Does life imitate art or is it the other way around?
As Charlie Fee, Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s producing artistic director, began pulling together his company’s 42nd season, women became even more of a force nationally, speaking out about sexual harassment and causing a changing dynamic in Hollywood, politics, corporations and beyond.
The two paradigms converged and Fee ended up with five plays for the 2018 season, each with a dynamic female at the center of its story: “Misery,” “Macbeth,” “Mamma Mia,” “Pride and Prejudice” and “Beehive.”
As things fell into place, “I was like, my God, this is a season of incredible women,” Fee says. “They’re all really, really powerful women — all of them. I find that really delightful and it feels right. I’m glad we’re not doing a season of women victims. These are powerhouse women who are dominating the stage and their lives and the world around them.”
As things unfolded, one show influenced another. It started with “Mamma Mia,” well-known as the ABBA musical, with four strong female characters.
“We had been waiting on the rights for a few years,” Fee says. “I just thought it would be total blast, especially in an outdoor space.”
Set at the center of the season, it must play in repertory with the next production, which traditionally has been a Shakespearean piece. Last season it was “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and many of the Shakespearean plays with prominent female casts have already been performed in recent years.
Fee had been talking with Joe Hanreddy, who directed last season’s “Midsummer,” about his adaptations of Jane Austen novels. They landed on “Pride and Prejudice,” and the two productions clicked.
“They’re both about experiences of women in love, in relationships but from wildly different places, and ‘Pride and Prejudice’ has a completely different feeling than anything else we’re producing,” Fee says. “Audiences love them and are dying to see them, really.”
Adapted in 2009, Hanreddy’s “Pride and Prejudice” has been produced at regional theaters across the country, including the Oregon and Utah Shakespeare festivals.
“At the beginning of the season, I knew I was going to do ‘Macbeth’ because of where we are in the flow of the plays,” Fee said. “And last year when I walked into the theater and saw the ‘Hamlet’ set on stage, I thought it would be a perfect space for — many plays — but certainly, ‘Macbeth.’”
He was casting about for a murder mystery when he found “Misery,” William Goldman’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel.
“It has these two phenomenal roles, including this amazing character of Annie Wilkes,” he says – a part made famous by Kathy Bates in the movie version. “So we land ‘Misery’ and ‘Macbeth’ — and it’s also the ‘M’ season — and ‘Mamma Mia,’ and at the same time we were working on ‘Beehive,’ which will be fun and is the right size for the September show.”
“Macbeth” will enjoy a short run in Boise before heading to the Tahoe festival, where it will run in repertory with “Beehive.”
Fee programs the seasons for ISF, Cleveland’s Great Lakes Theater and the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, and is always working about two years out planning for what the shows might be and how they will travel between the three cities. The current formula has two plays being created in Cleveland, two in Boise and then they swap. A fifth show gets created in Boise and plays Tahoe in repertory with an ISF Shakespeare production.
“Misery,” May 25 through June 23
William Goldman’s adaption of Stephen King’s best-selling novel will lead off the season. In it, a successful romance novelist finds himself at the mercy of his No. 1 fan, who rescues him from a car accident and brings him back to her secluded home. When she finds out he kills off her favorite character in his upcoming book, the author must try to outwit his sociopathic caregiver. Kathleen Prikl Tague will star in “Misery” next year.
“Macbeth,” June 1 through June 23
Fee sets William Shakespeare’s epic tragedy on the Globe stage set that he christened with last season’s “Hamlet.” The production in this intimate Elizabethan setting became one of the hottest tickets of the season. Now, it’s a play that blends magic, madness, politics and the best and worse human qualities into a tale of corruption, murder and heroism. In it the once gallant Macbeth and his wife succumb to their greed and ambition to try and take the crown at any cost.
“Mamma Mia!” June 29 through Aug. 31
Victoria Bussert directs this feel-good musical based on the hits of 1970s supergroup ABBA. It’s set in the Greek Islands at a wedding of the daughter of the former lead singer in a successful rock trio. The daughter wants to find out who her father is — and it turns out her mom never knew. So she adds her mother’s three ex-boyfriends to the guest list, with funny and tender consequences.
“Pride and Prejudice,” Aug. 3 through Sept. 2
Joseph Hanreddy directs his own adaptation of one of Jane Austen’s most beloved novels. Sparks fly when spirited Elizabeth Bennet meets single, rich and proud Mr. Darcy. But there are impediments — his snobbish sister, her pushy mother, class and the social mores of the day and their own pride and perceptions of one another. Mr. Darcy reluctantly finds himself falling in love with a woman beneath his class.
“Beehive: The ’60s Musical,” Sept. 7-30
Bussert also directs the exuberant, toe-tapping, jukebox musical celebration of the women singers, musicians and the “girl groups” who helped to define a musical era. It features 40 classic chart-toppers, including “Downtown,” “To Sir With Love,” “It’s My Party,” “Where the Boys Are,” “Respect” and more, all performed with Aqua Net-glistening coiffures.