We Asked Our “Twelfth Night” Tour Cast to Look Back on the Past Year…

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Between October 15, 2016 and April 5, 2017, our Shakespeare on Tour production of “Twelfth Night” traveled over 10,000 miles across California to perform in schools, community centers, and libraries. Some of the five cast members and their alternates stayed with the tour throughout the school year, while others spent a semester with us. All of them made unforgettable memories. We asked a few cast members to look back on the past year and share their thoughts with us.

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1) What’s your favorite memory from the tour?

Andrea Love (Viola/Sebastian): A couple of times I got the sincere question from a younger audience member: Are you a boy or a girl? Which I always took as a huge compliment. I also loved the very memorable performance when our set wouldn’t fit into the lower-level community room in a coffee shop in downtown San Francisco, so we had to improvise by drawing a shipwreck and a box tree on a white-board and doing all of our costume changes off to the side (but still plenty visible to the audience)! Our overnight trip to LA in the fall was great, just because it allowed the cast to bond even more. The venues we got to perform in were amazing. The Cerritos Public library, which we got a short tour of after we performed, has an aquarium wall, a lighthouse, and T-Rex skeleton in the kids’ section, as well as gorgeous architecture. I loved shows where the kids were familiar with the play or had even performed it themselves, and had strong opinions and interesting questions about the show and various relationships within it.

Eliza Boivin (Olivia/Maria, Spring Cast): Working with kids, and the first time I taught a Playshop. I was nervous about teaching, and I remember at the very end of my Playshop how excited all the kids were about the new things they learned, and about the show. They asked me questions about acting and asked for advice, and it felt good to share my experiences and to exchange dialogue about the text. That was when I truly understood not just the entertainment aspect of the tour, but the importance of the educational part as well. The kids are so open and eager to learn from you. It’s endearing and the most rewarding I think.

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Salim Razawi (Malvolio, Fall Cast): Being able to perform to a wide variety of ages and communities. Being at an elementary school one day, then a senior center the next, was probably my favorite memory. The fact that we could be the first exposure to Shakespeare to some audiences was so inspiring!

2) What will you miss most about the tour? 

Kieran Beccia (Feste/Sir Andrew, Spring Cast):  I will most miss continually discovering new things in the show, and continuing to explore the characters’ relationships with whatever combination of actors happened to be performing each day.

Andrea: I’ll miss the people! I’ll miss getting to perform regularly, and the adventure of not knowing what kind of space or audience you’ll get on any given day. And getting to explore a piece of text so thoroughly.

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Salim: Definitely the cast. Traveling and performing together for so long truly made it feel like family.

Eliza: I’ll miss not being on stage almost every day. When I’m on stage, it’s the only time I’m not thinking about anything else. I’m super focused and in the moment, which is the complete opposite of when I’m not performing and I’m always thinking about a million things. And I always feel really good at the end of every show–sort of like finishing a really good workout, except I feel good mentally and emotionally. I’ll also miss being around my cast mates. They will always have a special place in my heart, as will the play Twelfth Night and SF Shakes. For years it was a goal of mine to perform in a Shakespeare play, and I couldn’t have asked for a better first experience!

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Thank you, cast, for all of your hard work this year!

* These interviews have been edited for length and content.

On why SF Shakes supporters are just the best…

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Okay, so Michael Navarra wasn’t signing Bon Jovi in our 2010 “Two Gentlement of Verona.” But that’s a pretty awesome guitar, right?

In honor of our 35th Anniversary, we’re raising $200,000 to support a range of special projects that will help us connect more deeply with communities all over the Bay Area. And thanks to people who believe in our work and our mission–people like YOU, you reading this right now–we’re thrilled to announce that we’re already halfway to our goal!

The campaign supports crucial capacity and outreach projects for our 35th year in San Francisco, helping us to build and create:

We couldn’t be more excited about all of these projects, and you can expect to hear about them in more detail here over the next few months.

