in whatever little Idaho town we were in, then Stitch would sit in the big truck we used and just play guitar all the time,” she says. “He’s a total musician when he’s not onstage.”
Webb knows the music; Bruner knows the play. She played Julia in Fee’s 2000 production of “Two Gents,” and is the production assistant director. As Webb selected songs, Bruner figured out where they would go.
Webb rearranged the songs and wrote new harmonies to fit the group. These aren’t covers, Webb says.
“We’re trying to make things more touching and true to the story,” Webb says.
Listen closely when the Idaho Shakespeare Festival opens its 35th season
By Dana Oland – firstname.lastname@example.org
“Boom!” A loud clap of thunder ripples through the Idaho Shakespeare Festival amphitheater on a hot summer night. As the sound slowly rumbles away, it leaves a vibration in your chest. You look up and then around. Clear skies, then — “Boom!’
You tighten your collar and reach for a hat or plastic bag. Rain is a hazard of outdoor theater, except this isn’t real thunder. It’s a Peter John Still sound cue.
Call it the “Peter Effect,” a phenomenon that the resident ISF sound designer has been pulling off for 20 years at the festival’s various locations. [0x0b]
You can’t tell a Peter Still thunder crash from a real one, says the festival’s producing artistic director, Charlie Fee.
“I can’t tell you how many times that’s happened,” he says.
It’s bound to repeat this summer when ISF opens its 35th season the first weekend in June. This year, you’ll hear Still’s sounds in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” in June and “The 39 Steps,” a Hitchcockian farce, in September.
Still is the mad professor of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival who approaches a play with a penchant for cultural research.
“Peter brings a huge knowledge and perspective — and sometimes a truly crazy sensibility — of global music and theatrical traditions,” Fee says. “That has been enormously helpful to me and anyone who is willing to work with him, that allows us to go in directions I don’t think we would achieve without him.”
Still came to ISF in 1992 as part of director Bartlett Sher’s creative team for “Richard III.” Still started working with Fee the following year, fell in love with Boise and stayed.
Still grew up in the lush English Midlands. He studied music at Oxford’s New College, training in early music choral traditions. He learned about theater by working in it — in storefront theaters in San Diego, repertory houses in London, regional theater in the U.S., on Broadway and in Boise.
He settled in Boise in the late 1990s and took his citizenship oath at the U.S. Federal Building, “looking at the Boise Foothills,” he says with a smile.
Still works at ISF, its sister company — Great Lakes Theater Festival in Cleveland — and Boise Contemporary Theater. He also helps Sher create work at the Metropolitan Opera, such as this season’s “Le Comte Ory,” and on Broadway with Sher’s 2006 Tony-winning revival of “Awake and Sing.”
THE MAGIC OF SOUND
Over the years Still’s sounds have elicited coyote howls from the surrounding hills, incorporated the actual birds in the amphitheater into the soundscape and created stirring moments on the ISF stage.
Last season’s ghost story “The Woman in Black,” a show that is in essence about imaginative theatricality, was the perfect sound feast for Still. He packed it full of thunder, wind, horse hooves on gravel, London street sounds, trains, screams and one magic squeak.
Actor Chad Hoeppner sat on a chair next to a picture frame, which became the window and seat on a train. As the train pulled into the station, he used his sleeve to rub the nonexistent glass. Hoeppner’s move came with the perfect “squeak, squeak, squeak” of a shammy rubbing on glass. (Actually it was the squeak of an antique spyglass.) And bam — in that instant the glass was there. That’s what sound adds to the art of theater, Still says.
Still is eccentric, quirky, captivating, maddening, difficult, mystical and brilliant. He chose the less-trodden creative path, following esoteric ideas, such as theories of subliminal sound and mystical approaches to Shakespeare’s texts.
“If you take a bad idea and keep working it, you’ll end up with something amazing, because no one else would have done it,” Still says. “That’s the truth of how it (theater) works. The way we’re brought up thinking doesn’t teach you that.”
Not all ISF directors will work with him. His shows are technically dense and difficult to run, Fee says with an exasperated sigh. One sequence can have more than 70 sound cues, which the production stage manager must call through the headsets.
“It boggles the mind how complex they are, and there is no simplifying for him. He can’t do it,” Fee says. “It’s so frustrating, and yet — is the play better? Probably. It seems like it when I’m working with people who aren’t Peter. They’re easier to call, but they’re not better somehow.”
ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK
Still’s small cave-like basement room has been his home away from home since the building opened as a theater 11 years ago. (The ISF offices are in the Boise Contemporary Theater’s building.)
The office is lined with shelves that are stuffed full of plays, books on bird sounds and theater aesthetics, binders full of cues from past shows, bits of wire, electricians’ tools, blocks of wood, the bass drum used by the Sgt. Pepper mechanicals in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” working and broken guitars, bells, whistles and a jumble of other things that make interesting sounds.
He spends more time in his office on his computers and 1980s vintage Soundcraft mixer than he does in his apartment.
It’s easy to forget he’s there, says Hannah Read, marketing director of ISF and a costume designer for BCT.
“There have been many late nights when we’re working and it’s midnight, and suddenly there’s Peter emerging from his basement,” Read says. “And oddly it’s usually at a time when we need something done.”
Still likes to stay behind the scenes. He tried acting once in a stage-crew send up of a Christmas panto (a traditional British holiday comedy). At the end of the run, the backstage crew puts on a parody.
“I had three small roles in one of them, which is enough to understand that walking out in front of 550 people is pretty much the same stress level as a minor car wreck,” Still says. “That’s a standard piece of knowledge that any theater person can tell you. An actor really has no skill, except themselves. They either like you or you fail. It’s very different.”
He wears backstage crew-wear — T-shirts and Levi’s 501 jeans (cut-offs in the summer) — every day, even when he’s not at the theater. He rides his bicycle year-round, seriously practices aikido and is known for esoteric dinner parties where he prepares 18th- and 19th-century recipes such as elk en croute and pheasant with mustard cream sauce.
Still practices Shintoism, an ancient religion. Shinto mysticism dovetails into Still’s approach to classical theater, he says.
“The more Shakespeare you do, the more you’re taken out of your own culture, and the more you learn about theater,” Still says. “More people are getting into the mystical side of things; it’s really not that obscure. The thing about my interest in Shinto is it really is the closest thing to pre-Reformation, slightly pagan Catholicism, the thing that Shakespeare and his family, and milieu were nostalgic for. It wasn’t Catholicism as we think about it. This was also about going off and dancing in the woods and in the churchyard.”
WHAT YOU DON’T HEAR
OK, this is where it gets spooky. Besides the audible cues, Still employs subliminal sound in his designs. So there always is sound going on, though some of it is below human perception (but not a coyote’s). Still is convinced subliminal sound changes the dynamics on stage.
“I’m trying to make scenes work from the get-go from moment to moment. If you feel a lack sometimes it only takes a subliminal sound to fill the absence and make if feel right.”
It’s an idea Still came up with working at ISF’s ParkCenter location where street noise was constant. In 1993’s “Julius Caesar,” he added a low-level gunshot that you couldn’t hear on stage, but “I felt on edge,” Still remembers. “It created a mood.”
These techniques get used in Hollywood, he says. Sound editors underlay animal cries in car crashes, or low-pitch pipe organ sounds under dramatic music to create tension.
“We (humans) are very sensitive,” Still says. “Different sounds activate different parts of the brain. You can stimulate emotions on stage.”
Your nonconscious mind processes subliminal input. That’s where you feel things before you intellectually understand them.
“It works with evolution and instinct. So does telling a story. That’s why you come out of play feeling whole, because your mind has been filled two different ways,” Still says.
There really is something to it, says BCT artistic director Matthew Cameron Clark.
“I’ve seen it work on stage and from the audience,” he says. “There was a subliminal dog cue in ‘Zoo Story.’ Jerry, my character, is making reference to a dog growling. The sound was coming from a speaker mounted under the floor. It really gave me something.”
Still does some of his best sound work at Boise Contemporary Theater, where he has complete control, and a stage manager, Kristy Martin, who doesn’t mind calling hundreds of cues she can’t hear.
“There’s no question that the quality of the work being put on stage is higher because of Peter being here,” Clark says. “He’s this extreme on both ends of the spectrum. The attention to detail and this impressive scientific approach to things, then he always leaves a door open for something to be totally by chance.”
That makes it stand out.
Dana Oland is a former professional dancer and member of Actors Equity who writes about performing and visual arts for the Idaho Statesman. She also writes about food, wine, pets, jazz and other aspects of the good life in Boise. Read more arts coverage in her blog at Voices.IdahoStatesman.com/oland.
