On With the Show

ae ShakespeareSantaCruzShakespeare Play On breathes new life into Shakespeare Santa Cruz

For the past three decades, Shakespeare’s robust and witty dialogue could be heard echoing throughout The Sinsheimer-Stanley Festival Glen outdoor theater at UC Santa Cruz on any given summer evening. Amidst food-scattered picnic blankets, the community sat rapt by the onstage antics of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” or  the drama of “Romeo and Juliet.”

But on Aug. 26, 2013, UC Santa Cruz announced that, due to worsening budget challenges to the university and the professional repertory company being deeply in debt, Shakespeare Santa Cruz would be forced to end its 32-year run.

The seemingly sudden decision unleashed a backlash of shock and outrage in a community that deeply values the arts. “Members of our community said, ‘This can’t happen,’” says Aimee Zygmonski, the former managing and marketing director for SSC. “People said, ‘There’s no way that there can’t be a Shakespeare Festival in Santa Cruz.’”

This outpouring of dismay triggered ideas among Shakespeare Santa Cruz board members and the rest of the company—ideas about how to preserve the tradition of Shakespeare Santa Cruz, yet maintain the autonomy of an independent theater company no longer under the thumb of the university system.

And thus, Shakespeare Play On was born. The newly formed nonprofit theater company—led by longtime SSC veterans Marco Barricelli and Mike Ryan, and a star-studded Advisory Board, including Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Sir Patrick Stewart and Academy Award-winning actress Olympia Dukakis—launched a massive fundraising effort in December 2013 to bring Shakespeare back to Santa Cruz.

“The goal of the campaign was to raise $885,000,” says Ryan, co-artistic director of Shakespeare Play On. “The reason why we needed that specific amount of money is that we wanted to completely forward fund the entire season.”

Ryan explains that most theaters spend a great deal of money on creating a production, and then try to make the money back with ticket sales. “The problem with that model is that if you ever have a bad summer or a show that  ae2 ShakespeareSantaCruztanks and doesn’t sell very well, you end up financially in the hole,” he says. “Everything that is donated to the festival from here on and any tickets that we sell for the season of 2014 will become the budget for 2015. It’s a way of making this festival run perpetually.” 

Over the course of just two months, the fundraising goal was met and then vastly exceeded. The campaign raised a total of $1.1 million from donors as far away as New Jersey and Hawaii.

As a result, Shakespeare Play On proudly announced on Feb. 3 that there will be a two-play season in the summer of 2014. The company has already begun the process of hiring designers, directors and actors.

“I think that the outpouring of money and emotional support for something like this really shows how important [Shakespeare Santa Cruz] was to people,” says Zygmonski, now managing director for Shakespeare Play On. “The loss of it was not something they were willing to have. They weren’t willing to agree with it.”

Although Shakespeare Play On will retain the traditions that were set in place by Shakespeare Santa Cruz, a few important differences do exist. This new company will be a separate entity from the university, thus freeing it up from the bureaucratic red tape it was previously wrapped in.

Other changes include a slight shifting in the dates of the new season, the ability to receive donations and gifts without interference from the university, and a degree of financial independence and accountability, now that the budget is entirely separate from UCSC.

But Ryan makes it clear that what will remain unchanged are the high standards set in place over the past 32 years. “I think what people will find with the new company, is that those of us who are running the ship want to maintain the artistic integrity and legacy of Shakespeare Santa Cruz,” he says. 

Moving forward, Shakespeare Play On has visions of an expanded season, bringing back the holiday pantomimes that were so popular, and doing co-productions with local theater companies. But for now, the organization is taking it one step at a time—a move that Ryan and the entire community hopes will ensure the longevity of Shakespeare Play On.

Although the 2014 summer season schedule is yet to be released, Ryan shares that the performances will be true to old Shakespeare Santa Cruz form. Shakespeare Play On is even working with the university to obtain the use of the Festival Glen for performances at the beloved outdoor theater.

Perhaps those picnic blankets need not be put away after all. 

Be the first to know when the 2014 Shakespeare Play On summer season is announced at

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