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The Bard is back;
Shakespeare’s Birthday Bash,
fourth summer season feature top talent

by Laura Durant

Shakespeare Sedona enters its fourth full season in Sedona with a group of artists that include some familiar faces as well as some talent brand new to the company.

First off, the Shakespeare Birthday Bash is a benefit performance for the group’s upcoming season. The lovely Radisson Poco Diablo Resort will host this theatrical treat, Monday, April 23.

Featured guests include past company members Hamilton Mitchell (recently of the "Wallace and Ladmo Show"), Ted Barton, and Carson Elrod, as well as special guests. Festivities begin at 6:15 pm, with dinner at 7:00 and the show at 8:00. Tickets are $100 per person (tax deductible). For information or reservations please call 520-821-4391.

This is the third annual pre-season benefit. The first two were magnificent. This one promises to be fantastic.

Now, on to the season . . .

Artistic Director Jared Sakren has been holding auditions since last August and he has just concluded auditions in Sedona and in Phoenix. Actors will be returning from years past, but some new faces include Christian Anderson, a veteran of the Utah Shakespearean Festival who hails from Chicago, Andres Alcala from Portland whose credits include the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Maren Maclean from New York, also a veteran of the Utah Festival.

Sakren will be taking on directing duties with Othello.

"This is the first tragedy I will have directed for Shakespeare Sedona," said Sakren, "and I am very excited about the prospect. All of the other plays I have directed here have been comedies. Othello is a tremendous work - some consider it the most perfectly constructed play Shakespeare wrote. It is a tragedy, and we all know what that means, but it’s also just a great story with unforgettable characters.

"Iago is probably the most mesmerizing and destructive villain Shakespeare ever wrote," Sakren continued. "And yet he’s also wonderfully entertaining."

Sakren has directed at theatres across the US, including the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival, The Wonderhorse Theatre, The Northern Stage Company, and the Denver Center Theatre Company.

All’s Well That Ends Well will be directed by Jesse Berger, a newcomer to the Sedona Festival. Berger has spent time working at several of the top theatres in the country, including the Guthrie Theatre, and the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, DC.

"I spent a very formative three years there," Berger said about the Shakespeare Theatre, "and as a theatre artist and director I learned more about Shakespeare and verse than most people do in a decade, especially working with Michael Kahn and Patrick Stewart.

"Their work is very text-based and they have a strong company aesthetic. The group of actors there has been working for a long time with Kahn and their clean, storytelling style has had an impact on me. The acting style is a unique fusion of American method acting along with a more European/British tradition that focuses on text, and that’s a healthy mix."

His career includes a laundry list of who’s who in theatre.

"It was terrific working with Patrick Stewart on Othello. He’s a very smart, very serious actor. He doesn’t act like he’s a star - he just happens to be famous. When I worked with Garland Wright (at the Guthrie), I was struck by his uncanny ability to visualize the play in extraordinarily dramatic ways, and of presenting the story in a way that was visually surprising. He was a painter early in his career. His work also had a strong influence on me in terms of seeking what is true and believable onstage - a return to a real belief in the imagination and beauty of the theatre. I try to bring some of those qualities to my work, ‘playfully irreverent’ is what I would call it.

"I’ve been very lucky to work with three distinct voices in the American theatre - all different. Joanne Akalaitis is the third. She’d kill me if she heard me say this, but she is a ‘stream of consciousness’ kind of director. She prepares thoroughly and then works totally in the moment. She has a freedom, a sense of the moment and taking the most striking images and choices, and fusing them all together. She will throw anything and everything at a play to make it work, a real sense of spontaneity. I guess what I learned from her was it’s OK to change the plan."

Berger expressed excitement about the show and working in red rock country.

"All’s Well is a terrific challenge. It has great characters and speeches, but it’s also a challenge because it’s an imperfect jewel with such complexity to its character and story. It’s a ‘tricky symphony.’ It has beautiful music, laughter and tears, tension as well as playfulness. The skeleton of the play is really a fairy tale, then the real work begins filling in the details. I’m really excited to get to Sedona and work with the company."

Sakren, who is one of the Festival’s founders rubs his hands together, smiling ear to ear. "Everyone said Sedona’s the most beautiful place on earth, and now I’m looking forward to both the Company and the location." Sakren said, "We are very lucky to get a guest director of the caliber of Jesse Berger. I think this year’s company is going to be our strongest yet."

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