By Cassie Mrozinski, Development Associate
In 2012, something magical happened. ISF received a grant from the Laura Moore Cunningham Foundation to fund an innovative idea from Education Director, Renee Vomocil. This idea, aptly named the Helena Project (for the All’s Well That Ends Well and A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s transformative character who holds unwavering hope) aimed to bring Shakespeare’s works to the children at the St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital School. These kids, while receiving treatment for chronic and life-threatening illnesses, are able to continue schooling in the hospital so that they may keep up with classmates and return to school once they are able. Teaching artists from the School of Theater work with students at the hospital to analyze, interpret, and perform Shakespeare’s works. This creative outlet is a healing, artistic way to teach young scholars about the Bard, while helping them find their own voice and inspiration, often times while under intense treatments.
The very year the program began, Renee was asked to present the curriculum to educators from across the country at the annual Folger Shakespeare Library conference for educators in Washington, D.C. The second year of the program, she was asked to speak at a national conference for hospital schools. This past spring saw a poignant, touching video produced, called “A Different Kind of Battle” (see below). This short film aims to spread the importance of theater and Shakespeare in the lives of hospital students.
Carla Hart, the head of the St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital School, is adamant that the Shakespeare program makes a difference. An 11 year-old girl named Grace attended each class and was recovering from a brain tumor. She had never had the opportunity to take a theater class. Grace wore an eye patch as part of her recovery, an accessory that further contributed to her shyness and hesitation to participate. Yet, as the course continued, and she donned exciting costume pieces, Grace lost herself in the characters and gradually came out of her shell, becoming one of the students with the best voice projection.
Shakespeare lived over 400 years ago and often wrote of love, good and evil, laughter, and deep conflict. For sick kids today, fighting their own battles, his voice resonates, gives hope, and enlightens.
By Cassie Mrozinski, ISF Development Associate
If you have experienced a night of theater at Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s Amphitheater by the river in Boise, you have probably heard many things. The quiet murmurs of an audience as a poignant or shocking moment is revealed on stage…a goose honking overhead during Juliet’s heart-wrenching monologue…the tortured voice of Anthony from Sweeney Todd as “Johanna” is sung clearly and perfectly. Our audience members are here because they crave an experience and most likely, because they love theater. But what if you couldn’t hear that monologue? That song? What if you, too, love live theater, musicals, and an atmosphere like the Amphitheater… but were deaf?
Signing Shakespeare, one aspect of the Festival’s Access Program, ensures that ISF fans who are Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing can enjoy performances every season. Holly Thomas-Mowery, a nationally-certified, seasoned American Sign Language interpreter, leads a talented team of six who spend weeks before each performance studying the script so that they can successfully and artfully interpret the show. Each of ISF’s five shows will have a dedicated interpreted performance with American Sign Language. Click here for full info on Signing Shakespeare and the Access Program.
On June 11, we will be celebrating all components of the Access Program at the theater with a fascinating discussion panel. Participants will include Thomas-Mowery and Steven Snow (Executive Director of the Idaho Council for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing) who will discuss Signing Shakespeare; Carla Hart, Head of the St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital School, who will discuss the Helena Project, a theater residency taught by Festival artists at the Hospital School (Click here for an amazing video of the Helena Project); and Judie Mickelson, Event Coordinator at Good Samaritan Boise Village Retirement, who will speak to a complimentary ticket program for people with financial needs. In addition, the forum will feature several ISF actors who will discuss what bringing their work to all members of the community means to them. Please join us for this informative and captivating talk that will begin at 6:45 in the Dell, just outside of the amphitheater.
The culture and excitement of summer theater is an experience not to be missed. The ISF Access Program guarantees that no one has to.
Getting to know one of the most familar faces on Boise’s stages
By Deanna Darr
Published in Boise Weekly July 25, 2012
Stitch Marker has one of the most recognizable faces in Boise—but then he should, considering he’s in his 29th season with Idaho Shakespeare Festival.
Marker has played everyone from peasant to villain to king to comic relief and earned a place in the collective consciousness of area theater-goers in the process. He’s been part of the beloved summer festival since the very beginning and watched the valley’s theater scene transform over the decades from the vantage point of the stage.
What drew you to theater?
I was chronically shy … and I just sort of ended up in a drama class almost accidentally … and ended up in a play and I was terrified. I didn’t talk to people much on a one-on-one basis, let alone in front of a whole group of people. But this acting coach I had was just so wonderful. He really coached us about getting into a role, letting the role sort of take you over, and it was so liberating I couldn’t believe it. I think one of the first things I played was sort of a really assertive, aggressive, bullyish sort of a guy, and it felt great. It felt so liberating. I had permission to just let ‘er bust, and I was just hooked from that point on out.
How did you get involved with Idaho Shakespeare Festival?