Boise City Revue
Posted by Diana M Cammarota in Places
If it were up to me, With our Good Will: 30 Years of Shakespeare in Idaho would be required reading not only in Idaho schools, but schools all over the world. Doug Copsey’s look back at the formation of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, from their 1977 beginnings on the steps of the One Capitol Center in downtown Boise, to its current home in one of the most beautiful outdoor amphitheaters in the world, is a book for anyone with even the slightest interest in business, history and the triumph of human determination. Even if you’ve never so much as glanced at a Shakespeare play, this book will inspire and enlighten you in ways that you can never imagine.
Published in 2006, With our Good Will offers a rare, first-hand look at how the Idaho Shakespeare Festival came into being. Designed to look like the big book of family memoirs that it essentially is, its pages are brimming with everything from snap shots of original letters, budget records and invoices, to photographs and drawings that are works of art in their own right. The text is rare because the story told within is straight from the source. It’s not often that movers and shakers like Doug Copsey have the ability to sit still long enough to put pen to paper, but, as readers will come to see, the author’s gift for storytelling is as keen as his talent for acting, directing, producing and organizing successful enterprises.
The story of the Festival begins just after Copsey’s return to Boise in 1976 after nearly a decade away. After cutting his teeth in Helen Farrer’s drama department at Boise High School in the mid-1960’s, Copsey went on to obtain his undergraduate degree in Theater Arts from the University of Nevada, Reno, in 1968. After further training in film and video production, Copsey returned home to Boise and picked up his first acting gig as guest artist in a Boise State production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The actor was inspired by the pool of talent he encountered at the University, but he was equally disheartened knowing that these artists would eventually need to leave Boise if they wanted to make a living at their craft. At that time, the only outlet in town was the well-established but all-volunteer Boise Little Theater (founded in 1948), and Copsey thought it was time to create a professional company.
“Look down and think Greek” was the fateful suggestion to developer Arthur “Skip” Oppenheimer, as he and Copsey gazed out of Skip’s 8th floor office of the then brand-new One Capitol Center. What Boiseans see now as the outdoor dining area of Angell’s Bar & Grill on the corner of 9th & Main, Copsey saw as a spectacular outdoor amphitheater, just begging to come to life. “The blank, concrete whiteness,” he mused, “cried out for the color of sets and costumes, the movement and action of actors, dancers and musicians.” Copsey thought that surely the designers had this in mind when building this natural amphitheater.
The developers were not aware of any such plan, but the idea of bringing outdoor theater to the downtown area – and more folks to the center – was certainly something worth considering. The newly opened Main Street Bistro, Boise’s first full-scale restaurant, occupied the ground floor and could have used a shot of adrenaline itself. Recognizing this opportunity, as well as an opportunity to support the arts, the Oppenheimers opened their space (and their checkbooks) to Copsey and his crew to see what they could do. With a total budget of $4500.00 ($1000.00 of Copsey’s own money and a $3500.00 loan from Doug Oppenheimer), the wide-eyed cast and crew embarked on the seemingly impossible task of transforming One Capitol Center into a verdant, functional and convincing outdoor theater and at the same time persuading people to come. The show to run at “The First Annual Main Street Bistro Summer Theatre Festival” in 1977 may have been A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but, at times, it played out more like a comedy of errors.
Several members of the original core group were fellow Cuckoo’s Nest cast members, and the rest were friends and enthusiasts that could be “cajoled into chasing a wild and crazy dream.” In the months leading up to opening night, actors worked as stagehands, directors as costume designers, and rehearsal space was shared with the likes of horses and Cocker Spaniels. City officials were pushed to the limit as were the budget and the occasional temper, but on opening night, all signs of struggle were ushered off stage, and in their place appeared all the sights, sounds and magic of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Over 350 people came that night, and, by the time the run closed on August 6th over 3500 people had come to share in this “crazy” dream. After the bills were paid and creditors made whole, each member walked away with $225.00 for his or her eight weeks of hard work.
Success had come in surprising and welcome measure to the men and women of the budding Festival, but the struggle was far from over. By the following year, the coffers were once again empty, and Main Street Bistro had closed its doors. Indoor rehearsal space remained elusive, and it seemed that just about all that survived the winter was some salvaged lumber and a few sturdily stitched costumes. But, the spirit of the crew remained, and while the summer of ’78 season would take some doing, they had a few things going for them. The Oppenheimers allowed use of the amphitheater for another year, and Ray’s Oasis – the successors to the Bistro – were as supportive as could be. This year, however, the fledgling company was financially on its own. There were no loans to count on, and a source of significant funds from the previous year was snuffed out. A large portion of the seed money from their first season came from selling advertising space on the surrounding fence, but the city had put a stop to that, citing violations regarding the placement of billboards within the city. But, true to form, the players worked their way around this deficit by printing up the company’s first program, and an affectionate community snatched up the advertising space in no time flat. Despite a series of potential disasters including destructive winds, oppressive heat and a disappearing Duke of Milan, The Two Gentleman of Verona drew more than 4500 audience members and garnered much-deserved attention from the local media.
