Tag Archives: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The course of true love

Cast of the 2012 Utah Shakespeare Festival tour of "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

“The course of true love never did run smooth.” Or so Lysander tells Hermia in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” — the play chosen by the Utah Shakespeare Festival for its 2012 tour, which hits several Arizona venues in coming days.

Utah Shakespeare Festival 2012 touring production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

The 2012 touring production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is just 45 minutes long, and followed by a 15 minute post-show discussion with the actors. Schools can opt to add workshops in stage combat, performing Shakespeare’s text and character development through improvisation for an additional charge.

Four schools are part of the Arizona leg of this year’s tour – El Capitan School in Colorado City (Feb.21), Valley Vista High School in Surprise (Feb. 27), Mingus Union High School in Cottonwood (Feb. 29) and Winslow High School (March 1).

The touring company also performs twice this week for Valley students — at Higley Center for the Performing Arts (Feb. 23) and Chandler Center for the Arts (Feb.  24).

Utah Shakespeare Festival 2012 touring production of "A Midummer Night's Dream"

The Utah Shakespeare Festival touring production also makes its way to Nevada, Utah and Idaho this year. It’s a different production than the one performed during their 50th anniversary season in Cedar City, Utah — but features complete costumes, sets and theatrical lighting.

Utah Shakespeare Festival 2012 touring production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

Also the most important element of any Shakespeare work — the words. Somehow they managed, during last year’s tour, to perform a truly compelling 45-minute version of “Macbeth.” So never fear that they’ll pull off a marvelous mini-”Midsummer.”

– Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2012 season, which features eight works including “Hamlet,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and “Les Miserables.” Click here to read their comprehensive study guide for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Coming up: Broadway rocks!

Photos courtesy of the Utah Shakespeare Festival

Fresh take on “Midsummer”

SCC presents A Midsummer Night's Dream Oct 20-22 and Oct 28-29

Most productions of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” open with a lush forest scene, but Randy Messersmith has something very different in mind for the “Midsummer” he’s directing this season for Scottsdale Community College, where he heads the theatre arts program.

Messersmith was inspired to mount the work after seeing television footage of the devastating earthquakes that struck Japan earlier this year. For Messersmith, “Midsummer” is a tale of human nature gone awry — and its devastating consequences for nature.

Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” weaves together events in the fairy world and events in the mortal world. Titania and Oberon, queen and king of the fairies, bicker over the fate of a young “changeling” boy.

Early in the play, Titania (queen of the fairies) gives what Messersmith calls “the weather report” — describing the fog, famine and other disasters that have befallen mere mortals because of their dissention. “The world is all out of whack,” says Messersmith. “It’s life out of balance.”

“I looked at the tales of the Arabian Nights,” recalls Messersmith, “and found this a compelling way to tell the Midsummer story.” These tales, explains Messersmith, are set in Baghdad, Syria and China – the Persian area. He decided to present “Midsummer” through that lens.

Oberon sends the playful Puck to work all sorts of mischief in others’ love lives. In Shakespeare’s play, Puck uses a flower to work his magic. But in Messersmith’s production, Puck’s tool is a jewel. It’s all part of the “Arabian Nights” vibe for Messersmith’s vision.

Messersmith shares that his production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” opens with a young boy dressed in contemporary garb. A light shines down on a book the boy is reading — a collection of “Arabian Nights” tales. Soon “he steps inside the Midsummer story” — which is “told through the boy’s lens.”

The pastoral scene that typically opens this, one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, is gone. In its place, Messersmith presents a “burned out desert.” Until, that is, Oberon and Titania reconcile later in the play. It’s a work, says Messersmith, that still has relevance today.

But never fear that this production of “Midsummer” may be too dark. “It’s still a comedy,” says Messersmith. “It’s still got lots of romance.” Messersmith notes that the costumes and sets are “very romantic” but that the show has a real “edge to it.”