When I started here at [Boise State] in 1970, there really wasn’t any kind of professional, or, I think, even semi-professional theater going on in Boise at that time. … I was just really fortunate to be in a class with a bunch of people who were really motivated theater people who were frustrated and wanted to get out on their own and do something exciting. So that core group of people started this theater we called Theater in a Trunk in a warehouse on 16th and Bannock. And out of that came the people who essentially started Idaho Shakespeare Festival. … Originally we were talking about doing Hair as a first production, but that was like a $10,000 royalty, blah, blah, and we were like, “Oh, real theater costs money? Well, we can’t do real theater then.” We just decided on Shakespeare because it was dead and free.
What do you remember about your first performance?
What I just loved–what knocked me out–was the original location for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival was at Ray’s Oasis, which is now Angell’s. … At that time, they didn’t have any of the trappings on the patio for the restaurant, so it was just bare space out there. Outside of acting on hard concrete, it was just perfect, just wonderful–lots of really cool entrances and exits and just the environment was really magnificent to do a big play. We’d have to block off the streets in downtown and people would get so pissed off at us. They’d run barricades and yell at us and call us names because, of course, we’re in tights. So we got a lot of verbal abuse that way. But when you weren’t in a scene, a lot of the time you were up on one of the streets … just averting traffic.
How would you say Boise’s theater scene has changed and where is it now?
I think Idaho Shakespeare Festival was a real pivot point for the direction of theater in the Treasure Valley. In the ’70s, it became apparent that “Yeah, there’s an audience here that’s willing to pay and support a professional theater,” and so that was really the biggest door opening. … Touring, that was a really huge thing that I thought the festival was really smart to take on–educational, school-outreach tours. So that was maybe my favorite job I’ve ever had.
Do people still recognize you from that?
It’s shocking, and they’re getting quite old themselves–“Really, you saw me in high school and you’re how old? 50?”
Why do you think the festival is so loved?
Just from the very first year, from the get-go, it was not just doing a play, it was an event. It was where you could go and have a picnic, eat and hang out on the lawn and drink, be as verbose as you wanted to be–be as sloppy drunk as you wanted to be.
What keeps you going back?
It’s the scariest fun anybody could ever have. I think it’s absolutely terrifying almost every time. You kind of get hooked on the fear. It’s such a gratifying feeling.
You may call me silly, childish, foolish or an idealist. You should then know that I will always be the first to admit that I am still very much a little girl inside, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. I am a sentimental sap.
All prologues aside, you will need a little back-story for the proper level of perspective on this tale.
Twelve years ago, just headed into high school, my parents moved here (with the resentful, ungrateful child that I was) from a small college town in central Pennsylvania. Like many teenagers uprooted from their social circle, I was less than pleased. Already not the most social creature for my age, the amount of self-consciousness, teenage angst and general negativity I carried around throughout the next few years did not make me a likely candidate to make many new friends.
The bright light for my new, uncomfortable home, the only time I felt completely lost in a sheer, full, over-whelming happiness and joy was when I got to see shows at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. I had an unusual interest in Shakespeare from a young age and seeing shows at the Festival, in the beautiful outdoor amphitheater, was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It was, (watch out, here comes the silly, childish, hopeless romantic) magical.
It was then, at fourteen that I knew I wanted to perform on that stage at some point in my life. Had you known me then, you may have thought that it would have been nearly impossible. I was shy, awkward and couldn’t speak in front of a group of people to save my life without getting a severe case of the shakes. Shakespeare’s work however, was so mysterious and enticing to me that I awkwardly stumbled onward.
Years later I studied theater at Boise State, graduated and began working for ISF through teaching at The School of Theater (which was where I got my first training as an actor) and performing in Shakespearience, ISF’s educational outreach tour (still the best job I’ve ever had, luckiest girl in the world, cannot say enough good things about the work that gets done with the tour).
It was over a decade after I had had my first magical experience in the outdoor amphitheater on a nature reserve when I was offered a role in the season’s opening production of Romeo and Juliet. For those of you that don’t know, the show that opens the season here has already been running at Great Lakes Theater in Cleveland, Ohio for about a month. Many of the cast members are brought along with the production out west, while others that move onto different projects back east, are replaced with different actors from all over, including some local ones. What that really means from an actor’s perspective is that we have a considerably shortened rehearsal process (two weeks, as opposed to the usual three) and a LOT to learn.
Walking into any rehearsal space for the first time has a general thrill of it’s own but this one has been particularly amazing. The members of the cast that had already been a part of the production not only welcomed us warmly, but were patient, sweet, and helpful when it came to incorporating new members of the cast. Not only have I been working with some truly inspiring, talented and genuinely kind people, but many of them I have admired from an audience vantage point for years.
And so, on opening night–an experience so surreal and enchanting–I was waiting in the wings to make the final entrance into Capulet’s tomb off stage and looked at the nearly full moon, heard the text I’d read fifteen years earlier that convinced me I wanted to be an actor, and I was overcome with an inexplicable joy and satisfaction (okay, yeah, and some tears), knowing that I had made my first traipse across the boards of a stage that I had longed to walk for many years- surrounded by actors that I’ve admired for years that were suddenly co-workers and friends.
