Open-Air Shakespeare

Paul Hosefros for The New York Times

IN BOISE “The Taming of the Shrew” started this year’s Idaho Shakespeare Festival, one of many throughout the country.

Published in the New York Times: June 24, 2005

Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.” But unlike summer, Shakespeare is anything but short-lived. There are more than 75 Shakespeare festivals annually in the United States, and in summer his work can be enjoyed at places rivaling the Forest of Arden, from the banks of the Hudson (the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival in Cold Spring, N.Y.) to the edge of the Arctic Circle (Fairbanks Shakespeare Theater in Alaska). Many of these are regional events that cater mostly to locals, but several are worthy of going out of the way for.

Known best by its former name the Bard in the Yard, the Long Beach Shakespeare Company in California will begin its seventh annual festival tomorrow with “The Tempest” followed by “Henry V.” Theatergoers bring their own chairs to these free performances on the lawn of the Aquarium of the Pacific, and the all-volunteer cast and crew are as enthusiastic as they are young and energetic (cast members are as young as 16). “The Tempest” will be played on a tiered Elizabethan stage with Caliban’s cave stage left. Arrive early and listen to a half hour of madrigals and pipe music before the play.

During an opening-week performance of “The Taming of the Shrew” at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, when the newly married Petruchio insists that Kate should obey him, a disgruntled audience member shouted: “That’s what I want!” Others loudly booed him. That’s typical for the Boise festival, which offers Shakespeare at its hippest with innovative set design, contemporary music and – as in Shakespeare’s time – an exuberant and opinionated audience. The plays are performed in an outdoor amphitheater that is not far from the Boise River with the Boise Foothills lighted by the setting sun. The set for this year’s “Shrew” looks like something from a Fellini film. Also scheduled are “King Lear” and “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” a three-actor condensation of Shakespeare’s 37 plays.

The performances are more traditional at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, but the setting is just as spectacular: a sandy beach with the sapphire water of Lake Tahoe behind the stage. This summer’s productions include “The Comedy of Errors” and “Macbeth.” Bring your own food or visit the stands. Sushi and Shakespeare make a merry feast.

With three stages (one outdoors), pleasant evenings and the red-rock mountains of southern Utah in the distance, the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City is one to write in your book of memory. Six plays (three by Shakespeare) are in repertory. In addition to the outdoors productions of Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost” and “Romeo and Juliet,” the festival is doing “Doctor Faustus” by Christopher Marlowe outdoors, complete with pyrotechnics, three devils incarnate (Mephistopheles, Lucifer, and Beelzebub) and seven deadly sins.

You drive into a hidden wooded paradise when you go to the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival, which builds a new production-specific outdoor stage each year. (It also shows three plays on an indoor stage in a converted 19th-century church.) Held in a glen surrounded by giant oak, Japanese maple, pine and bamboo, theatergoers can enjoy a picnic or a stroll around the sculpture garden and historic buildings on the grounds (open two hours before the plays begin).

But be forewarned: the theme this year is “Reality. Shakespeare.” That means there will not only be an Elizabethan-style festival (expect sword swallowers and strolling musicians), but the cast of “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” this year’s outdoor production, will be dragging the audience into the act.

Playing Outdoors

LONG BEACH, CALIF. The Long Beach Shakespeare Company, (562) 997-1494;
Plays: “The Tempest,” “Henry V.”
Dates: Tomorrow through Aug. 14.
Cost: Free.

BOISE, IDAHO Idaho Shakespeare Festival, (208) 429-9908;
Plays: “The Taming of the Shrew,” “King Lear,” “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).”
Dates: Through Oct. 1.
Cost: $18 to $32.

INCLINE VILLAGE, NEV. Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, (800) 747-4697;
Plays: “The Comedy of Errors,” “Macbeth.”
Dates: July 14 to Aug. 21.
Cost: $14 to $67.

CEDAR CITY, UTAH Utah Shakespearean Festival, (435) 586-7878;
Plays: “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Doctor Faustus.”
Dates: June 27 through Labor Day.
Cost: $12 to $46.

BALTIMORE Baltimore Shakespeare Festival, (410) 366-8596,
Play: “The Merry Wives of Windsor.”
Dates: July 8 to 24.
Cost: $15 to $25.

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