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.
By George Prentice, published November 17, 2010
About the only thing on stage at Idaho Shakespeare Festival right now is the occasional snowflake. Yet the home fires are burning behind the scenes as the pieces come together for the 2011 season. Early-bird tickets go on sale Thanksgiving weekend.
Next year will mark Charlie Fee’s 20th season as producing artistic director with ISF. He is also producing artistic director of Great Lakes Theater Festival in Cleveland and Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival in Nevada.
How is the company doing financially?
We’re doing fine. Because, quite frankly, we’re good at planning. 2008 was, like for everybody else, down a bit. 2009 saw a bigger drop. In 2010, we are actually up on season tickets, but single tickets came down a little bit, so we came out fine. We’ve been in the black for 15 seasons straight. These last few years, we tightened and tightened and tightened, and we managed to cut a lot of expenses.
But for 2011, I’ve picked a giant, populist season. I do feel we can plan for, push for and hope for real growth this coming season.
You’ll open the season next June when you direct Two Gentlemen of Verona.
A big, big Shakespeare comedy, because we’re looking for the big comedies to anchor our season.
Are you at a stage where you’re considering a cast for Two Gents?
I went into Two Gents thinking I had the key players set. I actually ended up with none of them. I chose to go forward anyway. It’s exciting for us as a company because now I have an opportunity to cast the four lead roles with four young actors who haven’t been working with us for the last few years, or perhaps ever.
Do you have open auditions?
Yes. Our union requires it. We plan to audition in Chicago in December and Los Angeles in January.
You’ll be directing the second production as well, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).
We had a blast with this show last summer in Lake Tahoe. I didn’t know this past summer whether we would bring the show here to Idaho. It’s fun but also a little scary because I’ve got a number of open roles to cast.
Third will be the season’s big musical.
Cabaret is a spectacular, dramatic piece of musical theater as opposed to traditional musical comedy. It’s set in a time [pre World War II] and a place [Germany] fraught with danger. I’m interested in engaging our audiences into an experience with musicals that are deeper than traditional fare.
Have you thought about who you will cast in the lead roles?
Eduardo Placer [Puck in 2010’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream] will play the emcee. Jodi Dominick [the baker’s wife in 2008’s Into the Woods] will play Sally Bowles.
And your fourth production will be another Shakespeare comedy, The Taming of the Shrew.
I chose this for two reasons. First, I picked it for Sara Bruner [2011 will be Bruner’s 15th season with ISF]. This will be a very different kind of role for her. Sara has played so many different ingenues and women in the Shakespeare canon: Rosalind, Viola, Juliet, Desdemona, Ophelia. But she’s never really had this opportunity. This is a great role for her at this point in her career.
Plus simultaneously, I met a new director at the Shakespeare festival in Ashland, Ore., Tracy Young. She directed a 2009 production of The Servant of Two Masters, which I adored. I told her, “We have to work together.” So I have a new director with a style I just love: wildly improvisational with a deep background in physicality and commedia dell’arte. And Shrew sort of feels like that. So this is a very good match. Bringing a woman as a director to this play introduces a very different sensibility, because Shrew is considered the ultimate battle of the sexes story. Tracy is brilliant and I’m very excited about bringing a new director into the team.
And the fifth production will be The 39 Steps.
It’s so much fun. Four actors play all the characters. So, it’ll be a quick-change show. It’s a theatrical form that is a blast for our audiences but it’s technically very difficult. Because it’s based on the classic novel and the Alfred Hitchcock film, it brings together a 1930s period sensibility that’s a wild romp.
Do you seriously consider building a second stage someday?
Yes. All the time. But it’s still not the moment to launch a major campaign. That day will come. Building a new theater would be a big undertaking and you really have to plan carefully for that. Read article at Boise Weekly
We’re so excited for 2011: We don’t have our website updated and Earlybird season ticket sales won’t begin until Thanksgiving weekend but we couldn’t wait to share with you!
Here it is!
Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s 35th Anniversary Season
Earlybird season subscriptions begin Thanksgiving weekend! Gift Certificates available anytime. Click here for Gift Certificates (the perfect gift for every occasion).
Save up to 42% with Earlybird season tickets. Earlybird savings end December 31st, 2010.
*NEW* The Student! Season ticket package for students introduced this year for our 35th Anniversary Season. See all five shows for less that going to five movies! All you need is a valid student ID.
Can’t wait to see you at the Amphitheater!
When a drama company puts on two shows in alternating repertory, it’s smart for the artistic director to pick a pair of scripts that can be played off one another—though not necessarily in an obvious way. You wouldn’t think, for instance, that Shakespeare’s “Othello” and Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband” have much of anything in common, but they prove in practice to be mutually illuminating, bearing as they do on the subject of how suspicion can wreak havoc on a marriage. Cleveland’s Great Lakes Theater Festival is mounting handsome stagings of both plays in collaboration with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, where the two productions originated this summer, and as I watched them in close succession earlier this week, I was struck by how smoothly they fit together.
