A Synopsis of As You Like It: a new musical


trioIn the Court of a near-future city, we meet Orlando, busking on the street. He is accompanied by Adam, a servant from the house of Orlando’s late father, Sir Rowland de Boys. Enter Oliver, brother to Orlando, a ruthless politician returning from a business trip. He is embarrassed by his brother’s performance and the two argue. Orlando accuses his brother of treating him badly and demands his share of the family inheritance. They brawl briefly. Orlando proves the better fighter, but he backs off and leaves the scene with Adam. Oliver then conspires with Duke Frederick’s champion wrestler, Charles the Lioness, to kill Orlando when they next meet in the ring

Elsewhere in the Court, we meet best friends and cousins, Celia and Rosalind. Celia is the daughter of Duke Frederick, who came to power by stealing the throne from his older brother, Duke Senior, Rosalind’s father. Celia attempts to comfort a distraught Rosalind when the Court’s social secretary, Le Beau, enters to invite them to watch the fight between Charles and Orlando. Wrestling is the favorite form of entertainment in the bloodthirsty Court. This is when Rosalind first meets Orlando, whom she falls for instantly. To everyone’s surprise, Orlando wins the match, which doesn’t please the Duke. Rosalind gives Orlando a token to wear.

After the match, Rosalind is banished by Duke Fredrick who considers her a political threat. Celia bravely decides to join her. They devise a plan that will allow them to move safely unnoticed: Celia disguises herself as a poor woman, Aliena, and Rosalind as a young man named Ganymede. Together they flee to the Forest of Arden where they settle into their new identities and

Back at the Court, Adam warns Orlando to flee his brother’s murderous treachery. So, coincidentally, they also enter the Forest of Arden and the safety to be found there. In another coincidence, Rosalind’s exiled father lives in the forest as well. We meet him and his community of native Foresters and Court Exiles weathering their first winter in the wilderness. Among the Exiles is Jaques, a melancholy member of the Duke’s cohort known for witty observations and sporadic behavior. Orlando, searching for food for the weakening Adam, stumbles into the Duke’s forest camp. After a rocky introduction, the Duke welcomes Orlando and is happy to learn that he is the son of his dear friend, Sir Rowland de Boys. Alas, by the end of their introduction, the elderly Adam passes away peacefully.

Back at the Court, Duke Frederick and Charles torture Oliver and send him to retrieve Orlando.

Months pass and spring comes to the forest; and everyone’s thoughts turn to love. Rosalind finds love poems hanging from the trees. The poems are poorly written and she and Touchstone poke fun at them until Celia reveals their author to be none other than Orlando, who is sick in love. Shaken, Rosalind wonders what to do about her disguise. Finally, Rosalind-as-Ganymede meets Orlando. She tells him she can cure his lovesickness if he comes to her house daily, pretends to woo her, and calls her Rosalind. He agrees to this plan. Meanwhile, other seemingly hopeless romances develop around them. Silvius continues to try and fail to woo Phebe. Phebe, for her part, falls for Ganymede after being insulted by him. Touchstone challenges a rival suitor, William, to win the affections of Audrey, a resourceful local woman.

Oliver arrives in the forest a changed man. He reports that Orlando was attacked by Charles the Lioness in the woods while trying to protect a stranger who happens to have been Oliver himself. The news causes Rosalind-as-Ganymede to faint. Oliver and Celia waste no time falling in love and getting engaged. To great relief, Orlando arrives with only a small wound on his arm and gives Oliver consent to marry Celia, but is sad that he can’t marry Rosalind. Ganymede enters and claims to be able to summon Rosalind through magic, telling Phebe, Silvius, and Orlando to come together the next day so he can set everything right with a wedding. The next day, Ganymede appears, bringing the brides with him. He says Rosalind will appear if Duke Senior (her father) blesses their wedding and if Phebe will marry Silvius. They agree and Rosalind drops her disguise to become Rosalind again. Jaques officiates the weddings of Audrey and Touchstone, Celia and Oliver, Silvius and Phebe, and Rosalind and Orlando

A messenger arrives to announce that Duke Frederick, who was coming with an army, met a religious man on the road and was converted from his evil ways. Reinstated, Duke Senior and the Exiles can return to Court. Jaques, curious about religious life, decides to stay in the woods with Duke Frederick.


­                                                                                       -Lily Goldman, Literary Intern, 2019


Modern Renaissance Man: Meet Resident Artist Phil Wong

Our Resident Artist company is one of SF Shakes’ most unique features, and we’d love for you to get to know our RA company better. The Resident Artists of San Francisco Shakespeare Festival are a core group of actors, designers, directors, and teaching artists who bring their expertise to all of our programs. They uphold SF Shakes’ artistic values and serve our mission to provide access to Shakespeare and theatre to everyone regardless of age, ethnicity, financial status, or level of education.

Today’s featured RA is Phil Wong, whom SF Shakes audiences might remember seeing as Grumio in 2014’s Free Shakespeare in the Park production of The Taming of the Shrew, or as the Clown in our 2016 The Winter’s Tale.

