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Shakespeare’s accolades, in actors’ words

Foothill Theatre Company will present its eighth annual Sierra Shakespeare Festival at the Nevada County Fairgrounds this Friday through Sept. 19.

In addition, the Nevada City acting company just finished its eighth season as the company-in-residence at Sand Harbor’s Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival.

Philip Charles Sneed (Foothill Theatre Company’s artistic director), Sharon Winegar and Rebecca Dines have been involved in the two Shakespeare festivals as actors and/or directors for several years. Sneed was instrumental in creating the Nevada County festival and in successfully winning the company-in-residence contract in the mid-1990s for the Lake Tahoe festival.



This year’s festival comedies are Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” and “As You Like It.” Already completing five-and-a-half weeks of delivering Shakespeare’s lines in Lake Tahoe, Sneed, Winegar and Dines could easily be considered experts regarding the Bard’s works.

The three company representatives give compelling answers on why area residents should treat themselves to Shakespeare plays the next few weeks at the fairgrounds.




– Carol Feineman

Sharon Winegar (plays Antonia in “Much Ado About Nothing” and Audrey and an attendant to Duke Frederick in “As You Like It”)

What’s the relevancy of Shakespeare today?

Shakespeare’s plays are timeless, even universal. The ideas, the characters, the themes resonate – for example, in “Much Ado About Nothing,” the cantankerous relationship between Beatrice and Benedick is played out almost every day on the television soaps – two attractive people seem to hate each other and needle each other constantly. Within a few minutes, the viewer knows that the characters are certain to wind up together.

In “As You Like It,” Shakespeare provides us with a political situation in which a ruler’s increasing paranoia drives his good, honest subjects into hiding. 16th Century political commentary with 21st Century resonance? You bet!

Did you require that your high school students read Shakespeare or see Shakespeare’s plays and if yes, why?

Absolutely. I know that reading Shakespeare is extremely difficult. The archaic language and extensive vocabulary of his verse really frustrates young readers – sometimes to the point that students (and adults) will claim that they “hate” Shakespeare. It is hard work to read his plays, but it is well-worth the effort. The more a person reads Shakespeare’s plays, the more s/he builds up a familiarity with the language. This summer, I taught FTC’s Shakespeare Camp at Lake Tahoe – we had children from 6- to 16-years-old playing scenes from Shakespeare. I liked to call it “Pee Wee Shakespeare” – as in “Pee Wee Football.” Half the time, the kids had NO IDEA what they were saying; they had to be carefully coached through the process.

But, I know those children will never be afraid of reading Shakespeare when the time comes. They will be fearless in the classroom! Hopefully, they’ll wind up as the ones who always volunteer to read aloud.

How do you rank Shakespeare’s plays to all the other plays you have performed?

Playing Shakespeare is the most FUN. The characters are always larger than life, requiring great physical and vocal dexterity. As an actor, you have to make a huge emotional commitment to playing the occasional absurd plot points of his narratives – a girl dressed as a boy pretending to be a girl, an evil brother miraculously turning good, the God of Marriage descending from Heaven to unite four couples in matrimony, a loving father suddenly calling for his daughter’s death.

Sometimes the plays strain the actors’ credulity. Still, the characters are juicy, delicious – Shakespeare started off his theater career as an actor, and, man, could he write wonderful characters.

Philip Charles Sneed (directs “Much Ado About Nothing” and plays Corin in “As You Like It”)

Why did you start the Shakespeare Festival eight years ago?

We started the Sierra Shakespeare Festival because it seemed to us that this community deserved a classical theatre festival, to complement the classical music festival presented every summer by Music in the Mountains. Also, many of us had extensive backgrounds in classical theatre, especially Shakespeare – we’ve worked at many other festivals, including the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, and we knew from experience how popular these events can be. The new motto at the National Endowment for the Arts is “A Great Nation Deserves Great Art,” and I would also say that “A Great Community Deserves Great Art” – and few would argue that Shakespeare represents one of the pinnacles of dramatic art.

Did you imagine eight years ago that the festival would be so successful, receiving great reviews?

I’m of course very pleased that our work over the years has been found to be praiseworthy – it was certainly our hope and our goal from the beginning. I’m not at all surprised that Shakespeare’s plays themselves are successful – after all, he’s still the most-produced playwright in the world, some 400 years after his death.

How do you rank Shakespeare’s plays compared to all the other plays you have performed?

Overall, Shakespeare’s work is the greatest, most profound work I have ever encountered. There are certainly individual plays by other writers that I have found to be as satisfying, but no other writer encompasses the range of human thought and emotion as does Shakespeare – he wrote comedies, tragedies, romances and historical plays and seemed to be interested in the totality of human experience. This, I think, is why he’s produced virtually worldwide – every culture has found something of value in his work because he wrote about the human condition, with all its joy and sadness and mystery.

Rebecca Dines (directs “As You Like It” and plays Beatrice in “Much Ado About Nothing”)

What are the challenges of presenting Shakespeare’s plays, as an actor and also a director?

As a director, the challenge lies in the plays’ diversity as works of theater. Almost all the comedies contain or are streaked through with a melancholy quite uncharacteristic of what we could describe in contemporary comedies, and the tragedies are laced with humor and often farce. The arcs of the plays are often full of detours and jumps of logic, time, place, mood, tone, language, character that seem worlds apart and yet exist in the same theatrical framework as each other … so both as an actor and as a director these are the challenges… to relate to each and every element as being naturally coherent as a theatrical work.

What do you appreciate most about Shakespeare’s works?

The great variety and accuracy of his ideas. The gorgeous and often killingly beautiful poetry, the wit and smarts of his prose, which I think is unmatched in literature, let alone theatrical works.

How do you rank Shakespeare’s plays compared to all the other plays you have performed?

His plays are, for me, the yardstick. As an actor, I have rarely performed a writer’s works that have demanded this much of me as an actor. Emotionally, physically, mentally, psychically … every time I play a role in Shakespeare, I believe I have always emerged, in some way, a better actor.

A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE PLAYS

Unjustly banished by the evil Duke, young Orlando enters the dark and wild Forest of Arden. His banishment proves a blessing in disguise when he meets his match in a brilliant and courageous young lady named Rosalind.

“Much Ado About Nothing”

Benedick and Beatrice are in love but have a hard time admitting it to themselves, let alone each other. Their tempestuous new love is severely tested when one of Benedick’s comrades-in-arms tarnishes the reputation of a local girl and Beatrice demands that Benedick defend the innocent girl’s honor.

– From Foothill Theatre Company’s Web page

KNOW AND GO:

WHAT: Eighth annual Sierra Shakespeare Festival presented by Foothill Theatre Company

WHEN: Friday through Sept. 19. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 4:30 p.m.

WHERE: Nevada County Fairgrounds’ Fred Forsman Amphitheatre, 11228 McCourtney Road in Grass Valley. Enter at Gate Four.

ADMISSION: $19 Thursdays and Sundays and $23 Fridays and Saturdays. Discounts available for seniors, children 12 and under, students and groups of at least 10.

“MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING” DATES: Friday, Sunday, Sept. 2, Sept. 4, Sept. 10, Sept. 12, Sept. 16 and Sept. 18.

“ASYOULIKEIT” DATES: Saturday, Sept. 3, Sept. 5, Sept. 9, Sept. 11, Sept. 17 and Sept. 19.

INFORMATION/TICKETS: Foothill Theatre Company’s box office at 265-8587


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