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Open-air Shakespeare; a dozen festivals in the West this summer.

"Wherever the bright sun of heaven shall shine,

His honor and the greatness of his name shall be." -King Henry VIII

Almost anywhere you look this summer, Shakespeare reigns in the world of theater. At any of a dozen Western festivals, you can see from one production to as many as four. All feature professional actors, and more than half of them cast members of Actors' Equity.

In the spirit of Elizabethan England's original Globe Theatre, all festivals we list offer at least some performances in open-air theaters. Some have no formal seating but encourage playgoers to bring picnics and blankets creating a jocund atmosphere even more reminiscent of Shakespeare's day.

At six locations, playgoers awaiting curtain times can enjoy"green shows" including madrigal singing, dancing, joketelling jesters, juggling, storytelling. And all the festivals are resplendent with colorful banners and glorious costumes.

Spectacular natural settings and generally predictable weather make the West conducive to outdoor Shakespeare. For many families, spending an evening or a weekend at a festival has become an annual summer event.

Evenings can begin with lazy picnics either on the grounds outside the gates or on the lawn (or beach) surrounding the stage.

Over the past few seasons, festivals have seen their ticket sales increase dramatically. A record 344,000 people visited Ashland, Oregon the country's largest Shakespeare festival in 1988. Audiences at the Valley Institute of Theatre Arts (VITA) in Saratoga, California, have grown from 3,000 to 37,000 over the past 10 years.

Growth has been so remarkable that new theaters are being built to accommodate demand. The Utah Shakespearean Festival will christen a new indoor theater this summer, enabling it to double its number of productions to six (including three nonShakespeare plays). In 1990, Berkeley Shakespeare will move to a new, larger home in the Siesta Valley, near Orinda.

Catching the Shakespeare bug

Berkeley Shakespeare's Mary O'Brien enjoys seeing the reactions of people just discovering the plays: "They tend to get scared away in school, when they must plod throughthe texts. But when people can see the plays, and how they deal with universal themes and questions relevant to our lives today, they realize the plays are not that hard to understand. Then they really catch the Shakespeare bug." This goes, too, for children; even if they don't always stay awake until the final curtain, they love the costumes and the jokes and slapstick elements of the comedies. In the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival's well-received Shakespeare in the Schools program, actors visit elementary schools and perform scenes.

The oldest and best-known festival, of course, is Ashland's. Every year, it presents II plays (4 by Shakespeare) in three theaters over eight months. The company has produced the entire Shakespearean canon at least twice, some plays as many as 11 times. In Portland this year, as part of its new winter season, the Ashland company produced five plays, including the whimsical, rarely done Pericles.

Most frequently performed of Shakespeare's 37 plays are the comedies particularly A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, and Twelfth Night and this year is no exception. But you can also find two of the four "great tragedies" this summer: Macbeth in Utah and Othello in Colorado. And Romeo and Juliet, many people's romantic favorite, is being performed in four places.

Very midsummer madness

Tickets for most of the festivals, especially in Ashland and Cedar City, should be purchased this month. At Tahoe and Boise, you can usually get tickets the night of a performance. And San Francisco's festival in Golden Gate Park is free (although if you arrive too late you may have to sit so far from the stage you can't hear the actors).

For evening outdoor performances, dress warmly and bring a blanket or sleeping bag and a flashlight. Amphitheaters in Boise, Boulder, and San Diego tend to be a little warmer. Cushions are usually available (for $1), but in limited supply. If you're traveling some distance to attend a festival, theater box offices can refer you to places to call for lodging and suggest other local activities such as hiking, rafting, or horseback riding.

"Open seating" is unreserved; bring a blanket and picnic, and arrive early for best viewing. Several festivals include non-Shakespeare plays as well. Call for schedules and for special preview and matinee prices.

California: seven festivals

Berkeley Shakespeare Festival, Box 969, Berkeley 94701; (415) 525-8844. Favors contemporary productions. This year: Measure for Measure, Much Ado About Nothing, Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew. Outdoors in John Hinkel Park, which sells out and can be foggy, and inside at Julia Morgan Theatre. June 30 through October 15; $9 to $19.

Grove Shakespeare, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove 92640; (714) 636-7214. This year: Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Grove tends to use contemporary settings (last year's Comedy of Errors was set in outer space); green show. June 23 through December 23; $17 to $23.

Old Globe Theatre, Box 2171, San Diego 92112; (619) 239-2255. Measure for Measure and Romeo and Juliet. Outdoor and indoor theaters in Balboa Park. June 18 through October 8; $16 to $25.

San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, 1122 Hearst Building, Box 640386, San Francisco 94164; (415) 777-3870. A Midsummer Night's Dream. Open seating (on lawn or bleachers) in a new, quieter area in Golden Gate Park. Wednesday through Sunday afternoons, September 4 through October 1; free. Last year, some performances drew more than a thousand people, so arrive early.

Shakespeare at Sand Harbor, Box 18, Tahoe City 95730; (916) 583-9048. A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night, as well as Cyrano de Bergerac; green show. Spectacular setting southeast of Incline Village, Nevada; open seating. August 11 through 27; $10, $8 seniors, ages 4 through 12, and North Tahoe Fine Arts Council members.

Shakespeare/Santa Cruz, Performing Arts Building, UCSC, Santa Cruz 95064; (408) 429-2121. Love's Labour'sLost and Romeo and Juliet. Contemporary productions in an indoor theater and a redwood glen (open seating outdoors; beach chairs available for $I). July 21 through August 27; $10 to $15, discounts available.

Valley Institute of Theatre Arts (VITA), Box 999, Saratoga 95071; (408) 867-2766. A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night, plus Cyrano de Bergerac; green show. Two outdoor theaters. May 12 through July 23; $9.50 to $17.50.

Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah: five more locations

Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Box 261, University of Colorado, Boulder 80309; (303) 492-8181. Love's Labour's Lost, Othello, The Taming of the Shrew. Quiet outdoor theater nestled at the base of the Rocky Mountains. June 27 through August 18; $9 to $16.

Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Box 9365, Boise 83707; (208) 336-9221. Much Ado About Nothing, Richard II, Troilus and Cressida; green show. Open seating; gates open 2 hours before curtain for picnicking on lawn. June 16 through August 20; $11, $7 students and seniors.

Montana Shakespeare in the Park,

Department of Media and Theater Arts, Montana State University, Bozeman 59717; (406) 994-3901. The Taming of the Shrew and The Miser Company presents 54 performances in 45 places throughout Montana, Wyoming, and Alberta. June 27 through August 26; most performances free.

Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Box 158, Ashland 97520; (503) 482-4331. King Henry IV Part II, Much Ado About Nothing, Pericles, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, plus Cyrano de Bergerac; green show. February 17 through October 29; $11 to $19.

Utah Shakespearean Festival Southern Utah State College, Cedar City 84720; (801) 586-7878. Macbeth, The Tempest, The Winter's Tale. Elaborate green show is like a fair, complete with horehound candy and lemon tarts for sale. June 23 through September 2; $6 to $15.
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Date:May 1, 1989
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