The first phase of our 35th Anniversary campaign has included three leadership gifts of $35,000 each, from incredibly generous individuals who share our desire to make Shakespeare accessible to everyone. That brings us over halfway to our goal, which will supplement the more than $600,000 we raise every year to support core programs like Free Shakespeare in the Park, Shakespeare on Tour, and Midnight Shakesepare, and Bay Area Shakepseare CampsWe want to thank these donors for their leadership, vision, and dedication to SF Shakes! 

They make us feel like this:


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Reaching the halfway point toward our goal is an incredible milestone, and we look forward to celebrating both milestone and anniversary at our upcoming 35th Anniversary Gala at the Marines’ Memorial Club on April 22.

We also look forward to continuing this campaign journey with all of you as we keep working toward our goal. We have spent the past 35 years delivering on the Bay Area’s promise of inclusion and diversity, and your support has been a huge part of that success.

We are honored to have you as part of the SF Shakes family.

THANK YOU.

 

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3 Questions for SF Shakes’ New Technical Director

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Neal poses with a newly uncovered harpy head from our 2006 production of “The Tempest,” which now guards our scene shop.

Beyond the other reasons for SF Shakes to be excited this year, we are THRILLED to now have a full-time Technical Director on board! Neal Ormond joined our team in March and will spend his time building sets for Free Shakespeare in the Park and residency productions, organizing/mastering our scene shop, magically helping us to find more space for an ever-growing staff in our tiny administrative offices, and just being an all-around handy and nice guy. 

Although his previous involvements include set design and construction at Dragon Theater of Palo Alto and more recently 4 years in the advertising world as Manager of Art & Tech at Publicis, the majority of Neal’s career has been spent as an independent designer/builder, recklessly pursuing and combining the realms of mobile architecture, pyrotechnics, electric vehicles, lighting and sound design, robotics, graphic and web design, and signage.  He’s currently scheming to build a 70-foot-tall, robotic, all-terrain-covering, crew-transporting, fire-breathing, disco-dancing likeness of William Shakespeare.

We asked Neal to answer three questions to help you get to know the newest member of SF Shakes’ staff. 

What are your initial impressions of SF Shakes, after your first few weeks here? 

I’m relieved and excited to find that this is indeed the type of environment I had sensed and hoped it to be, and one in which I know I’ll fully enjoy my time while being able to contribute some really great things.  Getting to work with other creative-minded people on a daily basis means a lot to me, and we’ve got that here.  In addition, coming off a 4-year stint in the corporate world, I’m impressed and encouraged by the sheer volume of content and engagement produced without the oversized budget, thanks to our widely-talented and dedicated staff as well as all our supporters in the community.

What project are you most excited about working on in your new role as Tech Director? 

The massive undertaking for this summer’s Free Shakespeare in the Park tour of Hamlet looms so large on my horizon, and will be so awesome come opening night, that I’d be remiss to not list that as the project I’m currently most excited about.  The initial purging/cleaning/organizing of the shop has been a rewarding (albeit dusty) process, and the now-underway “new kitchen/green room” project will add some great space to our office. But in another week or two those will be in the rear-view mirror and everything will be 100% Free Shakespeare in the Park for me!

What’s the craziest thing so far that you’ve run across while reorganizing our scene shop and storage? 

I’ve come across an amazing variety of items as I’ve gone about reorganizing the scene shop and storage areas.  The craziest (good) thing I’ve encountered was when I was 23 precarious feet up, on top of a storage rack, and discovered deeply buried what appeared to be a massive prop gargoyle or monster head.  It turns out this was built for the 2006 production of The Tempest, and has sat undisturbed for 11 years since then.  It’s beautiful and is now more appropriately and prominently mounted and displayed in the shop. The craziest (bad) thing was the approximately 17 net pounds of dust that had accumulated across all surfaces and objects in the shop.  But I think i got most of it cleaned up! (*cough sneeze cough*).

