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|July 17-23, 2008
Shaking up Shakespeare
A three-way interview on kings and crooners
by Gary Zeidner
Celebrating its 50th Anniversary, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival presents three of the Bard’s classics, Macbeth, Love’s Labour’s Lost and Henry the Eighth, along with Woody Guthrie’s American Song and The Three Musketeers. Boulder Weekly sat down with some of the key players in this year’s CSF to discuss their shows and the continuing evolution of one of the best Shakespeare festivals in the world.
Boulder Weekly: The Colorado Shakespeare Festival is known for setting the Bard’s plays in unusual locales and/or time periods. What can you tell us about the setting of your play?
Lynn Collins (Director, Macbeth): In many ways, I sort of didn’t do that with this production. It’s generally medieval when one looks at it. There are elements of it that are quite non-realistic, that aren’t a period setting specifically.
Jeff Waxman (co-Creator and Musical Director, Woodie Guthrie’s American Song): I think it would be fair to say that when you are aware of time and place, it is the actual time and place in which Woody lived and experienced the things he wrote about.
James Symons (Director, Henry the Eighth): [This time around,] Henry the Eighth is set in Henry the Eighth’s period. It’s the early part of the 1500s. The play actually covers 13 years, so it’s the first quarter of the 16th century.
BW: What sets your production apart from previous productions of the same play?
LC (Mac): One is a real focus on children and all the things they mean both by their absence and by their presence. That, for me, became a symbol for the idea that this goal in human life is to create something permanent, something that will last beyond you. So, I spent a lot of time weaving more children into this production than is normal to see.
JW (WGAS): This is the 20th anniversary of the commercial production [of the show]. Every time Peter and I worked on the show there was new material added based on newly available material of Woody Guthrie’s or a new perspective. In particular, there is a very dramatic number called “The Ludlow Massacre” which specifically was added for this production. It was kind of a definitive moment in the politics of unions in the state of Colorado.
JS (H8): We’re not doing a literal, historical representation. The costuming and the set suggest that period but it is more suggestive. The very top of the costume — the actor’s face, hair, caps — all those will be exactly as period. But once you leave the head and shoulders area, the costume becomes a kind of a blank canvas. It’s actually made out of canvas material. The reason we’re doing that is that the audience participates using its imagination.
BW: What is the biggest challenge you faced bringing your play to the CSF?
LC (Mac): Whenever you’re doing a summer repertory kind of theatre, time is a huge challenge. We’re rehearsing five plays all at the same time to open in five weeks, so you’re sharing actors and space and energy and everything with four other productions. You’re just against the clock in a huge way.
JW (WGAS): One of the challenges of just bringing Woody Guthrie and his writing to the stage is finding a way of making what are basically simple folk songs theatrical. I would have to say the challenge was more for [Producing Artistic Director] Philip Sneed to bring his audience to come to something entirely new. [The CSF] has never done a musical before.
JS (H8): I think it’s an unusual history play, and people who expect a history play like all of [Shakespeare’s] Richards and his Henrys that are full of battles and swordfights and tavern scenes… none of that is in this play. So you have to find what it is that makes this play interesting. It’s a more complex play.
BW: Other than your own production, which play in the CSF this year excites you the most?
LC (Mac): Henry the Eighth is exciting because no one ever does it. I also think audiences will be charmed by [Woody Guthrie’s American Song]. It’s a beautiful piece, a soul-filling play.
JW (WGAS): It’s a very diverse and interesting group, but I’ll tell you the one that Philip Sneed mentioned to me over a year ago… Henry the Eighth. One of the reasons he wanted to do [Woody Guthrie’s American Song] was the same as why he wanted to do Henry the Eighth, which is it’s a very political piece.
JS (H8): The one that excites me the most is The Three Musketeers because I’ve never seen it. I’m kind of a fan of all that swashbuckling stuff.
On the Bill:
The Colorado Shakespeare Festival takes place from Sunday, June 20, to Saturday, Aug. 16. To see the complete lineup or to order tickets, go to www.coloradoshakes.org.
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