After a year off the stage, the South Dakota Shakespeare Festival will be making its return to production with the classic play “The Taming of the Shrew,” June 13-15 with performances each night at 7 p.m. in Vermillion’s Prentis Park.
Artistic director Chaya Gordon-Bland said the festival is more than just the production.
“The South Dakota Shakespeare Festival is a not-for-profit theater company whose mission is to expand the educational, cultural and arts opportunities in South Dakota and the Great Plains region,” Gordon-Bland said. “We offer summer programming — for now it’s fairly small; three days of programming. We do a full production. ... We also offer a wide array of workshops and educational programs for youths and adults.
The festival held its inaugural season in 2012 with a production of “As You Like It.” The venture scaled back to its educational elements in 2013 when executive director Greg Huckabee was gone on sabbatical.
“The Taming of the Shrew” came up as an option this year ultimately because the theater company is so new and is looking to engage people who may not be as familiar with the full body of William Shakespeare’s work.
“Because we’re a young company and we’re doing work for audiences that may not be seasoned and experienced with Shakespeare, my goal as artistic director is to choose play titles that are easily engaged with by the audience,” she said. “Our first year we did ‘As You Like It’ — it’s very fun and frothy, has lots of music and it’s kind of a lovely feel-good story. ‘Taming of the Shrew’ is a very different kind of play but it’s a play title that people recognize — people have had contact either in school or many of the contemporary adaptations.”
While they have specialized in comedic plays for each production, Gordon-Bland still aims to make sure they’re plays with substance.
“It’s a really fun, comedic, bawdy play and it has some meat to it,” she said. “That’s the other piece of it — it’s important to me, as artistic director, if we’re only doing one play per season right now, that even though our play is a comedy, we’re doing a comedy that has a little bit of meat to dig into rather than some of the super light comedies we may be able to do when we’re able to pair them with something a little more weighty.”
She added that 13 actors will be taking part in the production. This is not by mistake.
“There are 13 actors in the company,” she said. “That number is actually pretty specific. Shakespeare’s company fluctuated a little bit, but we believe (it) was 12-14 actors at any given time — and that may or may not include some of his young apprentices. Basically you can do any Shakespeare play with 12-14 actors.”
The play will make use of doubling some actors.
As for workshops, classes will be offered for youth in different aspects of theater arts ranging from stage combat to Elizabethan rhythms. A scholar’s roundtable will also be offered, presented by the University of South Dakota’s College of Arts & Sciences. There will also be tours at the National Music Museum focusing on instruments available during the time of Shakespeare, and Elizabethan dancing. Each performance will also be preceded by a performance by Vermillion-based band Music in the Wind playing pieces of the era.
Gordon-Bland said they saw attendance of 1,100 for their first season and believes they could top that this year.
“We had 1,100 people out in the park in our first season, which I think is pretty extraordinary for doing something new like this in a small town,” she said. “I was very pleased with that and I’m hopeful we’ll exceed that this year. We’ve had a really good marketing campaign and we’ve gotten a lot of press and publicity, and there seems to be a really nice buzz around the community.”
She added the festival adds a lot to the area.
“We really have a strong belief that this type of programming and event has a really meaningful impact on the community,” she said. “We’re increasing the quality of life, bringing the community together, offering high-quality, professional arts programming and we’re increasing educational programming. We’re also bolstering the economy, offering jobs and bringing new people into the community.”
Gordon-Bland said there are some big plans for the future of the festival, reaching beyond Vermillion.
“The mission and vision in the future is to gradually and steadily grow this into eventually offering more than one production and also taking the work out of Vermillion into other communities in the state and region,” she said.
For more information on the 2014 South Dakota Shakespeare Festival, visit http://www.sdshakespearefestival.org/.