Phil Wong loves seeing the moment when students realize that Shakespeare is much easier to understand than they think.

“I always write the word ‘Shakespeare’ up on the board, and have them do free association of words,” he explains. “They start throwing out words like ‘boring’ or ‘old” or ‘complicated.’ That’s when I tell them they’ve been reading Shakespeare for too long, that they should just say the words. The more you speak the words out loud, the more you can naturally infer context.”

Phil has been teaching for SF Shakes since he joined the 2014 Shakespeare on Tour production of Julius Caesar, which was his first professional acting job out of college. From there, he went on to Free Shakespeare in the Park roles in The Taming of Shrew and The Winter’s Tale. He describes the experience of Shrew as especially formative for him because of the inquisitive environment that Artistic Director Rebecca Ennals fostered in the rehearsal room: “From day one she approached the production asking, ‘This show is super sexist, so what are we going to do about it?’ It really made me think about how the classics are problematic, and we should talk about that fact.”

When not performing for us onstage, Phil has taught every program that SF Shakes offers – summer camps, playshops, residencies, Shakespeare for All, and Midnight Shakespeare in Oakland. (As an Oakland native and current Oakland resident himself, he’s always felt a particular affinity for our ongoing partnership with the Oakland Civicorps program.) SF Shakes audiences also heard his original music in Shrew, Winter’s Tale, and Shakespeare on Tour’s Twelfth Night in 2016-2017.

Phil says that working for SF Shakes so soon after he graduated from Oberlin College opened lots of doors for him artistically – he describes Free Shakespeare in the Park as “massive exposure instantly” – and he’s received audition invites and been seen on stages across the Bay Area. His non-Shakespearean appearances in recent years have included Shotgun Players’ acclaimed production of Kiss this past fall, The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga at TheatreWorks, Reefer Madness at Ray of Light Theater, and Killing My Lobster’s 2017 holiday sketch comedy A Bag of Dickens, for which he received a TBA award nomination.

Yet while he may share his considerable talents across the area, Phil considers SF Shakes his “artistic home” because of the Resident Artist company. “It’s great to have a group of people you’re checking in with all the time,” he says, “and have a hand in seeing how a company like SF Shakes works, the process of producing shows. That’s valuable to me as someone who maybe one day would like to have his own company.”

For now, Phil is taking a relative break from acting to focus on other creative outlets for a short while. He has a few jobs booked in 2019, including Goodnight Gorilla at Bay Area Children’s Theatre, a Theatre for the Very Young show intended for aged six months to three years old (he calls this age range “the most receptive audience you’ll ever get”). He’s thrilled to be directing Killing My Lobster’s first show with an entirely Asian-American cast, Model Minority Report, which will explore the inherent privileges and disadvantages of being Asian-American through a dystopian lens.

Beyond those projects, Phil is occasionally performing standup comedy, trying to play a little music every day for the first time since college, and immersing himself in the improv community. He believes the latter in particular will make him a better teaching artist and performer. “I did improv in college, but I wasn’t very good at because I was trying too hard to be funny or do something clever,” he explains. “It’s less about cleverness and more about empathy and listening to people, about understanding circumstances and relationships. You have to be willing to take something unusual and explore that to its fullest extent.”

In the meantime, Phil will continue to foster “ah-ha” moments by teaching theatre to kids across the Bay Area with SF Shakes, CalShakes, and other companies in town. Keep in touch with us on Facebook and Twitter to keep track of where to see Phil next!

Theatre with a Mission: Meet Resident Artist Radhika

D72_1631Our Resident Artist company is one of SF Shakes’ most unique features, and we’d love for you to get to know our RA company better. The Resident Artists of San Francisco Shakespeare Festival are a core group of actors, designers, directors, and teaching artists who bring their expertise to all of our programs. They uphold SF Shakes’ artistic values and serve our mission to provide access to Shakespeare and theatre to everyone regardless of age, ethnicity, financial status, or level of education.

We visited with Radhika Rao, whom SF Shakes audiences might remember seeing as Guildenstern in last year’s Free Shakespeare in the Park production of Hamlet, or as Brutus in our 2014 Shakespeare on Tour production of Julius Caesar

Radhika Rao will never forget falling in love with the Bay Area when she moved here in 2012. “As soon as I came here,” she says, “I felt home.”

Radhika journey to Northern California stretches back across the globe to her native New Dehli. Her women’s college in India didn’t offer theatre degrees, so she majored in Psychology instead. She discovered her passion for theatre later, in an unusual way: teaching theatre basics to children in an Indian Outward Bound camp.

“I watched as theatre enabled the young people I was working with to transform their views and perspectives,” she remembers. “As they took on another character or imagined they were in another environment, then they transformed themselves.” Radhika became hooked on teaching theatre with the view and goal of altering lives.