Messersmith is a man who knows his way around Shakespeare, having co-founded the Valley’s own Southwest Shakespeare Company, which opened it’s 18th season this month with a production of “Titus Andronicus” directed by David Barker. Messersmith played the title role.

I noticed during “Titus Andronicus” that Messersmith — who lives in Gilbert with wife Denise, daughter Alex and twin cats Daisy and Violet – has a small tattoo just below the back of his neck. He shared when I asked that it had nothing to do with the show, but told me he’d gotten it to mark earning his black belt in karate in 2003.

Having seen Messersmith’s gift for acting, teaching and directing, I’m inclined to think there’s more of a tattoo/talent connection than Messersmith himself might realize. The tattoo, he told me, is Kanji for “trust yourself.”

– Lynn

Note: Click here to read more about “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Scottsdale Community College.

Coming up: Valley playwright tackles Munchausen syndrome, Shakespeare meets Sondheim

Review: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

A scene from the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of A Midsummer Night/s Dream (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

Shakespeare had something entirely different in mind when coining the title “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” For me, the words conjure memories of midsummer nights spent with my daughter Lizabeth at the Utah Shakespeare Festival – where everything feels a bit ethereal and dreamlike.

Recently we saw a Utah Shakespeare Festival performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” directed by festival founder Fred C. Adams. “Midsummer” is being performed through Sept 3 in the open-air Tudor-style Adams Shakespearean Theatre, which is named for festival benefactor Grace Adams Tanner and her parents.

At the Adams Shakespearean Theatre, majestic meets moonlight. Evening performances start just before dusk so stars light the night sky overhead as second acts unfold. The setting is especially magical for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

A giant set piece with three layers of lush green leaves provide a backdrop for much of the play, but also serves as a hiding place for fairies and other mischief-makers. It’s lit at times with long streams of blue, green or yellow lights — sometimes all three.

Those who’ve strolled through the real thing know that forests can be lovely and lush, and the Utah Shakespeare Festival set design for “Midsummer” conveys such a feel — as do elaborate fabric florals in shades that mirror the finest gelato flavors.

Many of the performances were quite delightful — especially those of Elijah Alexander (Theseus, a duke and Oberon, a fairy king), Kymberly Mellen (Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons and Titania, a fairy queen) and Ben Charles (Puck, or Robin Goodfellow).

The four fickle lovers whose affections wane or worsen as fairies interfere with mortal couplings are hilarious. They’re played by Matt Mueller (Lysander), AJ Smithey (Demetrius), Betsy Mugavero (Hermia) and Bri Sudia (Helena). Those who’ve experienced unrequited love or unabashed obsession will surely see a bit of themselves in Shakespeare’s work.

I was most charmed by the youngest cast members– who perfectly embody the playfulness of “Midsummer.” Nicholas Denhalter and Britton Jeffery Gardner (Oberon’s Imps) and Brookie Mellen (Changling Child) gave polished performances, as did Kailey Gilbert (Peasblossom), Georgianna Arnell (Cobweb), Ellie Mellen (Moth) and Eliza Allen (Mustardseed).

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is among the best-loved of Shakespeare’s comedies, yet it has never been one of our favorites. Complex and multi-layered, productions of the play can go wrong in so many ways. Seeing this performance increased our appreciation for everything that can go right.

– Lynn

Note: Scottsdale Community College performs “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (directed by Randy Messersmith) Oct 20, 21, 22, 28 and 29. Auditions (by appointment only) will be held Aug 30 & 31.

Coming up: Review of “Noises Off!” at the Utah Shakespeare Festival

Update: Click here for details about a television broadcast of the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on Aug 29.

It’s Tudor time!

The six wives of Henry VIII from a boxed set of The Tudors series

I stumbled on a marathon of “The Tudors” on Showtime a few months ago while doing some spring cleaning. I find the “real housewives” of Tudor times in England infinitely more fascinating than those eating up screen time, and the real lives of cast members, of late.