Risa Brainin’s “Othello” is a modern-dress staging whose reference points are wholly contemporary, all the way from the clamorous action-flick incidental music of Michael Keck to the central-casting performances of the excellent actors: Othello (David Alan Anderson) plays the regular guy gone wrong; Iago (David Anthony Smith), the brash, sarcastic Bill Murray-ish sidekick with a giant chip on his shoulder; Desdemona (Sara M. Bruner), the chirpy innocent who can’t believe what’s happening to her until it’s too late. The results, though unsubtle in the extreme, are also terrifically effective—and not just on their own populist terms, either. This is a blood-and-thunder “Othello” that roars down the track at several hundred miles an hour, and though it’s short on poetry, it lacks nothing in the way of thrills and chills.
I made a point of seeing a student-matinee performance of this production, and the high-school kids in the audience were completely on top of the plot. I especially liked their collective gasp of horror when Othello, fooled by Iago into thinking that Desdemona has cuckolded him, snarls that he’ll “chop her into messes.” That’s entertainment.
Nearly every production of an Oscar Wilde play that I’ve seen in recent years has been performed on a set that sought to reproduce more or less literally the Vicwardian décor of Wilde’s own time. Not so the Great Lakes Theater Festival’s version of “An Ideal Husband,” whose simple unit set, designed by Nayna Ramey, consists of a drape, some columns and a half-dozen stage-wide steps, plus enough period chairs to allow the characters to seat themselves as they please. Between the set and Jason Lee Resler’s high-society costumes, nothing more is needed to create a look that is at once stylized and stylish.
Sari Ketter, the director, writes in her program note that she conceives of “An Ideal Husband” as a “fairy tale.” To that end she fills her sparsely decorated stage with a ballet-like corps of black-clad butlers at whose seemingly magical behest the other actors come and go, a charming conceit executed with the most delicate of touches. The play itself is a tricky mixture of wit and melodrama in which Sir Robert Chiltern (Richard Klautsch), a British politician of infinite promise, is put through the wringer by a kittenishly unscrupulous woman with a past (Laura Perrotta) who seeks to profit from her knowledge of a secret that could smash up Sir Robert’s marriage to an ever-so-proper society lady (Jodi Dominick). The plot is little more than a rope on which Wilde has strung some of his sharpest epigrams (“Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast”). Yet it all works, and Ms. Ketter’s production is especially effective at melding the play’s disparate aspects.
Wilde’s brand of sky-high comedy can be hard for American actors to carry off with ease. Some of the cast members speak their lines too emphatically (though not David Anthony Smith, who here changes hats from Iago to the Viscount Goring, Sir Robert’s best friend, catching the latter character’s fey tone with winning deftness). I wish Ms. Ketter’s actors had been lighter on their feet, and that they’d thrown away more of Wilde’s one-liners instead of italicizing them. That said, the total effect of this production is both impressive and persuasive. I very much look forward to seeing more of the work of the members of the production team, most of whom were new to me.
A word about the theater in which “Othello” and “An Ideal Husband” are being performed: Built in 1921, the Hanna Theatre was taken over two years ago by the Great Lakes Theater Festival. The original 1,421-seat proscenium-arch house has now been turned into a fully up-to-date 548-seat thrust-stage theater whose performing space and public areas flow together seamlessly, thus encouraging audience members to show up early and use the theater as a meeting place. (They do, too.) Rarely have I seen a a happier marriage of old and new. Read article at The Wall Street Journal
Boise Weekly 9/29/2010
We are proposing that in addition to the traditional dramatic masks of comedy and tragedy, a new mask of surprise be added so we can wear it each fall when we announce that Idaho Shakespeare Festival has, once again, been voted among the Best of Boise. By this point, no one should be surprised that the state’s preeminent theater company wins this category year after year: The productions are excellent, the cast and crew are some of the best in the business, and you just can’t beat that gorgeous amphitheater. Of course, the fact that most of us indulge in a few glasses of wine each time we see an ISF production only enhances those warm, fuzzy feelings. Read more
By Deanna Darr, Boise Weekly, Published 9/7/2010
Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s latest production leaves as lingering a presence as its title character. The Woman in Black is at once simple and intriguing, and it’s the perfect sort of tale to accompany a cool fall night.
Pulling off an effective ghost story with a two-man cast in an outdoor theater is a challenging task, but like a frightful tale told around a campfire, ISF manages to draw the audience in and hold them captivated. It’s probably the reason the play has been a mega-hit in London for the better part of two decades although, surprisingly, it’s little known on this side of the pond.