This new mission took her to the Harvard School of Education, where her Doctoral thesis focused on theatre education and social change. Lately she’s become a renowned theatre educator in the Bay Area for companies like New Conservatory Theatre Company, American Conservatory Theatre, and Cutting Ball Theatre (where she also used to be Education Director). Radhika’s teaching prowess also led her to join the SF Shakes family in 2013 when she became a teaching artist in our Bay Area Shakespeare Camps.

The following year, director Stephen Muterspaugh cast her to play Brutus in the Shakespeare on Tour production of Julius Caesar, and that’s when she began to think her commitment to socially conscious theatre and our focus on casting diversity were a match. “I loved being part of Shakespeare on Tour (SOT),” she says, remarking that she might not have won the role of Brutus at a different company. “SOT is always very diverse. Being a brown woman on stage and seeing kids who look like me, and how much it meant to them to see South Asian person on stage, that’s always been one of my favorite aspects of working with SF Shakes.”

Rao_Radhika copy

Radhika loves teaching Shakespeare in particular and continues to act as one of our most beloved Teaching Artists. She appreciates his plays’ rich themes and variety of character perspectives, which allow for countless interpretations depending on each group of students. For proof she points to an SF Shakes residency that she led this fall with a group of home schooled children in Belmont, who explored and performed As You Like It. “Their ages were 7 through 11, so they’re not really interested in romance right now,” she says. “But there were sibling relationships in the play and sibling relationships within the group of students.” She therefore helped the students to create a production that focused on As You Like It’s pairs of siblings.

When she’s not helping young people to find their voices as artists, Radhika has enjoyed an exciting year as an artist in her own right in the Bay Area and beyond. Her favorite stage performances in 2018 included Strange Ladies at Center Works and Timon of Athens at Cutting Ball Theater, both of which received TBA Award nominations for Best Ensemble Performance. Most recently, she just finished a run as the Narrator in a dance drama called The Forgotten Empress, produced by Farah Yasmeen and Noorani Dance; this latter project gave her a welcome chance to perform with her own South Asian community. And she’s especially proud to have served on the reading committee and helped to moderate post-show talkbacks for Z Space’s 2018 Problematic Play Festival, curating three different plays that had been deemed “unproduceable” by the theatre world at large.

While her performance work might take her across the country from time to time, Radhika says SF Shakes provides a unique artistic home for her in our Resident Artist company. From revising the SF Shakes education curriculum, to mentoring interns, to serving on our 2017 strategic planning committee, Radhika has become an integral part of our organization as an SF Shakes Resident Artist. She insists that the RA program brings benefit to artists as well as to our company: “I’ve always wanted to belong to a space where I could meet with the same group of professionals regularly and get to know them,” she says.  The RA Company has given her “a space to play with the same people, debate ideas, go to workshops. It’s a community.”

Where can SF Shakes audiences see Radhika next? She’s currently on a break from acting—“I wanted time to be present in other areas of the theatre world, to go to theatre conferences and watch some theatre as well”—but hopes to hop back on the stage in spring 2019. In the meantime she has a new project on the horizon: she’ll be working with Richmond artist Amir Jaffer on a web series called “Alone Together,” addressing the South Asian immigrant experience in post-Trump area. She’s also a key member of Theatre Bay Area’s new committee to address instances of sexual harassment in the Bay Area theatre world. Keep in touch with us on Facebook and Twitter or visit www.radhikarao.org to keep track of where to see Radhika next!

Shakespeare Screen Time

Holidays, rainy days, vacation days, sick days- when the mood for some Shakespeare strikes, you’ve got to be ready. When you can’t make it out to the park for some Free Shakespeare or to a library for a tour show, here’s a roundup of some of our favorite Shakespeare shows now appearing on screens in your home.

Shakespeare Uncovered


This fantastic PBS series started in 2015 and explores Shakespeare’s work play by play, featuring little-known facts and famous actors from all over the world. You’ll find early seasons on Amazon or stream it at pbs.org/shakespeareuncovered. 

The Hollow Crown 

hollow crown

A terrific adaptation telling the story of three kings: Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V. Watch superstars Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons and more fight for the English throne.

The Tempest


Magic, drama, and Helen Mirren as a gender-swapped Prospero. What’s not to love? Check out visionary director Julie Taymor’s version of this Shakespearean tale.

King Lear

king learJust released! Sir Anthony Hopkins takes on the role of the lifetime in a brand-new version of this famous tragedy, which also stars the incomparable Emma Thompson. (Warning for the very young: King Lear can get a bit gory!)

Big Business

big business

If your family would rather enjoy some laughs, check out this 1980s film based on The Comedy of Errors, starring Bette Middler and Lily Tomlin. (And make plans to see SF Shakes’ own production of Comedy in the spring!)

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead


Tom Stoppard’s philosophical riff on Hamlet stars Tim Roth, Gary Oldman, and Richard Dreyfuss. Forget the fancy words about this being an “absurdist, existential tragicomedy.” It’s just plain fun and funny.