Yesterday my husband James happened upon news of an event titled “An Afternoon with the Tudors” taking place at the ASU Memorial Union (Pima Room #230) Sat, Aug 20. It’s being presented by ASU’s chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism and the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

The free event features armored combat and arts demonstrations from 11:30am to 1:30pm and 3:30pm to 5:30pm. ASU professor Rethe Warnicke, Ph.D., an expert in England during the time of the Tudors, will give a 2pm lecture. Warnicke was called upon by Showtime to “give historical depth to the fictionalized series.”

While waiting for Lizabeth to finish an activity Friday morning, I visited a few websites to up my Tudor I.Q. — using my cell phone to scroll through a long timeline of British history from the BBC. In some ways, Tudor times weren’t so different from our own.

Rulers wrestled with growing numbers of poor citizens, enacting laws more or less favorable towards those whose means were dwindling due to diverse factors –a burgeoning population, harsh growing conditions, inflation and more.

Issues of church and state arose as religious and secular rulers jostled for power, and Henry VIII achieved recognition as the supreme head of the church — abandoning Rome altogether to form a separate ecclesiastical entity, which didn’t entirely settle the matter.

“An Afternoon with the Tudors” at ASU has heightened my interest in such things, and I plan to learn more by reading Warnicke’s books on Tudor women. I’m told her most recent project is “Wicked Women of Tudor England.” Move over, Jersey Shore.

Now, when I get a hankering for Middle Ages and Renaissance fare, I’ll know just where to find it — with the ASU chapter of SCA, which has dubbed itself “The College of Brymstonne.” Seems they often attend period-theme events featuring tournaments, royal courts, feasts, dancing, hands-on workshops and such.

The Society for Creative Anachronism is an international organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th century Europe. I’m told that members, who number more than 30,000 worldwide, enjoy creating and dressing in clothing of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Don’t we all?

– Lynn

Note: Photo above from www.theanneboleynfiles.com. Photos from Saturday demonstrations by local members of the Society for Creative Anachronism have been added below.

Coming up: Review: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

SCA member sewing grommets onto a corset…

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
SCA members demonstrating wood carving…
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Prized period medallion and chain…
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
SCA member embroidering her coat of arms…
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
SCA members demonstrating rapier work…
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Teddy bear modeling a period mask…
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Lessons in bum rolls and other underpinnings…
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Beyond the Bard

The Utah Shakespeare Festival includes both works by Shakespeare and works by other playwrights in each season’s selections. While in Cedar City for the festival’s summer 2011 season we saw matinee performances of three non-Shakespeare works at the Randall L. Jones Theatre, built in 1989.

The Randall L. Jones Theatre (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

The first was “The Glass Menagerie” by playwright Tennessee Williams, the tale of a mother and two grown children still living at home. It’s set in 1937 St. Louis, which might feel world’s apart were it not for the opening monologue delivered by Ben Jacoby, who performs the role of Tom Wingfield. He makes clear the parallels between then and now, including tough economic times.

Ben Jacoby as Tom Wingfield in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of The Glass Menagerie (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakepeare Festival.)

The second was “Noises Off!” by playwright Michael Frayn, who breaks the tale of actors performing in a British adult farce into three acts — showing a different perspective of how the farce “Nothing On” unfolds in each act. We see the actors, each with a host of personal and professional shortcomings, stumble through a final rehearsal and two jumbled performances (witnessing one as it unfolds backstage).

Melinda Parrett (left) as Belinda Blair, Betsy Mugavero as Poppy Norton-Taylor, Ben Livingston as Lloyd Dallas, Ally Carey as Brooke Ashton, and Jeanne Paulsen as Dotty Otley in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of Noises Off!. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011.)

The third was “The Music Man,” based on a story by Meredith Wilson and Franklin Lacey. The musical features book, music and lyrics by Meredith Wilson. It recounts the tale of a traveling con man who makes a living selling musical instruments to parents who fear their children might otherwise discover darker pursuits like playing pool.

