News Column

A new season with familiar faces for Santa Cruz Shakespeare

June 25, 2014

By Wallace Baine, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Calif.



June 25--For a while there, it looked like the summer of 2014 would be the first year in decades in which local theater lovers would not have the opportunity to enjoy world-class Shakespeare under the canopy of the redwoods.

Even now, it's a shock to say it: Shakespeare Santa Cruz -- at least, officially -- is defunct.

But, miraculously, despite a stressful and exhausting offseason for those closest to the company, audiences who have not been reading the papers for the past 10 months may not even notice a difference between this summer and summers past -- except, of course, that little wrinkle in the name.

Whether or not you believe in reincarnation, you have to be amazed at the story of Santa Cruz Shakespeare, the new independent theater company that opens its inaugural season July 1. Unlike most new products on the market, SCS doesn't necessarily want to trumpet its "new-and-improved" status. It only wants to maintain what it has been doing all along under a slightly different name.

"We're a brand-new company with a 32-year history," said SCS co-artistic director Mike Ryan, trotting out the company's tag line for the season.

For the record, Santa Cruz Shakespeare is made up almost entirely of board members, directors, crew and cast of the former Shakespeare Santa Cruz. It will be presenting two Shakespeare plays -- "As You Like It" and "Merry Wives of Windsor" -- in the iconic Sinsheimer-Stanley Festival Glen on the campus of UC Santa Cruz with all the standards of performance and presentation that audiences have come to expect for the past three decades in the Glen.

The only difference, essentially, is in the bookkeeping.

Last August, even before the 2013 SSC summer season had ended, the Arts Division at UCSC announced that it was shuttering Shakespeare Santa Cruz due to a yearslong budget deficit that had reached close to $2 million, according to the university's accounting.

What followed was acrimony on both sides -- many in the community feeling that the university had acted in a highhanded and capricious manner, while others felt that the university was not being acknowledged for covering SSC's budget overruns for years.

Ryan, who as an actor is as close to a "face of Shakespeare Santa Cruz" as anyone, immediately took a leadership role in trying to fight the decision. He publicly disputed the university's rationale and worked with SSC's board is creating a new entity called Shakespeare Play On to forge a path to a 2014 season without the university's support.

As a result, a new company was formed without the safety net of UCSC underwriting its budget shortfalls. The two sides entered into weekslong negotiation on the use of the Glen and of the Shakespeare Santa Cruz name. The new company got a two-year lease to operate in the Glen, but had to change its name. Ryan and SSC artistic director Marco Barricelli, who admitted he was "gobsmacked" by the news of the shutdown, decided to share the job of running the company.

"We're going to be putting out the same level of integrity of Shakespeare Santa Cruz in terms of our performances," said Barricelli who first came on as artistic director at SSC in 2008. "But there are so many benefits for us not to have to deal with the bureaucracy and the time table of the university. Like many divorces, it's probably a good thing in the end."

Santa Cruz Shakespeare is, by necessity, leaner than its predecessor. Ryan said that the company's $900,000 budget is little more than half of what it was last year. The company is still using Equity actors, but far fewer than in seasons past -- from around 30 last season to 17 this year. The new season does not include a third indoors production as it has in years past.

Still, SCS is bringing in directors Kristen Brandt and Mark Rucker as directors of the plays, both of whom have a long history with Shakespeare Santa Cruz. Many of the actors on stage, including Ryan himself, will be familiar to SSC fans as well. B. Modern, the well-known costumer who has created so many of SSC's signature looks, is back. And the new company is reviving long SSC programs such as the "Noon at the Nick" series, the Weekend with Shakespeare event, and the interns "fringe" production -- this year, it's Amy Freed's "The Beard of Avon," to be presented July 29 and Aug. 5.

Though audiences may be pleased at the sense of continuity that Santa Cruz Shakespeare is working to maintain, both Ryan and Barricelli say that audiences will have to assume a greater role in supporting the company if it is to be a success. Ryan said that, in keeping with the new company's "forward-funding" philosophy, a second season of SCS will depend entirely on the funds raised during the first, in ticket sales and donations.

"Everything from this season is paid for," said Ryan. "That means, because we are forward-funding the whole season, every person who comes to one of our shows this summer is helping us ensure there's a season in 2015. We're willing to grow this festival as much as the community will allow us to."

Though the mood is up in the Glen this summer, there is no guarantee that SCS will endure beyond this season. Without the university's support, there is no margin for error. Barricelli's new independent theater company debuts in the shadow of the bankruptcy and closing just two weeks ago of San Jose Repertory Theater, established only a year before Shakespeare Santa Cruz.

"We have to look at his as a startup company," said Barricelli. "This is the situation. We have fewer resources, less support. It's going to be a bumpy ride. Everybody understands that. But the level of work is as high as it's ever been. We can guarantee that."

___

(c)2014 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.)

Visit the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.) at www.santacruzsentinel.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


For more stories covering arts and entertainment, please see HispanicBusiness' Arts & Entertainment Channel



Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel (CA)


Story Tools






HispanicBusiness.com Facebook Linkedin Twitter RSS Feed Email Alerts & Newsletters