By 1980, this scrappy group of talented individuals that seemed to come from nowhere was very much on its way to becoming the world-class institution that we see today. By the end of that fourth summer, they had expanded their seasons by offering multiple shows and longer runs, formed a patron committee, executed well-organized marketing and public relations efforts, held their first public fundraiser and incorporated officially as a non-profit under the name of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. Attendance was topping 11,000, and the entire community seemed to embrace this cultural phenomenon. But, to say at this point that they lived happily ever after would very much be remiss. Growth and expansion also meant increased cost and debt, and with the pace at which members had been working over the years, fatigue understandably began to set in. 1980 was also the year that they needed to leave One Capitol Center and begin a 17-year search for a permanent home. Ray’s Oasis was moving out and Angell’s Bar & Grill – with plans of their own for that fabulous outdoor space – was moving in.
I’ll leave the rest of the story for you to discover in With our Good Will. It will lead you on a wild ride through their three years at the Plantation Golf Course and the fourteen years next to Ore Ida on Park Center Boulevard. It will introduce you to the entire cast of producers, directors, actors, officials and philanthropists – as well as some memorable guest appearances from wandering ducks, buzzing mud wasps and a pair of amorous Llamas. It will lead you, finally, to the special place they now call home – The Idaho Shakespeare Festival Amphitheater and Reserve at 5657 Warm Springs Avenue – a place that seems to have always attracted magic. A place that Native Americans called “Peace Valley” and early Boise settlers called the “moonshine capital of the world.” A place where each winter, the noble bald eagle comes to roost and where over 200 species of wildlife live in harmony with the cottonwood trees and the Boise River. It is, perhaps, as it was best said by board member Norena Gutierrez, a place where “people find themselves again, in the stories Shakespeare tells, and truths of time are always acknowledged…”
Doug Copsey is still moving and shaking. He continues to write for area publications and over the last three years has helped form the Idaho Writers Guild – an arm of The Cabin (a literary center for Idaho located in Julia Davis Park) – and is head of that group’s Governing Committee. His connection to the Shakespeare Festival continues as both an ardent fan, and as a member of the Advisory Committee, and he wants folks to know that he continues to be “humbled and amazed by the support this community continues to give to what has become one of Idaho’s artistic jewels.”
I owe a hearty thanks to the Festival’s Directing Manager, Mark Hofflund, for his patience with my tedious questions, and for his service to the Festival for almost twenty years.
With out Good Will is available at most booksellers as well as at the concession stand at the Festival. The author will be hosting several pre-show book-signings this season and for this schedule – or for more information on the Idaho Shakespeare Festival Including educational programs, tours and the upcoming season – please visit: www.idahoshakespeare.org or call 208.429.9908.
See you under the stars!
Click to read original article online
By Steve Bunk, 1-4-2011
Cold weather traditionally means no work for a lot of repertory theater actors, but an extra-long break during these holidays is all that the Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s troupe will be getting. In February, they’ll start working again, and a good many of them won’t be done until December. Under the leadership of artistic director Charles Fee, the Boise-based festival has perfected an innovative business model that has achieved the seemingly impossible: turning local theater into a full-time gig.
The 2011 season will be Fee’s 20th as artistic director of the Idaho festival, which will be celebrating its 35th year of existence. Since 2002, Fee also has held that post at the venerable Great Lakes Theater Festival in Cleveland, and in 2010, he assumed artistic directorship of a third group, the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, whose outdoor stage sits on the western shore of the magnificent lake.
The practical result of this synergy is that not only do three repertory companies get a lot better bang for their bucks, but professional actors associated with the organizations can work steadily year-round. For example, selected actors and crew drawn from the three groups will be in Cleveland in February to start rehearsals for two plays that will open there in the spring. Later, they’ll bring those plays to the theaters in the other cities.
