Shakespeare for All, the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival's new community-based theater project, finished its first season on May 11 and is already gearing up for year two.
SF Shakes teamed up with libraries in Salida, Madera, Chowchilla, and Modesto to recruit residents to come out and perform A Midsummer Night's Dream for their friends and family. The company sought out participants by staging Pop-Up Shakespeare scenes in local hot spots, hosting fun Shakespeare workshops, and inviting people to attend a performance of Shakespeare on Tour's version of Midsummer. Once a cast was gathered, Steve Muterspaugh (Shakespeare for All director) dove into rehearsals with a team of professional actors working alongside residents of the community, many of whom had never performed before.
The variety of ideas and discoveries that came out of each community made their productions of Shakespeare's classic comedy unique to their town's history. For example, in Madera, which had a bustling logging industry in the 1920s, participants decided to tell the story of Midsummer in the style of the roaring '20s. In Chowchilla, known for its world-class rodeo events, the cast decided to do Midsummer in a Western-themed production, complete with 10-gallon hats and rodeo clowns. In each community, people of diverse backgrounds and age ranges came together to explore the text and create a fun, unique play.
Each final performance at the local library was packed to capacity. Even after their performances, these groups of artists found ways to keep getting involved with the Bard. The company hosted a movie night so that participants could reunite and watch the video recording of their performance. Salida community actor Geary Oreglia went up to San Francisco to perform at SF Shakes' Celebratory Dinner event in a play written and directed by SF Shakes Artistic Director Rebecca J. Ennals. And one especially eager actor will be coming to San Francisco this summer to train with the Bay Area Shakespeare Camp which teaches teaching artists, so that she can apply these skills to her career as a grade school educator.
SF Shakes was awarded an "Exploring Engagement" grant from The James Irvine Foundation to share Shakespeare's plays with communities in the Central Valley. Based on the success of its Shakespeare on Tour's performances at the Valley libraries, SF Shakes company will return to those communities in a second season of Shakespeare for All, next doing Julius Caesar under the guidance of Steve Muterspaugh.
May 20, 2013