The story is a play within a play, as a man tormented by the supernatural events of his past attempts to purge himself of their dark memory by putting them to paper and then sharing the tale with his friends and family with the coaching of a professional actor.
Mr. Kipps (Dudley Swetland) is reluctant from the start, but his is drawn out by the actor (Chad Hoeppner), who eventually plays the role of a young Kipps, while Kipps himself takes on the roles of associated characters in his story.
As a young lawyer, Kipps is called to a remote house to settle the estate of an eccentric widow. While there, he discovers a dark secret and is pulled into it with torturous results.
As the plot is established under the bright blue sky and with a reluctant narrator, it’s hard to imagine the story becoming a gripping thriller. But the production is timed perfectly so that as the tension builds and the tale begins to flow, the skies darken to complete the atmosphere.
Both actors turn in strong performances, holding the audience in rapt attention, although the use of microphones coupled with the use of the aisles for entrances and exits makes it a bit disorienting to find the actors on occasion.
Still, the production effectively weaves the web of the story, relying on the basic, but time-honored tools of the theater to do so. The set is an ode to the magic of the theater, designed to emulate an old playhouse, where the energy of past productions oozes from the walls and magic lurks within the cacophony of well-worn props.
A minimal crew takes full advantage of lighting and sound to create atmosphere–not to mention a heavy dose of fishing line to set objects (and even the occasional tree) into motion seemingly on their own. There is a decidedly Dickensian feel to the production, which completes the dressing for a good ghost story.
The simple, yet effective approach to the entire production is a perfect example of how theater can lead an audience so completely into an imaginary world.
Besides, it’s hard to deny the appeal of a good, old-fashioned ghost story. Read at Boise Weekly
By Dana Oland- Cast and design team make this ghost story satisfying if not frightening
Copyright 2010 Idaho Statesman. Published 9/6/2010
One of the most difficult things to do in a theater is to truly scare audiences, especially in the 21st century when people are inured to most things that slash, scream, or go bump in the night.
Yet that is the goal of “The Woman in Black,” Stephen Malatratt’s theatrical adaptation of Susan Hill’s ghost story. The play has enjoyed a chilling 22-year run at London’s Fortune Theatre, a jewel box Victorian theater where it is much easier to control the theatrical environment.
In the great outdoors of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival amphitheater, making this play work is a different kind of challenge. Fortunately, with director Drew Barr at the helm, this stellar design team and seasoned cast make the show – if not actually scary – at least suspenseful and ultimately satisfying.
The production starts off slow, but that’s because the play is almost entirely exposition, something most playwrights avoid. After all, theater is a medium of show, not tell. However, telling is something that’s intrinsic to a ghost story, which is best heard round the campfire.
To translate that to theater, Malatratt’s adaptation uses stagecraft as storytelling. The play tells a ghost story; but it is really about theater.
That’s clear from the moment you set eyes on Russell Metheny’s excellent set. It is the outline of a theater with borders, lights, scaffolds and a fabric scrim that divides the stage and becomes see through when lit. There are bits of old sets, props and boxes stashed around that get pulled out to build the world of the play. Behind the scrim is the mysterious Eel Marsh House.
The cast and crew employ a host of theatrical devices, including mime, sound effects, lighting, props, smoke, mirrors and other visual tricks, and most important, imagination. Read more
By Dana Oland, Treasure Magazine- firstname.lastname@example.org
A hot breeze wafts through as trees rustle and flowers sway. Eagles soar overhead; the river hurries past. This is not your typical night at the theater.
You’re at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, where the fare on stage this season includes Shakespearean comedy and tragedy, a batty rock-musical and a spine-tingling thriller, and is served up in the fun, casual atmosphere of a family picnic.
From its inspired origins in Downtown Boise in the 1970s to today’s state-of-the-art amphitheater, it is as much a part of Boise’s summer culture as floating the Boise River and mountain biking the Boise Foothills.
“I’ve lived away from Boise for six years now,” says Kelly Bell, 29, who recently moved back to Boise after living in Boston.
“When I came back in the summers, I (would) run the river and go to the Shakespeare festival,” Bell says. “That’s my Boise agenda.”
Shakespeare might seem an unlikely Idaho denizen, but his spirit and work have been alive and well in Boise for 34 years.
The Idaho Shakespeare Festival has survived changing venues and artistic leadership, rocky creative spurts and occasional financial woes.Today, it flourishes under producing artistic director Charles Fee and managing director Mark Hofflund and is one of the state’s most high-profile arts organizations. Through innovative strategic alliances, it now puts its actors and artists on three stages nationally, while never forgetting its Idaho roots. ISF has expanded its reach, and it also has deepened its Boise roots.