Fee, who earned an MFA in acting from the University of California, San Diego, before becoming artistic director of a community theater in Northern California, has demonstrated the rare touch of pulling financially shaky rep companies back from the brink of extinction.
He did it with the Idaho festival, which was essentially performing in a big yard, had one full-time staff member and an annual operating budget of less than $300,000 when he took the job in 1991. Seven years later, the much larger company had an impressive new amphitheater and was in the black for the third of what has now been 15 consecutive years.
He also did it with the Cleveland organization, which was carrying a full-time staff of 24 and was in financial straits in 2001, the 50th year since the troupe was founded by the father of actor and writer John Lithgow.
“My first thought was this isn’t really what I want to do,” Fee recalled. “I’m not going to leave Boise for a theater in Cleveland that’s in crisis.”
Eventually, he agreed to take the Cleveland job for one year, on the quantum-leap condition that he would stage some of the Idaho work through the Ohio company. It was an idea he had been entertaining for years.
Observing other Shakespeare festivals around the country, Fee often had wondered, “Why are so many of us producing the same work, and paying people to do virtually the same thing?”
He was dismayed that such expensive productions were performed a few times and then tossed out of the schedule. “We’re all spreading our resources so thin that no one’s actually creating real work at real wages for anyone.”
Sharing cast, crew, materials, and related expenses between two companies seemed an obvious fix, albeit not an easy one to achieve.
“In Cleveland, the writers were very skeptical of this whole relationship,” Fee admitted. Theater critics and other commentators regarded Boise with raised eyebrows, but all that changed after the first Idaho production, “Much Ado About Nothing,” was staged at the Great Lakes festival.
“Thankfully, they ate their hats,” he said. “It’s that simple: you just have to do great work.”
A pattern was established in which two shows staged in Cleveland were then performed in Boise’s next season, and vice versa.
In the summer of 2007, Fee was contacted about becoming artistic director of the financially ailing Lake Tahoe festival, but he was in the midst of a $20 million renovation of the theater for the Great Lakes festival. By 2009, that theater was running well, and his staff was talking about adding a third company to the project.
Fee explained the reason for the proposed expansion: “We had essentially invented this idea, and we had gotten really good at it.”
At about that time, he got another call from the Tahoe festival, and arranged to work its schedule into the group’s 2010 plans. In January, Fee had carpenters available in Cleveland, so the set for the comedy “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare,” was built there. It was staged in Boise in early summer 2010, followed by Lake Tahoe performances in July. Fee subsequently was appointed artistic director of the Tahoe festival.
The boards of directors and other people in the various cities have expressed worries that one company might get more attention or financial benefit than the other, but Fee has worked through such fears by emphasizing he does not regard them as different companies, but as a whole project.
Even so, as financial entities, the companies remain entirely separate. Fee said the key is transparency, so each company knows exactly what the costs and savings will be when materials and personnel are transferred from one place to another and back.
Another concern of the boards and other people was that not all the actors would be local, but that’s a red herring to Fee, because professional actors often are selected for repertory troupes through regular auditions held in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and elsewhere.
The real challenge regarding actors and crew, as he sees it, is in arranging for them to move from one venue to another. “It’s a shell game, and the key is to keep the best people employed the largest amount of time.”
If an actor doesn’t want to go, say, to Cleveland, or has commitments elsewhere, the larger size of Fee’s talent pool gives him options he otherwise might not have for a substitute actor. When performers move from one place to the next, they mostly stay in rented apartments in Cleveland; in Boise; about half of them stay with families; and at Lake Tahoe a third stay in private homes.
Staff remain separate, with the exception of the executive director in Cleveland, Bob Taylor, who recently assumed the same job at Lake Tahoe. Staff members in the different cities know one another and exchange ideas and information about marketing or other strategic and logistic considerations. The Cleveland full-time staff was quickly reduced by Fee from 24 to 14. Boise has 10 full-timers, and Lake Tahoe has three.
The combined budget of the three festivals is about $7.4 million, with a total annual audience of about 220,000.
In spring, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare” will be staged in Cleveland and will play for the second consecutive season in Boise, which is another way to reduce production costs.
Some time ago, Fee discovered that a local audience is not depleted by one season of a given play, particularly if it’s a crowd-pleaser. “People will come back and see it again, and bring friends, because they know the piece,” he said. “It’s a great way for audiences to start the season with something they already know.”
It’s true that the bard deplored the tedium of twice-told tales. Even so, Charles Fee has learned there is reward in the repetition of great stories.