A scene from the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of The Music Man (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

In each case, the comedy was simply exquisite. It helps to start with great material, I suppose. Quinn Mattfeld, who performs the role of Garry Lejeune in “Noises Off!,” delivered one of the best comedic performances I’ve ever seen. I ran into Mattfeld before Friday evening’s performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (another comedy honed to perfection by festival actors and artistic staff) and asked about how such a fabulous bit of funny comes to be.

Quinn Mattfeld (L) as Garry Lejeune and Ally Carey as Brooke Ashton in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of Noises Off! (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

Mattfeld gives playwrights at least half the credit, noting that directors and actors make up the balance of the mix. True magic happens on stage when the best writing meets the best direction and acting. Other artistic elements contribute too — choreography, costumes, props, lighting, sound and such.

Laura Griffith (L) as Marian Paroo and Brian Vaughn as Harold Hill in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of The Music Man (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

Each of the six productions we saw at this year’s Utah Shakespeare Festival appeared both flawless and effortless. Attention to detail is evident at every level, as is thinking beyond the boundaries of what you might imagine for any given scene or production. It’s these qualities that make each work fresh, even for those of us who have seen them performed time and time again.

– Lynn

Coming up: More Shakespeare on Valley stages, Who let the “CATS” out?, National Youth Arts Awards, Bugged out!

Art in motion

Stephen Petronio Dance Company performs Nov 18 at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts

When I learned that Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts is offering all sorts of four-performance packages, including an “Art in Motion” dance option, I decided to go in search of Valley dance offerings for the 2011/12 season.

First I uncovered a couple of summer offerings – including “From Africa: Bate Nico Dancers” at Chandler Center for the Arts (July 29) and “Arizona’s Got Dance! National Dance Showcase” at Tempe Center for the Arts (July 31).

Tucson high school students will perform in the vaudevillian song-and-dance musical “Chicago” July 28 & 30 at the Temple of Art and Music in Tucson. It’s part of the Arizona Theatre Company’s “Summer On Stage” program (which also includes “A Midsummer Night’s Dream).

Come Labor Day, you can enjoy 2009 World Hoop Dancing Champion Brian Hammill (Ho Chuck) at the Heard Museum in Phoenix. Ballet Forklorico Quetzalli-AZ performs during the “12th Annual Chandler C3HR Mariachi Festival” Sept. 24 at Chandler Center for the Performing Arts.

“Ballet Under the Stars” heads to various Valley venues, including Tempe Center for the Arts – where dancers from Ballet Arizona will perform a blend of classical and contemporary works Sept 23 in a casual amphitheater setting (bring your blankets and lawn chairs).

Desert Dance Theatre presents the “Arizona Dance Festival” Oct 11 at Tempe Center for the Arts. Stay tuned to calendars for this and other venues, which often host recitals featuring students from local dance academies.

Trisha Brown Dance Company performs at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts near Valentine's Day 2012

Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix presents their free Festival of the Arts Oct 1. Featured dance performers include Arizona Youth Ballet, Scorpius Dance Theatre, Dance Shoppe-Performance Company, EPIK Dance Company, Grand Canyon University Dance Ensemble, Kamalah Tribal Dance Company and Center Dance Ensemble.

Center Dance Ensemble is the resident modern dance company at Herberger Theater Center. Their vibrant 2011/12 season features “There is a Time for Dance” (Oct), “Frances Smith Cohen’s Snow Queen” (Dec), “Dance AZ/100″ (March) and “American Voices” (April). They’re also hosting a “Spirit of the Season” event in December.

Mesa Arts Center presents a diverse slate of dance works this season — including Chinese acrobatic dance, Native American song & dance, “Blast!” from Broadway, urban Latin dance theater, tango with Cheryl Burke and Irish cabaret. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, a “must see” for the serious dance afficianado, performs at MAC in March.

While they’re in town, the Contra-Tiempo Urban Latin Dance Theater will conduct a two-week residency, teaching the basics of Salsa dancing to Valley students and selecting 20 elementary-age students to perform at their evening show on Feb 11. Alvin Ailey dancers will offer master classes as well as one-day workshops during a March 12-16 “Spring Break Dance Intensive,” then return to perform at MAC March 24 & 25.