Aptly, for the play selection, and although I am now well into my twenties, I feel like a fourteen-year-old girl with the biggest crush on this show and all the amazing talent and beauty with whom I am privileged to share it.
Designers and seamsters prepare for the opening of Romeo and Juliet
Boise Weekly by Deanna Darr
Published May, 30, 2012
Inside a warehouse off Warm Springs Avenue, there’s a distinct feeling of the calm before the storm.
Racks of carefully labeled clothes line the walls and the dull hum of sewing machines punctuates the quiet as sleeves are taken in. Bolts of fabric rest in a corner, while carefully styled wigs wait for their wearers.
Soon, the sense of urgency will increase as final fittings are done and last-minute details are ironed out before opening night for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s first production of the 2012 season, Romeo and Juliet.
“It’s stressful but we know how to handle it,” said Rachel Reisenauer, costume assistant for ISF.
The shop crew has been doing fittings for two weeks, and crunch time has arrived. But when the star-crossed lovers take the stage on opening night Saturday, June 2, the chaos of preparations will transform into the thrill of performance as the cast and crew transport audiences to Italy in the late 1920s.
It’s a transition that costume designer Star Moxley has grown used to after 31 years of working with ISF. Moxley started as a volunteer during the company’s second season, and her work has grown to include memorable productions like ISF’s Japanese-inspired production of Macbeth, which won a World Stage Design award.
But good costume design rarely earns audience accolades–in fact, when done best, it becomes a seamless part of the entire production.
“It’s good design in any production,” Moxley said. “Costumes alone won’t carry a show.”
For Romeo and Juliet, the process started in Cleveland with the Great Lakes Theater, where the company spends its winters. The closing show there is transported west, where it becomes the opening show in Boise. But it’s not quite as easy as just boxing up a bunch of costumes.
The new season brings new actors, and costumes have to be re-fitted or sometimes changed altogether. For this production, the crew of 18 at the ISF costume shop had more than 30 costumes to fit for 13 actors.
On a recent afternoon, stitcher Jeni Montzka worked on the cuff of a suit jacket while draper and assistant shop manager Leah Loar reworked the sleeve of a dress, and wardrobe supervisor Angela Dunn carefully styled several wigs.
Between fittings, the shop staff craft, recraft or seek out each item an actor will wear on stage. They do everything from dying fabrics to creating custom jewelry to putting a rubber coating on the soles of shoes.
For every production, Moxley said the process starts with finding a common idea with the director and then bringing in the set designer–a process that can start up to six months before the production hits the stage.
“It’s always about the text, too, especially with Shakespeare’s work,” Moxley said. “I like grounding it, rooting it in some kind of historical timeline, but not necessarily staying true to that so that it can become somewhat abstract. I need to know where theses characters live, what kind of life, what kind of world I’m creating.”
Moxley works on rough sketches, which she brings back to the director before she creates final line drawings, at which point the color palette is finalized.
“Color is everything to me–everything, as far as my design work,” she said.
Her use of color has been one of her trademarks, like the punch of red in the otherwise black-and-white world of Macbeth, or in the upcoming Romeo and Juliet, where a monochromatic world of gray is punctuated by Juliet’s violet.
Once designs are set, then comes the balancing act of deciding which pieces can be constructed, which can be reused from the company’s stockpile, and which need to be bought or rented.
A large portion of the costume shop is packed with items from past productions, each carefully labeled. Body padding and petticoats hang above racks of period gowns, which are just down from religious clothing and armor. A dizzying array of shoes rests in one corner.
“Shoes are our bane,” sighed Reisenauer as she looked at the pile.
For the pieces that will be built, Moxley heads to Los Angeles to find fabrics, spending days pouring over thousands of options.
Then comes the shopping. While Moxley said she buys pieces locally when she can, her dependence on online shopping has grown exponentially in recent years.
“You’ll be in a dark theater and a pair of shoes doesn’t work and you’ll literally get on a laptop and order a pair of shoes almost in the middle of the night so you can get them the next day,” she said.
Then, of course, there’s the challenge of moving a production from an inside theater to an outdoor amphitheater.
“Some colors don’t work when you get them on the stage,” Moxley said. “It plays different outdoors vs. indoors. … It’s like designing two different pieces.”
If one of those moments happens, it might be a matter of last-minute re-dying or even rebuying something.
But once the actors take the stage, the designer’s work is done and he or she moves on to the next project. For Moxley, it will be revamping last season’s production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona for the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival.
The shop crew is already working on costumes for the next two productions, The Mousetrap and The Imaginary Invalid, but regardless of the production, Moxley’s favorite part comes at the end.
“I love curtain calls–when they’re all standing out there and the magic of it, to a warm welcome after all their hard work,” she said.
By DANA OLAND — email@example.com
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.
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.