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shake it up again

Many audience members at the annual Sierra Shakespeare Festival opening Friday at the Nevada County Fairgrounds will have already seen the two comedies at previous festivals.

“The Taming of the Shrew” was presented the first year, and “Twelfth Night” the second of the 6-year-old festival.

It’s more than OK, though, to see the classics again, said Philip Charles Sneed, Foothill Theatre Company’s artistic director. His Nevada City theater company presents the four-week festival every September at the fairgrounds.



The comedies are staged differently each time around, either through changes to the setting, the concept or perhaps the acting style.

“These Shakespeare plays lend themselves to a lot of interpretation,” Sneed said. This year’s “Twelfth Night” is set in 19th century czarist Russia, and “The Taming of the Shrew” is set in the West Indies during the pirate period of the 1700s.




Hooked on the Bard’s words since high school, Sneed has acted in 20 Shakespearean plays.

“I’ve been acting in Shakespeare plays since I was 18,” he said. “I’ve read every one of his 38 plays.”

Sneed knows several actors across the country who have a career goal of acting in all of Shakespeare’s plays, and one actor who actually did it.

“I’d like to be in all the plays, too. Some of the comedies I’ve been in five times. I never grow tired of encounters with this playwright,” he said.

For six years, Foothill Theatre Company has been the company-in-residence for the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival at Sand Harbor, which finished its 30th season Sunday.

After a 51/2 week run at Sand Harbor, FTC actors had just two days off this week before Grass Valley rehearsals began. The production staff had no time off; the Sand Harbor set was taken down and the Grass Valley venue set up between Monday and Wednesday.

Sets, lights and sound were quickly modified this week; only costumes remained the same for the two festivals.

FTC is under contract to produce only comedies at the Lake Tahoe festival. With 10 comedies in the English playwright’s repertoire, they have all been presented at least once at the fairgrounds.

Sneed hopes FTC’s own Sierra Shakespeare Festival at the fairgrounds eventually expands to a summerlong event encompassing all of Shakespeare’s styles.

“As wonderful as the comedies are, it’s like eating only desserts,” Sneed said. “Desserts are great, but you need something more substantial, like appetizers and entrees.

“The way to fully appreciate the genius of Shakespeare is to see all genres of his works: the tragedies, the histories, the romances, the comedies,” he said. “There are very few playwrights, maybe there’s none, who can match his versatility. Anyone would be hard-pressed to name a playwright who can write as well in all the genres.”

Shakespeare’s success no surprise to FTC

In retrospect, Foothill Theatre Company artistic director Philip Charles Sneed isn’t surprised that his organization’s sixth annual Sierra Shakespeare Festival is thriving.

“I expected it to be successful,” he said. “Nationwide every year there are new festivals springing up, and the Shakespeare festival circuit is growing. Every generation discovers there’s something universal in the plays written more than 400 years ago that speaks to them. Shakespeare is still the most produced playwright in the English language, and perhaps in any other language.”

Between the first festival and last year’s, attendance has increased 59 percent and generated income increased 72 percent, according to Sneed.

More than 2,600 audience members attended FTC’s first Shakespearean Festival at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in 1997. In addition, more than 600 students from 11 area schools saw “The Taming of the Shrew” during two special performances.

Total attendance last year was 4,805.

“Last year was the only year attendance didn’t grow from the previous year,” Sneed said. The events of Sept. 11 occurred in the middle of the festival’s run.

“If we meet our projections this September, attendance will be up by 92 percent and income up 109 percent” from the first year, he said.

– Carol Feineman

Plays the thing

In this year’s FTC version of “The Taming of the Shrew,” pirate captain Petruchio might have outdone himself with his latest West Indies treasure: his new wife, Katerina.

Used to having his way, the swashbuckling Petruchio has met his match in sharp-tongued, strong-willed and short-tempered Katerina. When he takes Katerina back to his ship to “tame” her, Petruchio is in for a few surprises.

His greatest prize of all ends up to be love.

Runs Aug. 30, Sept. 1, Sept. 5, Sept. 7, Sept. 13, Sept. 15, Sept. 19 and Sept. 21.

In “Twelfth Night,” shipwrecked Viola disguises herself as a boy to avoid amorous advances from Russian men. Her disguise works a little too well – she has to fend off a woman, Olivia. Along with Viola’s comic predicament and the boisterous antics of Sir Andrew – who’s in love with Olivia – subplots include Sir Toby, who loves vodka, and Malvolio, who loves only himself.

Runs Aug. 31, Sept. 6, Sept. 8, Sept. 12, Sept. 14, Sept 20 and Sept. 22.

KNOW & GO

WHAT: Sixth annual Sierra Shakespeare Festival

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 4:30 p.m. Sundays. Opens Friday and runs through Sept. 22

WHERE: Nevada County Fairgrounds’ Fred Forsman Amphitheatre, Gate 4, 11228 McCourtney Road, Grass Valley

ADMISSION: $17 Thursdays and Sundays; $21 Fridays and Saturdays. Discounts available for seniors, children 12 and under, students, and groups of 10 or more.

INFORMATION: FTC’s box office at 265-8587

REFRESHMENTS: Hot dogs, sandwiches, baked goods and coffee drinks will be sold. Audience members can also bring their own picnics.


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