Many of our local dance companies offer rich education and outreach programs as well — so be sure and contact folks like Center Dance Ensemble and Ballet Arizona to learn about their many offerings for Valley students and youth.

Batsheva Dance Company performs at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts next year

Batsheva Dance Company performs at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts next March

My youngest daughter Lizabeth, who starts college this fall, studied with both Dance Theater West (the academy of Center Dance Ensemble and Storybook Ballet Theater) and Ballet Arizona for a total of more than ten years.

Though she’s not pursuing dance as a career, I know all those years of studying, performing and watching creative movement honed her body, mind and spirit.

– Lynn

Note: Photos courtesy of Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts (please note that the Stephen Petronia “Underland” performance “includes adult content”).

Coming up: Local dance studio owner on Lifetime’s controversial “Dance Moms” series

Happy campers, merry wives

From the Kids Love Shakespeare! website: Ursula, Hero and Margaret of Much Ado About Nothing

Before campers from Childsplay’s “Twelfth Night” summer class began last Friday’s performance for family and friends, teachers Katie McFadzen and Debra K. Stevens had them share a bit about the what they’d learned during the week together.

“I learned not to laugh at my sister,” shared a girl whose twin sister took the same class. The audience laughed, and one of the teachers asked how she did it. The girl explained that she simply acted as if the action taking place during their scene was really happening to them.

A boy noted that theater games played early in the week helped to lessen the “tongue-twister” effect of using Shakespearean language, and another camper talked about the poetic nature of Shakespeare’s plays — saying it was easier to recall her lines when she remembered that most of them rhymed.

Another boy explained what he’d learned about character development — explaining that changing how he walked and talked during his scenes helped him to be the character instead of merely act like his character.

A young girl talked about learning about the characters’ names. There’s “Viola,” the name of a musical instrument. And “Orsinio,” who delivers the now-famous “If music be the food of love, play on” line. His name, explained the camper, means “bear.”

From the Kids Love Shakespeare! website: Script for student production of Twelfth Night

One of the campers was excited about being able to enter middle school and high school with more knowledge of Shakespeare than other students. And all of the students did an amazing job of telling the “Twelfth Night” story with outrageous humor that really brought the play to life.

It made me want to see more performances of Shakespeare’s works, so I was delighted to come home to an e-mail announcing that NCM Fathom, Globe Theatre and Arts Alliance Media are presenting a four-part series of classical Shakespeare works (captured during 2010) in movie theaters this summer and fall. 

Event organizers note that “each performance will include a historical perspective on the Globe, the reconstruction process, the work of the Globe today, and a behind-the-scenes look at each production with interviews from the actors and creative team involved.”

Shakespeare’s Globe London Cinema Series” starts Mon, June 27, with “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” Come August and September, movie-goers can enjoy “Henry IV Part 1,” “Henry IV Part 2,” and “Henry VIII.”

Those of you eager to enjoy a bit of Shakespeare in cooler parts this summer have a couple of options. A family at the Childsplay “Twelfth Night” performance told me about the Shakespeare Santa Cruz festival, where you can blend your Shakespeare with a bit of time at the beach.

From the Kids Love Shakespeare! website: Lysander and Hermia of A Midsummer Night's Dream

I’m heading with Lizabeth later this summer to the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City, Utah — where we enjoy the cool pines and small town ambiance. We’ll be attending six shows in three days, and taking in our favorite local sights, like the the Groovacious record shop, which always reminds me of our own Hoodlums Music & Movies here in Tempe.

I’m eager to enjoy a related art exhibit while we’re there. The Braithwaite Fine Arts Gallery on the campus of Southern Utah University currently houses both the “Southern Utah Art Invitational Summer Exhibit and Sale” and “The Costume Designers’ Art: 50 Years at the Utah Shakespeare Festival.” Admission is free and summer gallery hours are Mon-Sat 10am-8pm.