 

Welcome, Neal. We’re so glad you’re here (and sorry about all the dust)!

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Just look at this newly organized scene shop. It’s so beautiful.

 

 

 

Camp Fan of the Month: Skylar Tang

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Skylar, second from right, laughs with her friends at Shakespeare Players camp.

 Last month we interviewed a camp parent. This month, we thought it’d be nice to hear from a current camper. Skylar Tang, who started coming to Bay Area Shakespeare Camps when she was seven, is currently a fifth grader in the San Mateo Foster City School District GATE Program at College Park Elementary School. Fun story about Skylar that we love: in 4th grade she was elected Vice President of Student Council at her school, and she credited the success and confident delivery of her campaign speech to her time in Shakespeare camp (and she continues to serve on Student Council now)!  

We asked Skylar what she enjoys about the SF Shakes camp experience. Here’s what she had to say:

  1. What did you expect when you showed up for your first day of Shakespeare camp?

I expected it to be a place where you learned about acting, and performed a play. I thought I was going to learn in detail what Shakespeare did in his life, and about his plays. It turned out to be a much more hands-on camp with really fun activities!

 

  1. What has surprised you most about camp?

I have always been surprised at the result of the play. On the last day (Friday), I am always a bit nervous to perform the play, but afterwards I look back and realize that everyone did amazing despite only having 2 weeks.

 

  1. What’s your favorite thing about camp every year?

I always enjoy the Production and Design classes. You make sculptures, props, and design your costume for the play. It is a really fun way to get to know your play better. My favorite activity in the class is when we get to make our costumes and props. It is super fun to cut up fabric to make a tunic, and to make swords out of cardboard.

 

  1. How have your camp experiences impacted your life during the school year?

Shakespeare camp has helped me a lot with public speaking. I can speak much louder and much more clearly. I’ve had to give many presentations in school and I am comfortable with it. I used to be very scared of talking to strangers and in front of a crowd. I’ve become much more confident and now I enjoy public speaking.

 

  1. What would you tell other students to encourage them to try camp?

I would tell them that it is a great experience. You get to learn about and act in a Shakespeare play. It is really fun to learn your lines, create your props, and to act your part. You will learn a lot and have lots of fun at Shakespeare Camp.

 

Thank you so much, Skylar, for being a Camp Fan and coming back year after year. We look forward to seeing you again this summer!

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Casting “Hamlet” to Reflect Today: A Conversation between Rebecca Ennals and Stephen Muterspaugh

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We’re thrilled about our recently announced cast list for this summer’s Hamlet. We’re especially thrilled about the way that this cast reflects our commitment to inclusive casting. Putting that commitment into practice, however, takes a LOT of consideration and a spirit of exploration. SF Shakes Artistic Director Rebecca Ennals sat down with Stephen Muterspaugh, SF Shakes Resident Artist and the director of Hamlet, to pick his brain about the thoughtful casting process for Free Shakespeare in the Park 2017.

REBECCA ENNALS:  We are committed to casting at least 50% women and 50% actors of color. I know you deeply value inclusive casting and what it can bring to the text. How did that artistic value affect your early thoughts on the play?

STEPHEN MUTERSPAUGH: Hamlet, as compared to, say, The Winter’s Tale, is a relatively small play in terms of the cast.  I was interested in keeping it intimate and wanted to go with 9 or 10 actors total…I wanted to highlight our current political hierarchy, largely casting older white men and women as the authority figures with a more diverse younger cast.  While these were my guiding principles, the discoveries that inevitably occur during the audition process further shaped my final casting thoughts.

In terms of affecting my early thoughts on the play – your blog post back in 2013 helped to hone my focus on how to make this particular production of Hamlet relevant to the here and now – to continue to push the inclusive nature of our productions.  There were only three roles for which I came into the casting process with gender locked down: I wanted to keep Gertrude, Claudius and Hamlet Sr. in their genders as written.  Otherwise, I was open to the potential of anyone playing anything.

