For early 17th century English theatergoers, there could be few experiences to compare with a bright afternoon at the Globe Theatre—Shakespeare in the open air, the Thames ambling by.
More than four centuries later and half a world away, Wood River Valley theatergoers enjoy a similar aesthetic experience each summer with the coming of the Sun Valley Shakespeare Festival. The Bard’s rich language and human dramas play out in the open air of Ketchum’s Forest Service Park just as they did at Bankside, home of the Globe. Here, towering Douglas firs frame Bald Mountain; warm August air and a rich blue Idaho sky provide the ambiance.
The festival, in its fifth year, weaves theater, education and entertainment into a weeklong celebration of the world’s most famous playwright. This year the Sun Valley Performing Arts Center presents “As You Like It” Friday, Aug. 27, to Sunday, Sept. 5.
The Sun Valley Shakespeare Festival is more than an impressive nightly performance. The annual summer celebration integrates local and professional talent, with educational programs and a Renaissance Fair for a week of community driven entertainment.
The Shakespeare Festival began in Ketchum five years ago as a collaborative project. Wood River Valley actress Claudia McCain entertained the idea of bringing Shakespeare to Ketchum after attending a Shakespeare workshop with Shakespeare and Company of Lenox, Mass. McCain was very excited by what she learned, and wanted to bring it to the valley.
McCain has done more than bring Shakespeare to the valley. With the help of co-founders Kathy Wygle and Kimberly White, the festival has blossomed into an entertaining and educational community affair.
In the summer of 2000 the festival began with a production of “Twelfth Night” exotically set in Bali. In subsequent years the group has put on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “The Taming of the Shrew” and “All’s Well That Ends Well.”
From its first production, the festival has integrated local talent with outside experience. Over the last four years, local amateur and professional actors have joined actors and directors from around the country.
“Because we live in this wonderful place, we are able to bring incredible people who want to come here,” Wygle noted.
She also feels that exposure to outside professionals enhances the quality of the productions and the level of local acting.
“With each new
director, you get an education; each is a teacher who brings a new
component of teaching.” Visiting directors and actors “train our own
actors to be better and come up to their level.”
Prue Hemmings of Sun Valley Performing Arts said the internship allows students “to learn all the processes of theater” by delving into many aspects of the production.
Echo Lynn Christensen interned with the apprenticeship program last year. Her experience with the multi-dimensional internship program was exactly as organizers intended. Throughout her apprenticeship all of the interns stretched their limits.
“Techies learned acting and actors learned tech,” she said and recounted performing on stage as the king’s attendant surrounded by a breadth of “incredible talent.”
This year the festival will expand its educational opportunities with a four-week workshop series for young adults ages 15 to 18. The workshop invites participants to explore theater through stage combat, voice training, text analysis, acting styles and production skills. Participants will showcase their talents during the “Green Show” performance prior to the Aug. 28 production of “All’s Well That Ends Well.”
The festival also embarked in an exciting new direction last year with the addition of a free Renaissance Fair. This year the Shakespeare festival welcomes the second annual Renaissance Fair Saturday, Aug. 28.
Throughout the day the fair celebrates life as it was during the Renaissance. It is highlighted with activities and performances for all ages. Juggling, dancing, fencing, staged combat, falconry demonstrations and musical performances are all part of the event.
The fair is an amalgam of historical tidbits, musical interludes, dancing maidens and medieval entertainment. The goal of the event is “to educate people about Shakespeare through entertainment,” explained Hemmings, organizer of the festival.
Entertainment begins first thing in the morning with a parade down Main Street in Ketchum. The procession of lords, ladies, knights, the occasional wench and, of course, the royal King and Queen of Ketchum officially kicks off a magical day.
For hungry fairgoers, the King’s Table luncheon serves a feast of royal foods—from roasted game hen to serf-brewed lemonade. Guests learn proper Elizabethan manners from the list of table manners posted at the fair.
“Do not stuff your mouth, pick your teeth, make rude noises, scratch yourself, spit in the washbasin, spit up your food into your dish or fall asleep at the table,” the list concludes.
After a day at the fair, Hemmings discovered, “people wanted to attend the plays because they saw it as a cool time. A time when kids drank beer and played with falcons.”
The coat of arms designed for the Shakespeare Festival’s Renaissance Fair visually represents the welcoming essence of the entire festival. Designed by Sun Valley artist Diana Fassino, the crest features the pen and quill for Shakespeare, sheep for the valley’s annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival, the silver of Blaine County mines and the sun for Sun Valley woven into the crest.
The incorporation of local elements into the crest proclaims the heart of the Shakespeare festival: Inviting the Wood River community into the world of Shakespeare through collaboration, education and enjoyment. •