I’ve long dreamed of a similar exhibit of Childsplay costumes. But for now, I’m plenty content to just see the smiles on happy campers’ faces as they work their Shakespeare magic donning shorts and T-shirts with homemade costume touches like veils and liturgical garb.

– Lynn

Note: Images in this post are from “Kids Love Shakespeare!” — a website offering scripts for student productions, ideas for Shakespeare-inspired art activities and more. Click here to learn more.

Coming up: NYC in Scottsdale?, Nifty photo opps

What’s new: Shakespeare

Christine Williams (left) as Hermia, Michael Brusasco as Lysander, Ashley Smith as Demetrius and Tiffany Scott as Helena in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2005 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream (Photo by Karl Hugh)

There’s a lovely assortment of Shakespeare coming to the Valley during the 2011-2012 season — thanks to the Southwest Shakespeare Company in Mesa.

Shakespeare works they’ll be performing include “Titus Andronicus” (Sept. 8-24), “Romeo & Juliet” (Jan. 5-21) and “Much Ado About Nothing” (April 19-May 5).

True “Titus” fans, including my daughter Lizabeth (who tells me “Titus” makes Showtime’s “Dexter” look tame), can also experience the work as part of the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2012 season.

Other works being performed by the Southwest Shakespeare Company for 2011-2012 include “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens (Nov 26-Dec 17) and “Art” by Yasmina Reza (Mar 1-17).

Those needing a faster Shakespeare fix can enjoy “Shakespeare at the Biltmore” June 2-11 at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix – featuring the SSC performing Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

Or head to the Utah Shakespeare Festival for the following works being performed June 23-Sept 3: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Richard III,” and “Romeo and Juliet.”

Utah Shakespeare Festival also presents Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man” and Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” June 23-Sept 3. They’ll perform Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off!” June 23-Oct 29.

Those who head to the Utah Shakespeare Festival this fall can enjoy Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” (Sept 22-Oct 29) and Frederick Knott’s “Dial M for Murder” (Sept 23-Oct 29).

Stay tuned to the Southwest Shakespeare Festival website to learn when single show tickets for their 2011-2012 season will be available. Season tickets are available now.

Tickets for the 2011 Utah Shakespeare Festival are already on sale, but folks who aren’t yet Festival members will have to wait until June 23 to get tickets for 2012 productions.

Ashley Smith (left) as Laertes and Emily Trask as Ophelia in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2006 production of Hamlet (Photo: Karl Hugh)

In addition to “Titus Andronicus,” the 2012 Utah Shakespeare Festival line-up includes Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and “Hamlet.”

Also Friedrich Schiller’s “Mary Stuart,” a stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a modern adaptation of Moiliere’s “Scapin,” Marie Jones’ “Stones in His Pocket,” a Tony-Award winning musical titled “The Drowsy Chaperone” and a holiday show they’ve yet to announce.

Folks who assume Shakespearean companies proffer only “doom and gloom” or “satire and silliness” are quite mistaken — as demonstrated by the diversity of offerings noted above.

If you’ve never given Shakespeare, or the fine folks who perform his works, a fair shake — maybe this is the season you should give it a shot. There’s a good chance, I think, that you’ll like them a lot.

– Lynn

Note: Paradise Valley Community College performs “Twelfth Night” directed by Eric Schoen June 17-26. Click here for details.

Coming up: “Macbeth” meets movie theater — plus, Valley high school students review “Macbeth”

Shakespeare: Made in Japan?

The Utah Shakespeare Festival recently performed a touring production of "Macbeth" for Valley students at Higley Center for the Performing Arts

I learned while attending a Shakespeare-in-the-Schools Tour of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” by the Utah Shakespeare Festival that the stilts used by the three witched in this particular production are actually “Air-Trekkers” that originated in Japan.