 

RE: Describe the process of auditioning the role of Hamlet.

SM: It was a bit terrifying to announce we were doing Hamlet last September and not have a Hamlet cast!  I feel Hamlet, more so than any other show, requires an almost symbiotic relationship between the director and the actor playing Hamlet.  To that end, I chose to wait until we found a Hamlet before I settled on my “vision” of the play, because at the end of the day it’s about the relationship between Hamlet and the audience that carries the show.

In August, I started having one on one meetings with the Resident Artists that were interested in being considered for the role.  We sat down and discussed the role: what drew them to it, as well as their thoughts on the play, etc.  Again, it was invaluable to have a company of artists all willing to give input, whether pro or con (yes, believe it or not, there are people who don’t love this play)!

Then, in October, we began the casting process in earnest.  I can’t stress enough how incredibly useful it was to witness the various “Hamlets” that walked into the audition room, each one with a specific take that illuminated a particular aspect of this iconic role.  We invited about 20 men and women to read for Hamlet. I requested that everyone prepare the “Rogue and Peasant Slave” soliloquy and another soliloquy of their choosing.  Their choice of soliloquy alone spoke multitudes about how the various actors were approaching the character – what was resonating with them.  After the speeches, we put every potential Hamlet through a “fight callback” [a callback is a second round of auditions], to assess their combat skills.  The role of Hamlet not only requires an excellent actor, but an excellent combatant as well.  After those two auditions, it was time to decide who was going to be my Hamlet.

I have to thank all the other actors for the gift of their auditions.  It was an amazing representation of Bay Area talent that paraded through those doors – each and every one helping me to see the various layers of this great role and play.  

 

RE: How did casting Davern affect how you thought of the other roles?

SM: Davern’s casting cemented three things:  One, we’d be setting it present day (something I was already leaning towards, but not entirely committed to). Two, we’d be playing in a much more raw world, at least in the terms of the way Davern was exploring and approaching the role. Davern has an almost chaotic process when exploring this text – nothing is sacred and everything is possible.  In order to preserve that, I set about to people the world of our Hamlet with actors that would not only complement Davern’s Hamlet, but challenge him as well.  To that end, Davern was gracious enough to read opposite many of the actors auditioning for the various roles – which made it crystal clear how the cast would gel.  And three, with the casting of Hamlet as a man, I now felt it was imperative that future casting decisions must highlight greater inclusion.

I couldn’t be more delighted with the cast we’ve assembled.

 

RE: We cast Davern just before the election, and the rest of the cast afterwards. How did the political shift in American change your ideas about how to present the play?

SM: Before the election, I was grappling with the question, “Why are we choosing to tell the story of Hamlet in 2017?”  I mean, it’s an amazing play and contains some of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches – but for a company that only produces one major production a year, why are we putting our energy behind Hamlet?  How will it resonate with our audience?  Is it enough to just see it as part of the overall 35th anniversary celebration of the Festival?

And then the election happened and everything shifted into place.  Our world suddenly felt out of joint – no matter what side of the election you fell on.  The anger, confusion and sometimes mourning that occurred immediately following (and still in many ways continues to this day) translated perfectly to the world of Hamlet.  The character of Hamlet has lost his foundation and is grappling with how to continue on in this new world – how to find his voice within the new status quo.  Does he rise up against his troubles?  Or go with the flow?  How much is he willing to risk what he knows is inherently just?  What action can he take?  It’s an incredibly satisfying moment when a fuzzy vision becomes vividly clear.

 

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RE: We called in a very diverse, wide range of actors for each role, and for most of them we saw male and female actors. For several roles, we saw actors who describe themselves as queer or gender fluid. What were the qualities that stood out in the actors we eventually cast?

