Youthful vigor, passion, and strife are at play in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and that youthful spirit is matched in this summer’s staging of the perennial favorite by Santa Fe Classic Theater.
Summer Shakespeare festivals abound. They are often associated with states like Colorado, Utah, Oregon, and Oklahoma, among many others. Some are named after a region, like the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival or the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. And festivals are typically based at a specific theater, outdoor venue, or dedicated festival grounds.
This year Santa Fe is throwing its hat into the ring, and it’s doing it a little differently.
Santa Fe Summer Shakespeare, which runs at various venues from May 31 to Sept. 8, does even not include “festival” in its name, though the organizers cheerfully acknowledge that it is indeed a festival. There are no central grounds or theater where everything is based. Familiar plays will be performed, but companies also plan other events, including community reading groups, instruction in stage combat, Elizabethan dance lessons, Shakespeare Jeopardy! and iDraw Shakespeare pop-up drawing sessions at A Gallery Somewhere (3209-B Calle Marie).
“This is different from any place in the country,” said Caryl Farkas, who has played a central role in organizing the festival and is president of the International Shakespeare Center in Santa Fe.
The festival kicks off with Romeo and Juliet. This production marks the Santa Fe Botanical Garden’s third “Shakespeare in the Garden” summer offering. This year, Santa Fe Classic Theater produces Romeo and Juliet, which shows in the garden’s amphitheater from May 31 to June 9. Henry IV, Part 1, as well as Measure for Measure and The Comedy of Errors also surface from International Shakespeare Center and ISC offshoot Upstart Crows of Santa Fe. The New Mexico Actors Lab will also take part.
“This is the first year,” said Jennifer Graves, producer of Santa Fe Classic Theater. “We are figuring out what we will do in the future,” she said. “We are doing our own thing.”
But why create a festival?
“When you have seen great Shakespeare, it changes you,” Farkas said. “It makes you want more, makes you want to understand the mystery of it and be part of the story it tells. What attracts us as producers and directors is probably much the same as what draws a 14-year-old to the Upstart Crows: the glory of the plays. Everyone involved in Santa Fe Summer Shakespeare has a deep love of Shakespeare’s works and decades of experience cultivating their appreciation and grasp of its genius.”
The desire is to encourage more of the 20 theater groups in Santa Fe to take part in Summer Shakespeare in the coming years. Right now Summer Shakespeare is a loose-knit collaboration, but Farkas is considering setting up a separate nonprofit organization for it. At the moment, the organizers want to keep the festival as it is now, rather than have a dedicated location.
“But if somebody offers us a lot of money to build a theater ... ,” said Farkas, trailing off suggestively.
The quirky nature of the festival extends to the mix of offerings. Along with the plays, there are also Shakespeare reading groups, where community members read aloud and discuss the four plays staged in the festival line by line at the Shakespeare Reading Room (3209-B Calle Marie). The cost is $5. And if anything sets Santa Fe Summer Shakespeare apart from the flotilla of Bard-related festivals elsewhere, it’s having Upstart Crows — a troupe for people ages 10 to 18 — as one of the festival pillars.
This is not just kids doing Shakespeare, though.
“You are seeing performances by people deeply immersed in the text,” said Farkas, who is artistic director of Upstart Crows. “I have kids who have been in 14 and 15 productions. They know the language. They know the rhetorical devices.”
Santa Fe Classic Theater’s Graves added, “The kids bring a fresh view — unfiltered and real funny.”
Santa Fe Summer Shakespeare will have something of a built-in audience with the 200-member Theatre Lovers Club, a collection of drama aficionados that was started a year ago by Graves. The TLC reviews upcoming theatrical performances in the community. “We have talks a couple times a month by [local play-] producing entities,” she said.
The festival stems from the Shakespeare center, which was founded in 2015 to bring performances of Shakespeare’s First Folio (a bound volume from 1623) to Santa Fe in February 2016. The collaborative spirit was sparked with Theatre Santa Fe, an online clearinghouse with a calendar of plays, call boards for actors and backstage people, and auditions, said Robin Williams, who established TSF in 2015 and is an ISC co-founder.
“This is a culmination of many steps we have taken,” Graves said. “The serendipity of all of us doing something the same summer was magical.” ◀
▼ Santa Fe Summer Shakespeare
▼ Runs May 18 to Sept. 8; see sfsummershakes.org for information on these and other events
▼ May 31 to June 9: Santa Fe Classic Theater’s production of Romeo and Juliet, Santa Fe Botanical Garden, 715 Camino Lejo. May 31 gala opening (begins 5:30 p.m., show 7 p.m.) is $95; tickets to other shows (7 p.m. start time) are $35 to $45 weekends, $25 to $35 weekdays (brownpapertickets.com); student discounts available; call 646-413-3218
▼ June 15: “Shakespeare’s Language,” a workshop with Robert Benedetti, Shakespeare Reading Room, 3209-B Calle Marie. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Tickets are $25; 505-424-1601 or sfsummershakes.org. The founder and artistic director of the New Mexico Actors Lab explores the patterning of rhythm, sound, imagery, and figures of speech in Shakespeare
▼ July 26 & 27 and Aug. 2 & 3: The Comedy of Errors, Upstart Crows of Santa Fe, Santa Fe Botanical Garden; 6 p.m. Tickets are $10; call 505-466-3533
▼ Aug. 22 to Sept. 8: Henry IV, Part 1 and Measure for Measure (shows alternate, check listings), International Shakespeare Center, The Swan (formerly Adobe Rose Theatre), 1213 Parkway Drive; 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $15 to $25; call 505-466-3533 or email firstname.lastname@example.org