During a talk back after the show, cast members explained to the 1,200 students in attendance that the use of various props — from ladders to red-colored gloves — reflected the director Christopher Clark’s choice to present the piece “caravan-style” — much like it would have been performed during Shakespeare’s time.

Because there was no fake theatrical blood back then, and the use of real blood in settings like the Higley Center for the Performing Arts is frowned on, various stab wounds “gush forth” with long strips of ragged red cloth.

Low budget. High imagination. The cast noted during the talkback that this is all anyone really needs to perform the works of Shakespeare. There was no Broadway for the Bard, and his work may well be better for it.

Lizabeth and I saw the Utah Shakespeare Festival performance of “Macbeth” last summer — which had an extra layer of drama as rains drenched the outdoor theater just as curtain time approached. We ended up seeing the first act inside, and enjoyed the dark mood set by lingering clouds and rolling thunder once the audience moved back outside.

Lizabeth at one of many Utah Shakespeare Festival "Greenshows" we attended together last summer

Lizabeth first experienced Shakespeare in a summer camp workshop with Arizona’s own Childsplay, when she was still in elementary school.

Her love for Shakespeare blossomed after studying with Maren Mascarelli, a Southern Utah University graduate, at both Arizona School for the Arts and Scottsdale Conservatory Theatre.

Lizabeth has also studied Shakespeare with Randy Messersmith, who heads the theater department at Scottsdale Community College and co-founded the Southwest Shakespeare Company (located in Mesa).

Most recently, she studied Shakepeare in summer classes with the Utah Shakespeare Festival. We’re already making plans to return to the festival this summer to see diverse works ranging from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to “The Music Man” and “Noises Off!”

A couple of the ten company members taking “Macbeth” on the road this season (including 7 actors in 20 roles) hail from Utah, but plenty of other states are represented. California. Pennsylvania. Iowa. New York.

The company manager for this tour, a high-energy fellow named Joshua (from Juneau), noted during introductory remarks that they’ve performed the piece 75 times so far — before a total audience of 35,000 people.

Higley was just a single stop on their 13-week (Jan to April) tour — which is part of “Shakespeare for a New Generation” — a program funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Even before the performance could begin, students greeted the company with thunderous applause usually reserved for football games. The show itself was condensed quite effectively from a 3-hour play into an 75-minute work. Applause offered after the final line was uttered and the stage went dark was equally enthusiastic.

Hopefully many of the students who attended "Macbeth" in Higley will make it to Cedar City for some of the eight shows offered between June 23 and Oct 29

The company manager kicked off the talkback by asking students to raise their hands to show which of two possible explanations of Macbeth’s heinous deeds they favored — one blaming the three witches who predict Macbeth’s rise to the throne, or another blaming his ambitious wife.

He then suggested that those who felt Macbeth was responsible for his own actions, and the horrific outcome, raise both hands. This was clearly the explanation favored by most students — though one student with each hypothesis was invited to share his or her reasoning.

The first felt the witches, having initially placed the idea in Macbeth’s head that he would one day be king, caused Macbeth to commit the murder that snowballed into so many acts of disloyalty and destruction.

The second felt Macbeth alone was responsible, because he made his own choices about how to act on the information pesented to him. The third felt the wife was responsible — because she “messed with his head” and “insulted his manhood.”

Their remarks leave no doubt that Shakespeare, though made in England and performed with ideas and implements from around the globe, is perfectly relevant in 21st century America — where struggles related to love, power and justice seem never to die.

– Lynn

Note: Click here to learn about upcoming productions and school programs of the Southwest Shakespeare Company in Mesa. Click here for information about The Shakespeare Society of Japan. Click here to read a CNN article with tips for helping Japan in the aftermath of today’s devastating natural disaster.

Coming up: Art adventures: Japanese Friendship Garden, “Beastly” meets “Rango”

Shakespeare a la symphony, opera & ballet

Once you come to appreciate the works of William Shakespeare, it’s hard to really get your fill. There’s so much material to choose from — interpreted and presented in a myriad of ways.

