The world-renowned festival returns with a breathtaking new season featuring ‘Henry V’ and ‘Taming of the Shrew’—plus an inviting Fringe Show to boot. A vivid look behind the scenes.
Every summer, a special kind of magic finds its way through the towering redwoods in the Sinsheimer-Stanley Festival Glen on the UC Santa Cruz campus. Since the 1980s, audiences have gathered here—beneath the moon, stars and tree-streaked sky—to enjoy food, wine, and the timeless poetics and wisdom of William Shakespeare. It’s a theatrical triumph, one that has won many critics over, making Shakespeare Santa Cruz both a Santa Cruz staple and a world- renowned festival.
This season’s lineup includes “Henry V” and “Taming of the Shrew.” As in years past, there is also a Fringe Show, performed by SSC interns selected from across the country. “The Fringe Show,” traditionally a non-Shakespearean work, is “Tom Jones,” adapted by Jon Jory from the novel by Henry Fielding.
“You’re outdoors, you’re in this beautiful evocative space, and you’ve got all these vertical lines reaching up to the heavens—those redwood trees,” says Marco Barricelli, artistic director of Shakespeare Santa Cruz (SSC). “The scale of the playing, the scale of direction and attack on the play has to match those vertical lines and that kind of scope. So, I’m always looking for artists that can bring themselves up to the level of the language rather than bringing the language down to their level.”
As artistic director, it is Barricelli’s responsibility to oversee the vision for the three-month-long production—from play selection to choosing the directors and cast. “I’m always looking for theater that’s very bold and brash and has scale and theater of scope,” he says. “This is the Shakespeare theater, after all. And that means heightened language, so the kind of theater I want directed out there, the kind of acting I want out there, the kind of design I want, has to sort of match that level.”
While every year boasts various challenges, there was one, in particular this year that stood out: the budget. One of the main issues involved the stage in the forest glen, where the majority of plays have long been performed. It was designed to last four years but has been going on its ninth season of use. Suddenly, Barricelli was faced with a decision: run three Shakespeare plays as usual, or cut one play in order to generate funds for a new stage. Because the old stage posed both safety threats and aesthetic issues, he decided to go with the latter option and a brand-new stage was erected in the glen this year.
As a result, for the first time in the history of SSC, all performances will take place outdoors in the glen.
Lydia Bushfield, props designer since 2000 and interim marketing director for SSC, shares the excitement over this year’s lineup, because comedy in the glen has always been an audience favorite—comedy shows have been performed indoors the last couple of years. But now, this season’s selected comedy, “The Taming of the Shrew,” can be experienced in the glen.
Barricelli says part of the fun of the glen is its shifting nature.
“The glen is an interesting, sort of fluid experience every year,” he says. “Nothing stays the same out there because everything shifts and grows. We have these bolts in the trees we attach our lighting systems to— those change every year because the trees grow. When you’re out there, there are lots of racoons and other animals, and you’re in the woods. You always have to be aware of that, but I think it’s one of the most evocative and beautiful spaces there is to do Shakespeare in this country.”
Logistics of a Repertory Glen
“The glen is really synonymous for a lot of people with the festival,” says Bushfield. “We’ve done a lot of indoor shows, and our intention is to continue to do indoor shows, but there is something magical about the glen and that experience. It was a decision to take all of our money and do the best glen season we could do this year.”
Bushfield says part of the focus behind engineering the new stage went toward realigning audience seating, mostly to improve the vantage point from the reserved seating area and extend ground seating at the front of the audience. As a result, “all of the blanket people will have a lot more space to sit on,” she says.
In addition, a great deal of the renovations made on the new stage created backstage spaces to especially accommodate the logistics involved with the repertory nature of the theater. Repertory theater companies—companies in which a majority of the actors appear in more than one play, often in dramatically diverse roles, and with plays alternating night by night—are an increasingly rare model. While many theater companies call themselves repertory, SSC is the last remaining repertory theater in California, and among the last in the United States.
The repertory model requires uniquely intricate and precise planning at every level of the production in order to succeed. In the time period that a regular theater company would rehearse to put on just one production, SSC does two. There is a rigorous schedule involved for SSC’s repertory actors. They might arrive at noon for rehearsal of “Henry V” and rehearse for five hours, break, and then return at night to rehearse “Taming of the Shrew.” As actors, directors and designers in all areas of the company come from around the world to perform in Santa Cruz, there is only one month of rehearsals where everyone convenes prior to the first preview show.
Think of it as an intricate puzzle, especially for the repertory stage manager, who is responsible for all of the scheduling. Two sets of costumes are designed, two combinations of props are prepared, and two entire stages are prepped within a 45-minute period following every SSC matinee, in order to prepare for the nighttime show.
“It’s quite a feat, really, to get everyone coordinated and everybody in the right place at the right time with everything they need,” Bushfield says. “But it’s a great challenge, and the actors who come love it; they can in one day be the king of England and that night they may be playing the tailor in the “Taming of the Shrew.”
Helping with the backstage bustle are 100 interns who applied from all over to get into SSC’s intensive program. Not only do interns perform in the Fringe Show, but they work in prop design, lighting, costuming, and set.