SM: First off, every actor that came into audition helped inform my final casting decisions – yes, this is somewhat of a no-brainer thing to say, but with this process more so than others, I was coming in blank in regards to how we could tell this story in a relevant way.  The actors you reference all came in with such strong, emotionally-connected choices.  The energy in the audition room was electric – I wasn’t responding to gender identification or the social ramifications of a particular casting choice, I was reacting to unmistakable chemistry and willingness to dive in and play the scene.  I was sold on the acting first and foremost.

We don’t live in a binary world – neither did Shakespeare.  His brilliance was his ability to use his poetry in a subversive manner to help push the boundaries and comment on the times. Our ability to challenge the normative casting of such iconic roles is our greatest tool in supporting and giving voice to all members of our community.

 

RE: Half the roles in the play are cast with actors whose genders differ from the genders of the characters. Would you be willing to share your thoughts on how those roles will be played? For example, Polonius will be played by a woman (Resident Artist Sharon Huff), as a woman. What should the audience expect to see?

SM: It’s a little too early to talk specifically about this particular question.  What I can tell you is that any role being played by a woman will be approached as a woman within the world of the play. Same with the men.  While it may seem like huge sweeping changes to Hamlet – women playing Polonius, Laertes, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern,  and a man playing Ophelia – these choices do nothing to the actual plot of the play.  The story remains intact.  These choices highlight aspects of the play and help it resonate with our modern sensibilities – they tie it to the here and now. The specifics will be discovered as we move forward.

 

RE: Will you be adjusting the language of the play in regards to gender (i.e., swapping out pronouns or honorifics like “sir” or “madam”, or deeper changes)?

SM:  Once again, too early to say.  I’m still locking down the cutting of the script and beginning my conversations with the dramaturge, and all around Shakespeare guru, Julian Lopez-Morillas.  My initial response is that we’ll keep the pronouns the same – in the past, when I’ve changed pronouns, it rang false to my ears – it either messed with the meter or just made me too aware of the performer and took me out of the play.  That said, the end decision on pronouns will be reached based on conversations with the actors playing the characters. I feel like it’s important for them to have a voice in that particular decision. Even more so with the play being set in the modern day, considering how forefront gender identification is in our contemporary culture.

The larger language question is much easier to answer. Very rarely do you get the full cut of Hamlet in production – I’m cutting down a four-hour play to somewhere closer to two hours.  The act of cutting the play in and of itself is “adjusting the language” – I’m cutting with not only run time in mind, but in order to fit the cast I’ve assembled.

 

RE:  Personally, I feel like Shakespeare wrote human characters of all genders who were all portrayed by men during his time. To me, there’s something inherently performed about gender in Shakespeare – which he acknowledges overtly with cross-dressing in plays like “Twelfth Night,” “As You Like It,” and “Merchant of Venice” and more subtly with gendered language like “frailty, thy name is woman,” which is in reference to a woman being played by a man. When you see a cross-gender performance, some of those subtleties become very clear and surprising. How will your casting choices highlight specific moments in the language of the play?

008825SM: I completely agree and this absolutely something we’ll be exploring.  The difference being, we’ll be wearing our gender on our sleeves, as it were.  Women and men will be playing roles that were clearly written for the other gender, but also clearly read either way – what an amazing opportunity for exploration that will lead to many wonderful discoveries!

Specific moments will be hard to talk about now, but certainly the “nunnery scene” takes on a whole new dimension in terms of the sexual shaming, etc., when there are two men playing it.  As well as a female Laertes giving her advice to Ophelia to steer clear of Hamlet – is this because of a former relationship between Hamlet and Laertes?  Or is it merely a big sister looking out for her sibling?

To me, one of the biggest parallels of the play is between Hamlet and Laertes (a parallel that already exists within the text). We watch Hamlet grapple with his problem for two-plus hours: should I revenge my father’s murder?  Can I trust the ghost?  Should I end it all rather than deal with this pain?  Then in storms Laertes, who has arguably suffered a greater loss and is looking to avenge his father’s death – all action, no hesitation.  Now add the lens of gender to this parallel… not sure where it’ll lead, but I’m very interest in going down that path.

