Seeing Shakespeare as it was meant to be
In one of his most beloved sonnets, Shakespeare wrote, “And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.” Before this summer has a chance to pass by, plan an evening of Shakespeare performed under the stars, just as it was in the Bard’s time. This is the year of Shakespeare 400, the anniversary of the playwright’s death. It’s an ideal time to honor the staying power of Shakespeare’s words with a visit to the New Swan Shakespeare Festival and Shakespeare Orange County.
New Swan Shakespeare Festival
Inspired by London’s original Globe Theater, the 130-seat, open-air New Swan Theater has been assembled at UC Irvine every summer since 2012. The season combines productions of Shakespeare’s most beloved plays with musical performances by local artists.
“We’ve always felt that Shakespearean text should be experienced in the most intimate setting possible,” said New Swan’s artistic director, Eli Simon. “Our actors must be incredibly honest in their performances because the audience is only about 10 feet away.”
This summer’s lineup features “As You Like It,” directed by Simon, and “Hamlet,” directed by Beth Lopes, the Swan’s associate artistic director. Actors in the Swan’s intimate company will perform in both productions. Audience members have the opportunity to engage in post-performance discussions with the actors and directors after select weekend performances.
Simon directs what he calls a “ridin’ the rails” production of “As You Like It,” set in the Depression era. One of Shakespeare’s most endearing comedies, the play is a story of a disguised young maiden, a handsome nobleman and a forest full of motley characters. In contrast, “Hamlet,” which tells the tale of Denmark’s tortured prince, is one of Shakespeare’s darkest but most revered tragedies and, Lopes says, a ghost story at its core.
“The brilliance of ‘Hamlet’ is that Hamlet really is all of us,” Lopes said. “He puts voice to the thoughts that we push away as humans constantly.”
On tap for Swan’s Musical Mondays: the British-born, Laguna Beach-based singer songwriter Jason Feddy with his act, “Shakespeare’s Fool,” which puts songs from Shakespeare’s plays to modern melodies, incorporating improvisation. Other Musical Mondays feature the all-female mariachi band Las Colibri and “Mozart Monday III” by the New Swan String Quartet.
“As You Like It” July 8-August 27 | “Hamlet” July 7-August 28 | Musical Mondays: “Shakespeare’s Fool” July 25 | “Mariachi Las Colibri II” August 1 | “Mozart Monday III” August 15 :: newswanshakespeare.com
Shakespeare Orange County
Garden Grove, long the setting for theater companies both indoors and out, is home to the venerable Shakespeare Orange County. Under the leadership of veteran actor John Walcutt since 2014, the company has a dedicated focus to reach new audiences with inventive programming.
“Hamlet” is also on tap for 2016 SOC Summerfest, which will feature Walcutt as King Claudius opposite OC-born actor David Denman (“The Office,” “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”) as the Prince of Denmark. (Read more about Denman in Coast Questionnaire)
The second production of the season is a vaudeville-style sampling of Shakespeare’s classic texts in “Sonnets, Songs, and Sorry Will’s Been Dead for 400 Years.” Walcutt commissioned local writer Allison Yolk to write the piece, which he hopes will entertain Shakespeare lovers in a new and unexpected way.
“We wanted to do something special for the 400 anniversary,” Walcutt said. “This piece is so fun and lively, and it’s full of Shakespeare’s favorite things: mistaken identity, romance and cross dressing.”
The production will feature performances by Orange County School of the Arts dance students and Viet Cam Dance of Westminster. “It’s going to be spectacular,” Walcutt said.
SOC will wrap up the 2016 season with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” All performances take place in Garden Grove’s outdoors Festival Amphitheatre, which seats roughly 540 people.
“Hamlet” June 23-July 16 | “Sonnets, Songs, and Sorry Will’s Been Dead for 400 Years”
July 10-August 7 | “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” August 23-24 :: shakespeareoc.org