“Of course being housed here on the campus one of our main goals is education, so the internship program is great educational outreach,” Bushfield adds.
At any given time at SSC audiences may see 19 people on stage, but for every actor on stage, there are about 20 people behind the scenes.
“It takes 150 people to bring this festival together,” says Bushfield. “The amount of collaboration involved is astounding.”
Drama, Comedy and Connections
Marion Adler is a fourth season veteran actress in SSC who can attest to the community inherent to the production.
“One of the wonderful things about this experience is that it is a confluence of people from my life and from my past—and very, very talented, interesting, vital theater artists coming together,” Adler says. “When you plan a party and you think, ‘Who do I want at this party, who would be the most wonderful people?’ … and you get your invitation list together, your heart starts to beat a little faster. You can imagine how much fun they’re all going to have together. That’s what it feels like, this anticipation.”
Adler plays Mrs. Quickly in “Henry V” doubled with a role as Alice—lady in waiting to Katherine, the young princess, and the hostess as well as the widow— in “The Taming of the Shrew.” She came to Shakespeare Santa Cruz, thanks to her husband Scott Wentworth, a longtime SSC veteran. Wentworth met SSC artistic designer Marco Barricelli long ago when they were both performing a production of “Mary Stuart” directed by Carey Perloff. Adler and her husband live together in Stratford, Canada, home to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. (Wentworth will not appear in this season’s SSC run as he is playing the lead in “Fiddler on the Roof” in Stratford.)
“Marco and Scott got to know each other during the run of that production and fell in man love, and had a great relationship,” Adler says, noting that she met Barricelli there as well.
“I think that what is happening at Shakespeare Santa Cruz is so fulfilling for the performers,” she adds. “And I hope this doesn’t sound like shameless sucking up, because it really isn’t: I love the audiences in Santa Cruz. They are the most astute listeners, they are the most appreciative, they are they most festive. In French, apparently the audience is called the assistance—they assist the artists. I feel that the audiences in Santa Cruz always assist in the creation of the work, and it’s just such a pleasure to be there.”
Mike Ryan, a SSC veteran actor of 14 seasons, also says the community and audience in Santa Cruz are uniquely participatory. This year, he plays the Duke of Exeter in “Henry V” and Vicencio in “The Taming of the Shrew.”
“Shakespeare Santa Cruz was the first place I ever worked where I felt like people were really asking the question: ‘Why are you doing this play, now, in this community?’” he says. “They were tailoring the productions in terms of design and thrust of the action to accommodate the answer to those questions. It kind of cracked [Shakespeare] open for me in a way it hadn’t before. It made it seem much more contemporary to me, and much more immediate than any production I’d ever been in before.”
Artistic by Design
After bringing together his artists of choice from points near and far, artistic director Barricelli anticipates his sixth season with SSC will be cutting edge. “The people coming together are really extraordinary artists,” he says. “They’re really mining these plays for all the humor and drama and everything they can pull out of them.”
He is particularly enthusiastic about director Paul Mullins, who’s at the helm of “Henry V.” “To have the opportunity to bring an artist like that here is kind of extraordinary,” he says of Mullins.
Additionally, Barricelli awaits the result of director Edward Morgan’s vision for “Taming of the Shrew.” Because the play carries sexist connotations, it must be handled sensitively.
“Edward and I go back a long time,” says Barricelli. “He’s directed me in the past, and I thought he was one of the best directors I’d ever worked with. A show like ‘Taming of the Shrew’ is a little controversial in this PC age we are in, with how women are treated. But he’s the kind of guy who’s got intelligence and integrity to find a very interesting way into that; a way to honor what Shakespeare wrote, but still give us different things to think about.”
Barricelli says he and Morgan have discussed the various ways to tackle “Taming of the Shrew,” asking questions like, “Who’s taming who” in the play and “which relationships are going to have real longevity.”
Beyond that, Barricelli notes that while Shakespeare’s works are 450 years old, his writing has never been more relevant. “They teach us about our place in the world, and in the “human continuum.”
“If you go to a movie with bombs exploding and spaceships flying and guns and things, that’s a blip,” he adds. “That has nothing. That doesn’t speak to what we are fundamentally in our souls, how we drag ourselves across this pebble of Earth for our time here, and the challenges and the questions that we encounter.”
In other words: Shakespeare’s plays go very deep.
“I’ve said this before,” Baricelli goes on, “but if you take the complete works of Shakespeare, if you just look at that volume, between those two covers, you have a chronicling of the entire human dilemma—everything it means to be human; every problem and joy; every event that can possibly happen in our lives. The human reaction to it is chronicled there. The experience of going to the theater and seeing and hearing these plays is that you will hear a character say something, express an emotion, express a feeling, make an observation about something and you’ll have this sort of epiphany moment of ‘Oh my god, that’s me, I feel that too. I thought I might be the only one but I see that I am really part of this whole human race.’”
Shakespeare Santa Cruz runs July 23 through Sept. 1. For ticketing, show times and other information visit shakespearesantacruz.org.