One of the traps, in terms of gender within Hamlet, is that all the women in the play can easily been seen as pawns with little or no agency. This is unacceptable to me.  Obviously, some of this issue relies on the actor and director to solve in the playing of the scene, but some of it is baked in over the centuries of performance.

There was a moment during the audition process when two women auditioning for the role of Hamlet were discussing how refreshing it was to be at a combat callback – they often get to take part in moments of violence onstage, but largely as the victim of violence.  At this particular callback they were being asked to swing steel and initiate combat – a skill they were both well trained in but sadly, as mentioned above, a skill they rarely get to exercise.  It’s moments like this that informed me along the way.  After this discussion, I became very interested in the potential of a woman playing Laertes, and consequently a man playing Ophelia – something that didn’t really come to fruition until the math of casting came into play.

 

RE: We’ve been talking a lot about gender, but of course our cast is also ethnically diverse, and that diversity is more strongly present in the younger generation of characters. I know that was a deliberate choice – can you talk about that a bit?

SM: Yes!  I was very interested in mirroring our current political landscape.  With largely white older men and women in leadership roles, with a much more diverse younger generation rising up to take leadership roles. Some of them get disenfranchised and disillusioned along the way. While I’m discussing this disenfranchisement in terms of our current politics, I still see it as a direct reflection of the character of Hamlet and his school mates from Wittenberg and how they navigate the new regime in Hamlet’s Denmark.

 

RE: How will we make sure this production is accessible to first-time audience members? What choices are you making specifically because we welcome people who are seeing Shakespeare for the first time?

SM: We’ve been discussing the specifics to this particular production of Hamlet,  but at the end of the day, the play is the play.  What I mean by that is, we’re not changing the story of Hamlet, we’ll still be taking all our cues from the text.  I’m still very much interested in the relationship between the characters and the audience – to that end, the audience should expect to be an active partner in the process.  You will be talked to.  You will be implored.  You will be challenged.  And yes, sometimes it will be by an actor that is in a role they normally wouldn’t play.

In the end, the story of Hamlet will be told, with certain changes that help it resonate in a specific way to a modern audience.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Top 7 Lesser-Known Shakespeare Couples

Romeo and Juliet get a lot of love (pun intended) every February. As do Beatrice and Benedick. And Viola and Orsino. And Rosalind and Orlando. And the young lovers of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Even Antony and Cleopatra turn up on Shakespearean valentines everywhere.

But there are plenty of lesser-known couples in Shakespeare–many of whom actually wind up together, and ALIVE, at the end of the play! According to arbitrary rigorous criteria of cuteness, we’ve listed our top seven “happy ending” Shakespearean couples below whom we wish were more famous.

7. Valentine and Sylvia, The Two Gentlemen of Verona

“What light is light, if Silvia be not seen?

What joy is joy, if Silvia be not by?”

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Michael Navarra and Emily Jordan as Valentine and Sylvia in the 2010 SF Shakes production.

If you ignore the last five minutes of the play, when Valentine considers giving Sylvia to his best friend because, you know, bros before [girls], these two are painfully adorable together.

6. Imogen and Posthumus, Cymbeline 

“I shall here abide the hourly shot

Of angry eyes, not comforted to live,

But that there is this jewel in the world

That I may see again.”

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Craig Marker and Emily Jordan as Posthumus and Imogen in the 2011 SF Shakes production.

Imogen, the daughter of a king, is willing to give up her hopes for the crown to marry her beloved Posthumus behind her father’s back. Sure, there’s that section of the play when Posthumus is tricked into believing that Imogen has been unfaithful, and tries to have her killed while railing on women as a whole, but…everything turns out well and they’re reunited in the end so that’s okay, right?

5. Anne Page and Fenton, The Merry Wives of Windsor

“‘Tis the very riches of thyself that now I aim at.”

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2010 Shakespeare’s Globe production. Source: crouchinggiraffe.blogspot.com

A good counterpoint to Romeo and Juliet, these two crafty young people secretly get married against parental wishes and actually live to tell the tale!

