Island Shakespeare Festival opens Friday
— Created July 13, 2022 by Kathy Reed
By Kathy Reed
After a two-season, pandemic-induced break, the Island Shakespeare Festival is back with a full season of rotating repertory productions. The festival opens with two weekend performances of William Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labors Lost” at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday. A new adaptation of the Edmond Rostand classic, “Cyrano de Bergerac,” opens July 21 and Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus” opens July 28. All matinee and evening productions take place at the ISF outdoor theater, located at 5476 Maxwelton Road in Langley. All performances are pay-what-you-will, but seats can be reserved in advance at a cost of $20 each. A full schedule and complete reservation information is available online at islandshakespearefest.org.
“Titus Andronicus” and “Love’s Labors Lost” were written early in Shakespeare’s career, but according to ISF Executive Artistic Director, Olena Hodges, all the productions for this 12th season have something in common.
“All three plays this season deal with oration and language and rhetoric,” she said. “’Titus Andronicus’ was the first one selected, back in October of 2018. The themes in that one are very strong and we knew we needed a lot of lightness to balance it out. Historically, in a three-show season, we do two Shakespeare and one non-Shakespeare, and of those two Shakespeare, one is a comedy. ‘Love’s Labors Lost’ felt like the antidote to ‘Titus’ in many ways. Both plays provide early sketches of some of Shakespeare’s most iconic characters, and so their early-career-ness really does pair well together.”
In case anyone isn’t sure what rotating repertory theater is, for the Island Shakespeare Festival, it means performances of three plays will be rotated for the entire summer season, providing ample opportunities to see all three plays.
“Once we open all three (staggered over three weekends), then each show performs twice per weekend, so audience members could attend three different shows in the same weekend,” Hodges explained. “That’s great for audiences because you can see all three on a short visit.
The festival draws actors locally and from across the country. Rotating repertory can be a challenge for the actors, because they can have roles in multiple productions.
“Most of the actors are in at least two, if not all three [productions], so the audience gets to see different facets of their skills,” said Hodges. “For example, our Titus is also playing the flamboyant baker, Ragueneau, in ‘Cyrano.’ The actor playing leading lover King Ferdinand in ‘Love’s Labors Lost’ is also the villain, Aaron, in ‘Titus Andronicus.’
“For actors, it’s an incredible and rewarding challenge,” she continued. “Working in three different directors’ styles, with three very different texts, outdoors in all the elements (we thought ‘Junuary’ would never end!), it’s just a feat. For the directors and production teams, it means a unique sort of collaboration. Theater is always collaborative, but when there are three plays happening at the same time, the threads of collaboration, the give and take, are much more intricate.”
For anyone who has had the opportunity to see a play performed during Island Shakespeare Festival, it comes as no surprise to find unique, creative interpretations of these classic plays. This year is no exception. Each play brings the story to life in new and exciting ways.
For fans of William Shakespeare and other classics, it is also no surprise to find the themes written about centuries ago are still very relevant. Take “Titus Andronicus,” for example. Directed by Scott Kaiser, this play was originally selected for the 2020 season.
“This play is a cautionary tale about an oppressor reaping what he’s sown, which had and has a strong contemporary resonance,” Hodges described. “Our cultural context has shifted and the themes in this play strike a little harder even than they did a few years ago. It’s such a gruesome story; historically it was considered by some to be a spoof, because it’s so hard to imagine humans as cruel as the characters in ‘Titus,’ but our production asks us to consider that indeed humans are capable of atrocities, and we see them often today.
“As we approached this season, we did consider that this play may be too painful for our current moment, but our company of collaborators agreed unanimously that it’s our responsibility as artists to bring these questions of humanity forward–to, as Hamlet says, ‘hold the mirror up to nature,’ so that we may ask ourselves and our audiences, ‘How can we do better?’” Hodges continued.
Adapted and directed by Erin Murray, “Cyrano de Bergerac” was selected in part because of its name recognition, as this season’s two Shakespeare plays are not produced as often as some of his other works. According to Hodges, it may be a new interpretation of the classic play, but it still delivers.
“Our adaptation seeks to ‘de-phallicize’ the male gaze of Cyrano, making room for a broader audience to identify with Cyrano and their world,” she said. “This adaptation has been percolating now for over three years and it’s really going to be magnificent. We still get all the sword fights and spectacular costumes you expect from the title, but we also get a playful and poignant new play taking the stage for the first time.”
For those interested in something lighter, “Love’s Labors Lost” might fit the bill.
“’Love’s Labors Lost’ is a play about action and inaction,” said Hodges. “It’s a hilarious rom-com, where the boys just cannot figure out what a woman wants. Finally, the girls make it clear that actions speak louder than words. There’s lots of music and lots of laughs and still a little poignant message that reminds us what it really means to love and be loved. I’ve become a huge fan of this play over the last few months. Director Jecamiah Ybañez articulated their task before rehearsals started as needing to ‘be the fun one.’ With a rep company working on ‘Titus’ and a new adaptation of ‘Cyrano,’ the intention was set for ‘Love’s’ to be pure joy. And it surely delivers.”
The Island Shakespeare Festival, as mentioned, is a pay-what-you-will outdoor theater experience. Reservations may be made in advance, but there is always room for walk-in seating. To learn more about this season’s plays, cast, crew and more, visit islandshakespearefest.org.
“There’s something really special about outdoor theater, especially Shakespeare and the classics,” Hodges said. “It’s centering. It feels so deeply rooted in our shared human history. At our location the sun sets behind the trees, so you’ll often get these stunning pink clouds above the stage and there just aren’t words to describe it. We do always recommend bringing layers; once the sun sets, even on warm days, it can get breezy and chilly.”