Busy Busy Shakespeare Bees

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Whew! 2017 is barely four weeks old and things are already full speed ahead at SF Shakes (and we’re willing to bet your January has been the same). A mere 20 days ago, we posted some resolutions that our company has made for our 35th Anniversary Season, and we asked you to hold us to those resolutions.

Here’s what we’re been doing so far to fulfill them—in other words, here’s a sample of everything that goes on in our office these days.

  1. Our free “35 Famous Speeches in 35 Famous Places” pop-up performance series is coming together. current posterSo far our actors are scheduled to speak Shakespeare at the Conservatory of Flowers, Yerba Buena Gardens, the Presidio Officer’s Club, and at Chrissy Field with a killer view of the Golden Gate Bridge. We hope you’ll bring the whole family to these performances all year long!
  2. Over in Education Land, the talented home schooled actors in our Seven Ages Troupe and Burgeoning Bards Troupe are meeting every week to explore Shakespeare.
  3. The cast of our Free Shakespeare in the Park Hamlet is coming together to support Davern Wright in the title role…and it’s a fantastic cast. Can’t wait to announce the full list to you soon!
  4. Starting tomorrow, our spring Upstart Crows class will meet each Saturday to put together their production of The Merry Wives of Windsor.

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    Last semester’s Upstart Crows production of Henry V.

  5. Shakespeare on Tour began travelling all over the state again this week: since their opening at Mission Blue Center just this past Sunday, they’ve already given six performances of Twelfth Night in schools and public venues across the Bay Area!

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    The cast of Shakespeare on Tour’s Twelfth Night.

  6. We’re co-producing two exciting youth productions across the South Bay: The Little Princess with Los Altos Youth Theatre, which has already started rehearsals, and Ramayana with the City of Cupertino, for which registration is now open (if you’re in or near Cupertino, come join the fun)!
  7. Our Midnight Shakespeare program in Oakland started this week.

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    Midnight Shakespeare production of Measure for Measure, 2015.

  8. Right now we have staff members in Baltimore representing our work at the annual Shakespeare Theatre Association conference.
  9. We’re planning, planning, planning for our fabulous 35th Anniversary Gala in April.
  10. Registration for Bay Area Shakespeare Camps is already taking off (side note: if you’re waiting to register, don’t wait too much longer)!

So…how are we doing so far? Are we holding to our resolutions to celebrate our 35th anniversary season in style, give audiences of all ages and backgrounds access to Shakespeare and the arts, and appreciate our San Francisco home? Stay tuned: the party’s just getting started.

 

 

After all, look at the legacy we’re honoring this year:

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We the People

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Last Friday at 9:00am, members of our community braved the early morning rain to gather with SF Shakes actors and staff at the Bayview Opera House. We then spent the next hour or so reading selections aloud from the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, civil rights speeches, famous modern poems…and, of course, Shakespeare.

We’re so proud that the event was such a success, and we can’t thank everyone enough for coming to read with us. The event meant a lot to our company, and you can hear that in the introduction written by SF Shakes’ Artistic Director Rebecca Ennals:

Welcome, dear friends and community members. I know that today is an emotional day for many reasons, and it was important to us at SF Shakes to provide a forum for us to raise our voices, here, in a beautiful theatre, and remind ourselves of what we love about our country and fellow human beings.

On January 10, 2017, in his farewell address, President Barack Obama said “Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power – with our participation, and the choices we make.”

In that spirit, we thought it would be thought-provoking and inspiring to read selected passages from our Constitution, accompanied by scenes and speeches from Shakespeare and great American figures that seemed relevant to us. In no way do we wish to cover up and whitewash the fact that these words mean different things to different people. We welcome that fact, and we present these words without commentary. We will also conclude with an open mic, during which we welcome you to come to the stage and share something that feels relevant to you.

Many people have asked us for copies of the text selections read on Friday. The downloadable document below won’t include the many amazing selections that community members brought in for the open mic portion of the event, but it does include all of the text that we collected in advance to provide a starting point. Enjoy!

Download the text selections here: we-the-people-text-selections-sf-shakes-january-20-2017

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow: A Farewell Interview with Stephen Muterspaugh

mutersp_d71_4203At the start of 2017, we said a fond farewell to SF Shakes Associate Artistic Director Stephen Muterspaugh, congratulating him as he began his new job as Managing Artistic Director forJewel Theatre Company in Santa Cruz. Since joining our company in 2010, Steve founded the Shakespeare For All residency program, creating community-based productions featuring first-time actors working alongside professionals in Salida, Modesto, and other Central Valley communities; he directed four Shakespeare On Tour productions between 2012 and 2015; he appeared in two Free Shakespeare in the Park productions (Banquo in 2013’s Macbeth and Leontes in last season’s acclaimed The Winter’s Tale); and he co-directed the 2014 Free Shakespeare in the Park production of The Taming of the Shrew. During his time at SF Shakes, he passed on his passion for Shakespeare to hundreds of students through Bay Area Shakespeare Camps, Midnight Shakespeare program, and Advanced Shakespeare Workshop.

We’re so excited about Steve’s next step in his career, and we’re also thrilled he’ll remain a Resident Artist with the company and direct our upcoming Free Shakespeare in the Park production of Hamlet this summer. We sat down with Steve earlier this week to talk about his history with SF Shakes, his new job, and what he’ll miss about working with us full-time.

How did you first hear about SF Shakes?

I auditioned for Two Gentlemen of Verona in 2010 and said on my audition form that I was also interested in teaching. I wasn’t cast in the show, but I was called in to teach, and that’s how my journey with SF Shakes started.