“People in the other cities all think of it as a Boise company,” Fee says.
In publications such as The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, the festival receives national notice for the caliber of its productions and for its innovative eight-year partnership with Cleveland’s Great Lakes Theater Festival.
Now Fee has added the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival to the mix, where his “Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” is in production through Aug. 22. The show was built in Cleveland and rehearsed in Boise.
“Who could have foreseen this stuff?” Fee asks. A tall man with expressive gestures, he relaxes in his office swivel chair between meetings, while answering e-mails from Cleveland. This actor and director turned impresario now casts, plans and raises funds for a theatrical trio.
‘GOOD LORD, FOR ALLIANCE!’
The Great Lakes Theater Festival board approached Fee in 2001 to take on the financially struggling now 40-year-old Cleveland company, which at the time had a budget nearly double that of ISF.
Immediately, Fee saw the opportunity. Read more
By Dana Oland- email@example.com
When Lina Chambers opened the e-mail from ISF artistic director Charlie Fee telling her she was cast in the Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” she did a little dance.
“I remember I screamed,” says the tall, willowy blonde. “I’ve got it saved in my in-box. I’ll probably frame it.”
After a childhood spent studying theater in the festival’s drama school, Chambers, 22, is now an official member of the ISF repertory company.
In addition to her debut as Helena in this season’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” she also has a small but fun role as the Countess of Basildon in Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband.”
Chambers, the daughter of two artists, Michael and Melissa Chambers, moved to Boise with her family when she was 3.
Except for a couple of years spent in Illinois during high school, the family has called Boise home.
(They moved back in 2005, the summer Lina did the festival’s apprentice program for the first time.)
Chambers is a product of ISF’s training program.
She started in the festival’s drama school as a kid. She took classes, did the intensive workshops and the apprentice program twice.
She also taught in the school, worked in the Young Company (the next step after apprentice) and performed “Midsummer” for the festival’s educational tour Shakespearience in 2008.
Transitioning to the professional company seemed a natural, she says.
“I’ve felt part of this company for a long time,” she says. “I’ve been on every rung of the ladder.”
Last spring, Chambers opened “Midsummer” in Cleveland, but bringing the role to Boise was extremely special.
“It’s like all the pieces had come into place,” she says. “It’s been such an honor working with all these people who have been my heroes since I was a kid.”
Chambers is headed into her final year in Boise State University’s theater department, which actually is her fifth year.
She took spring semesters off over the past two years to do theater. She’ll graduate in 2011 if she doesn’t pick up any more acting jobs between now and then. The next step is graduate school. Yale University would be her dream.
Q: Can you put into words the feeling of opening “Midsummer” in Boise?
A: I was so much more nervous about performing in Boise than I ever was in Cleveland. It’s pretty nerve- wracking knowing that there’s going to be at least one person in the audience who’s known me since I was an itty-bitty. Read more
BOISE — Shakespeare’s “Othello” is one of his most moving tragedies; it tells a poignant story of love, insecurity, and the poisonous influence of jealousy. As performed by the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, the play’s depth and beauty create a heartrending performance.
The beautifully crafted monologues, impressive modern sets and clever insertion of music made ISF’s performance both gripping and chilling. As the play drew to its close, its audience was spellbound and gripped with tension as they watched the action unfold. Few performances could deliver a tale so heartbreaking and eery with as much gravity and beauty, yet ISF has succeeded in performing the classic in a new and creative way that still touches the viewer.
Othello is a black military general in the Venetian army, honored and respected by the senate and renowned for his brave military exploits. When he passes over his right-hand man Iago and promotes Florentine Michael Cassio instead, Iago becomes bitter and jealous. He begins a plot to undo Othello, weaving a web of falsehood around the general. Preying upon the general’s love and insecurity, Iago convinces Othello that his wife Desdemona is unfaithful. By his clever machinations, Iago drives Othello into a jealous rage and convinces him that he must kill Desdemona. Other main characters include Iago’s wife, a clever, worldly woman who is passionately devoted to Desdemona and Roderigo, a bumbling and foolish gentleman of Venice who falls prey to Iago’s lies.
Shakespeare in the military
ISF portrayed “Othello” in modern times, using military uniforms, guns and bowie knives along with the steel structuring of modern buildings. The sets lend a clean-cut, cold aura to the play. The skeletal structure used as a main prop in the play has a rusted, worn look that constantly reminds the watcher of the wearing away of Othello’s character and sanity.
The music is used craftily to build suspense and tensity; used only in the beginning and during Iago’s dialogues, the brooding music has an ominous sound. A deep, throbbing rap beat is also used briefly during a celebration amongst the soldiers. Read more