4. Portia and Bassanio, The Merchant of Venice

“One half of me is yours, the other half yours,

Mine own, I would say; but if mine, then yours,

And so all yours.”

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2004 film version. Source: redemptiosehnsucht.blogspot.com

Sure, Bassanio originally woos Portia for money, and he’s really not the brightest crayon in the box. But when Portia begs him not to undergo the test for her hand in marriage (and risk losing the test), it’s just adorable.

3. Pericles and Thaisa, Pericles

“To me he seems like diamond to glass.”

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Michael Storm and (yes, again) Emily Jordan as Pericles and Thaisa in 2008 SF Shakes production.

These two have a relationship that survives decades, not to mention Thaisa supposedly dying and being pushed out to sea in a casket in the middle of a crazy storm, for goodness’ sake. Now THAT’S true love.

2. Perdita and Florizel, The Winter’s Tale

“I cannot be mine own, nor any thing to any, if I be not thine.”

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Rosie Mallett and Davern Wright as Perdita and Florizel in 2016 SF Shakes production.

Florizel’s dedication to Perdita, even after his furious father disowns him as a prince in punishment, is wonderful. It’s also a rare thing for a Shakespeare play to show a nobleman remaining truthful to a lower-class woman (whereas noble women remain true to penniless men all the time). The fact that Perdita’s secretly a princess ultimately makes The Winter’s Tale part of this trend, but Florizel doesn’t know she’s a princess when he gives up everything to run away with her.

1. Miranda and Ferdinand, The Tempest

“I would not wish any companion in the world but you.”

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Julia Motyka and Daveed Diggs as Miranda and Ferdinand (with Julian Lopez-Morillas as Prospero) in the 2006 SF Shakes production.

How often in Shakespeare plays are two young lovers set up by a parent, only to acutally fall in love? Hardly ever, that’s how often. And seriously…these two are just the cutest. They win by a landslide.

What do you think? Did we leave out any lesser known, happy-ending lovers that you’d like to see on this list?

The Stranger’s Case, and Mountainish Inhumanity

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Last night, we hosted the Kickoff Event of our “35 Famous Speeches in 35 Famous Places” Series at the Presidio Officer’s Club. The event included a look back at the three successful speeches we’ve performed so far, a brief history of the past 35 years of San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, and a sneak peek at upcoming events. It also included our fourth speech in the series.

Speech #4 was a group reading of a speech from Sir Thomas More, written by Shakespeare as part of a never-completed collaboration with his contemporary playwrights.

The speech is a passionate piece of rhetoric encouraging empathy  for immigrants, and our choice of the Presidio as the particular “famous place” for this speech was intentional.

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(Photo credit: history.com)

 

The Presidio is one of our valued artistic partners, and this location has an involved and illustrious history in San Francisco. Sadly, that history also includes acting as headquarters for the Western Defense Command, the military outfit that ordered and oversaw the forced removal of 120,000 citizens of Japanese Americans and people of Japanese ancestry during World War II (the Presidio is creating an in-depth historical exhibition about this period, if you’d like to learn more).

Last night, on the site of that dark moment in our nation’s cultural history, dozens of people stood together and read aloud Shakespeare’s speech, in which Thomas More speaks to a mob of citizens demanding that immigrants be removed from London.

While we loved the match between the content of the speech and the location of its performance, we are especially pleased that yesterday’s event coincided with the nationwide Day Without Immigrants protest. As an artistic organization whose top values are access, diversity, and inclusion, we support the welcoming of immigrants in our community–and we marvel that Shakespeare could so beautifully express that support many hundreds of years ago. We are proud to have called this Sanctuary City home for 35 years, and we are so excited to take part in the The Ghostlight Project and other similar efforts to welcome immigrants.

May we all learn from the text below (the excerpt from Shakespeare’s speech that we read last night), and take it to heart.

 

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