Here’s a sampling of Shakespeare-related offerings by Arizona arts organizations…

Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet” presented by the Phoenix Symphony. At Phoenix Symphony Hall on Oct 7-9 (times vary). Concert features both a romantic suite from Prokofiev’s ballet “Romeo and Juliet” as well as Hans Krasa’s “Brundibar,” a children’s opera composed in 1938 and frequently performed at a concentration camp in the former Czechoslovakia.

Performers include Phoenix Symphony Chorus and Phoenix Boys Choir. “Brundibar” performance will also include images from a recently published book titled “Brundibar” by author Tony Kushner and famed children’s book illustrator Maurice Sendak (“Where the Wild Things Are”).

A Midsummer Night’s Dream” presented by Ballet Arizona. At Phoenix Symphony Hall on Nov 5-7 (times vary). Ballet choreographed by Ballet Arizona artistic director Ib Andersen features “lavish sets, amazing costumes, and fun loving characters.”

It’s “a comedic love story of quarreling fairies, human lovers, and mistaken identity” that’s suitable for the entire family — featuring music by Felix Mendelssohn

Romeo and Juliet” presented by The Acting Company and Guthrie Theater production (special engagement for 2010-2011 Arizona Theatre Company season). At Herberger Theater Center on Nov 4-7 (times vary). This performance by “two of America’s premier classical theatre companies” features Alejandro Rodriguez as Romeo and Kaliswa Brewster as Juliet.

“As You Like It” presented by the University of Arizona School of Theatre, Film & Television. At the U of A’s Tornabene Theatre on March 2-27.  It’s the tale of a young heroine, Rosalind, and her journey (disguised as a boy) from her uncle’s repressive court to a complicated relationship with her true love Orlando.

Otello” presented by Arizona Opera. At Tucson Music Hall on March 5 & 6 and Phoenix Symphony Hall on March 11-13. Verdi’s famous opera is “faithful to the text of Shakespeare’s play” about treachery fueled by jealousy and rumor.

Work will be sung in Italian with English subtitles, and feature the towering tenor Allan Glassman (“a gifted mainstay at the Metropolitan Opera”) as Otello.

Opera and Ballet Cinema Series” presented by Harkins Theatres and Emerging Pictures. Showing exclusively at Arrowhead 18, Chandler Fashion 20 and Scottsdale 101 14 (dates/times vary). Series features “the best in European opera and ballet” — including several live performances.

A ballet production of “Romeo and Juliet” will be shown at participating Harkins Theatres March 10, 2011 at 6:30pm. A live opera production of “Macbeth” will be shown June 13, 2011 (time TBA). Series tickets often sell out quickly — so consider yourself warned.

My youngest daughter Lizabeth, now a 17-year-old theater arts student, loved going to opera, ballet and symphony performances as a child — starting in elementary school. It didn’t hurt, I suppose, that she studied ballet and violin starting in kindergarten.

Today she’s a Shakespeare aficionado who has studied Shakespeare with Childsplay, Arizona School for the Arts , Scottsdale Community College and the Utah Shakespearean Festival — and enjoys attending Southwest Shakespeare Company productions in Mesa.

To learn more about Southwest Shakespeare Company offerings — including their 2010/2011 season and education programs (including a touring production of “Romeo & Juliet” featuring 2010/2011 Company Interns), visit them online.

While you’re there, check out a cool photo contest of sorts that’ll be held in conjunction with the season’s red carpet opening of “Blood Royal” on Sept 10.

If your child is too young to enjoy these live performances, never fear. You can still enjoy the works of Shakespeare together thanks to the “Shakespeare Can Be Fun!” series, including various titles by Lois Burdett which feature charming drawings, anecdotes and more. 

–Lynn

Note: Featured children’s books are pubished by Firefly Books. I had a great time exploring their diverse offerings online at www.fireflybooks.com.

Coming up: Reviews of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” by Mesa Encore Theatre and “Noises Off” by Phoenix Theatre; Arts management musings from Michael Kaiser (President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts)