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Shakespeare Sedona’s fifth season set:
Merry Wives of Windsor and Our Town

by Laura Durant

Shakespeare Sedona  celebrates its fifth exciting season with another   summer of classics. Under the artistic direction of Jared Sakren, the company will present The Merry Wives of Windsor and Our Town, July 12th through August 3rd.

Ever since Shakespeare Sedona burst on to the Sedona theatre scene in 1998, it has left an indelible mark in the hearts of local theatre patrons - raising the bar for all local professional theatre to follow.

This year, Shakespeare Sedona is reaching out to all of those in the community who wish to avail themselves of the remarkable Shakespeare Sedona Insitute, by offering a new $900 price for the entire three-week intensive course in professionl actor training. This program is taught by some of the most celebrated and renowned teachers in their field in the country, and is open to all area residents.

Shakespeare createdthe prequel, too!

The lusty and portly knight, Sir John Falstaff, who appears in Merry Wives, as well as a number of other Shakespeare’s plays, was a delight to the Elizabethan audiences. Legend has it that Queen Elizabeth I wanted the ever-popular Falstaff to fall in love. So Shakespeare, bowing to his Queen’s requests and seeking her favor, wrote Merry Wives. This time, the Bard pits the blustery chap against two wily women. The shenanigans begin when Falstaff attempts to woo the women from their money.  

In spite of the fact that the character of Falstaff had died in an earlier play, (Henry V), Shakespeare resurrected the comical buffoon just for this appearance. Apparently prequels existed even in Shakespeare’s time!

This is broad comedy that has a sitcom feel to it, and the many of today’s television icons can easily trace their bloodlines to this script. Gene Ganssle, always the crowd pleaser, takes his cue as Falstaff from the comic genius of Jackie Gleason. The antics of Maren Maclean, returning after her acclaimed appearance last season in Othello, and newcomer Andi Watson, are as funny as those of Lucy and Ethel, especially in the scene when they hide Falstaff into a buck basket.   

This commercially and critically acclaimed festival began five years ago as a summer program of Verde Valley High School, an independent boarding school in Sedona.

In association with the Arizona Theatre Company and the Sedona Cultural Park, Shakespeare Sedona successfully produced its first three-week season in July of 1998, featuring the hilarious A Comedy of Errors.  In addition, Patrick Page’s unforgettable benefit performance of his one man tour-de-force Passion’s Slave, and the mesmerizing Macbeth Project made it clear that Shakespeare Sedona had set a standard for artistic integrity and was a force to be reckoned with.

The following year, the Bard was back with a vengeance. “The Shakespeare Sedona Festival enters its second season with a maturity that would be the envy of its older peers around the country,” proclaimed Kyle Lawson, Arizona Republic arts critic. Scottsdale arts writer Max McQueen referred to the      festival as a month-long “Shakespeare lovefest.”

In its second season, the festival opened with Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Sakren, the groups founding artistic director and played for 13 sold-out performances. This production was followed by the magical Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The magnificent staging by director Patrick Page reminiscent of a night at Cirque de Soliel - left audiences in awe. The haunting Hamlet Project, starring Page and directed by Greg Leaming, ran concurrently with Midsummer. All productions played to near sell-out houses.

That particular year, a new feature was added to the Shakespeare Sedona season - a free lecture series at the Sedona Public Library.  It featured the talents of John Basil of the American Globe Theatre in New York, Greg Leaming of the Long Wharf Theatre Company, and Lisa Wolpe of the award-winning Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company.

Along with its quickly earned theatrical success, Shakespeare Sedona also created the Shakespeare Sedona Institute. The institute is a three-week intensive acting program that concentrates on classical acting and, in particular, acting Shakespeare. The Institute features some of the finest acting faculty from such renown training programs as Yale School of Drama, The Julliard School, Shakespeare and Company, and NYU/Tisch Graduate Acting Program. Along with the summer festival, the Shakespeare Sedona Institute has quickly gained a national reputation as a gem among training programs. In its short history, alumni now include Broadway veterans as well as former members of The Second City Improvisational Theatre.

The festival has also proven to be fertile ground for actors to hone their craft. Shakespeare Sedona alumni Nicole Poole credits her work in last year’s Hamlet Project as being instrumental in her recent casting in Sir Peter Hall’s Tantalus, with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Other alumnae have gone on to perform on Broadway, regional theatre, and on television.

 In its 2000 season, Shakespeare Sedona presented the first theatrical show at the new Sedona Cultural Park with A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, along with productions of Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet presented at Tlaquepaque. In 2001, Shakespeare Sedona presented two productions entirely on-site at the Cultural Park, to full houses and rave reviews, in a new configuration onstage reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Old Globe.

The only drawback was the oft-foul weather of Sedona’s mid-summer monsoons, which should be solved by the move across the street to a comfortable, indoor theatre.

Shakespeare Sedona    advisory board includes such theatrical luminaries as the Oscar-nominated Annette Benning, Broadway legend Patti LuPone, and renowned movement artist Robert Shields.

Shakespeare Sedona opens July 12 – August 3, with Merry Wives and Our Town running in repertory at the Sedona Cultural Park Annex, at Sedona Red Rock High School in West Sedona. For tickets call 1-800-780-ARTS or 203-4TIX. Sedona residents can take advantage of an early bird ticket special!! All Tuesday and Wednesday shows are just $12 if purchased before July 1.

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