What do you remember about that first summer teaching for SF Shakes?

Organized chaos! It was such a whirlwind summer. My main memory of that summer is a student I taught in my first camp who was blind: she was really into Shakespeare’s work, she responded so deeply to it, because of the imagery that his words created in her mind.

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Steve as Banquo and Michael Ray Wisely as Macbeth in our 2013 production of Macbeth.

How did you become Associate Artistic Director in 2013?

I joined the staff in 2012 as the Education Programs Manager. [SF Shakes Executive Director] Toby Leavitt saw the work I was doing with the Midnight Shakespeare program in Oakland and thought that classroom work would translate into working with adult non-actors. So she and I designed Shakespeare for All together, and that was the same year I became Associate Artistic Director.

What’s your favorite memory from your time with SF Shakes?

I directed the Shakespeare on Tour A Midsummer Night’s Dream production a few years ago, and we’d been rehearsing for three weeks when we were asked to be part of the Litquake Festival. We performed in a parklet in the City with full costume and props, doing this one performance of the show as part of the Lit Crawl series. Our show was just along the way in between event venues, and we thought it would be a tiny performance, but as we started we had over 100 people watching us on that sidewalk. It got to the point where the audience started blocking traffic–when a cop came up to us and was going to ask us to disperse, someone told him it was Shakespeare and he changed his mind! It was such a beautiful guerrilla theatre moment—we thought we would lose people after 5 minutes and they stayed for the whole hour-long performance.

Do you have moments you’re most proud of?

My experiences teaching Midnight Shakespeare were both extremely rewarding and intensely challenging. Every one of those performances gave me a chance to watch these young adults shine in a way that I had never seen. They really understood better than anyone that Shakespeare’s words are meant to be performed onstage. There was one moment I particularly loved the year that Midnight Shakespeare produced Romeo and Juliet, involving the actor playing Mercutio: his girlfriend’s son had sat through entire show and had a good time. Later the actor brought the kid on stage, with no one watching, and he recited the Queen Mab speech to this little kid and asked the kid to say the words back to him. It was a great passing of the baton from one generation to the next.

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Steve as Leontes in last summer’s production of The Winter’s Tale.

What are you going to miss most about being Artistic Associate Director for SF Shakes?

The beauty of my SF Shakes job was that I got to just live in Shakespeare’s words every day. There wasn’t a day when I wasn’t reading the text and getting to delve into it and be a student myself. It was my job to study his work, how crazy was that? I’ll miss having Shakespeare be part of my life every day.

What are you most excited about working with Jewel Theatre?

At SF Shakes we worked on 400-year-old plays all year. Now I get to do at least one brand new show a year and every season is eclectic. Bringing new plays to life will be a big change for me. Also, SF Shakes does one or two shows per season, and now I get to produce five.

What will you take with you from your time at SF Shakes?

All of it! The biggest thing is the concern with social relevance—you have to think about relevance every time you produce a play. Every time SF Shakes would produce a Shakespeare show, we would ask, “Why are we doing this particular play?” I’ll also carry the social justice aspect of SF Shakes’ mission with me.

What are you most excited about when it comes to directing this summer’s Hamlet?

I think there’s so much relevance with the Hamlet story being a surrogate for the uncertainty of America right now. It’s not a 1:1 comparison, but there is a lot of similarity. I feel that when Hamlet returns to Denmark from school, he finds himself thinking, “Where am I? What happened?” I feel like no matter what they believe politically, the entire population of America right now is grasping at that thought of, “Where are we as a nation?” That’s where this play starts, and I’m excited about tracing that journey… as well as Hamlet’s own personal journey throughout the play, of course!

Thank you, Steve, for so many amazing seasons at SF Shakes. We are proud of you, we’ll miss you, and we look forward to working with you again this summer!

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Steve (bottom left) poses with the cast of our 2012 Shakespeare for All program in Salida.

 

Top 3 New Year’s Resolutions for SF Shakes

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Ah, another New Year’s Day come and gone. Time to make some resolutions, right? Even year-round Shakespeare theatre companies make them.

Our company doesn’t have a long list, but the items on it are very important to us. In 2017, we resolve to:

1. Celebrate our 35th Anniversary in style.

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This year we’re celebrating our 35th birthday as the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival! And while 35 might be a respectable, mature age, we’re determined to have some fun. At the very least, we’re going to have lots of fun digging through old photos and sharing them with you (and asking you to share your photos with us)! We’re also excited to produce Hamlet for the first time for Free Shakespeare in the Park and pop up in some unexpected places with some of your favorite scenes from Shakespeare.

2. Use Shakespeare to create a bright spot in the world.

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We believe in the power of the arts to heal: to inspire us, to touch the humanity in all of us, and to bring communities together. Our Free Shakespeare in the Park productions combine the best in the performing arts with beautiful words, beautiful sets, and beautiful costumes, and we present them to thousands of people across the Bay Area every summer. This year, we’re doubly determined to give you the best. We’ll also use our education programs to give students all over California the chance to express and explore their emotions through language and movement. We’re taking that responsibility more seriously than ever.

3. Lose our hearts to San Francisco all over again.

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Sure, our Shakespeare on Tour Program may travel across the state, but we are the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival for a reason. We love our hometown. This year, we resolve to fill the City with poetry and entertainment.

Bonus Resolution:

Somehow, we must find a way to make use of at least something from this hilariously labeled box.

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And we promise you pictures when we do.

So there you have it. 2017 is going to be a big one. We hope you’ll join us for the yearlong celebration!