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Much ado about everything: Idaho Shakespeare Festival is no longer waiting in the wings

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Idaho Shakespeare Festival

It was March of 2020 when the creative team of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, which teams with the Great Lakes Theater in Ohio, was rehearsing Much Ado About Nothing.

“It was exactly two years ago that we were shut down,” recalled ISF Producing Artistic Director Charlie Fee. “Everything was shut down. So, it is an absolute joy to be back.”

Indeed, Fee and the company have decided to return to Much Ado for the 2022 season. A full slate of five productions will fill the summer calendar at their Idaho amphitheater. Following Much Ado, there will be Ain’t Misbehavin’, Romeo and Juliet, Little Shop of Horrors and 39 Steps.

In between rehearsals in Cleveland, Fee joined Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the great expectations for what could be a season unlike any other.

“You can just feel how ready we all are to be back, particularly in our outdoor stage in Idaho, where we all feel the safest.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. And on this spring-like morning Shakespeare reminds us that, “For love is crowned with the prime in the springtime.”  As You Like It. Indeed, we love it when we get word that there will be a new season awaiting us in the amphitheater with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. So, let's spend some time this morning with Producing Artistic Director and a good friend of this program, Charlie Fee. Charlie, good morning.

CHARLIE FEE: Good morning, George. It's so great to hear your voice.

PRENTICE: You're in Ohio.

FEE: I am in Ohio. I'm in Cleveland, right on the lake.

PRENTICE: You and the company are in rehearsal for the Great Lakes Theater?

FEE: We are in rehearsal for Much Ado About Nothing. And it was exactly two years ago that we were shut down, and it was during Much Ado About Nothing in 2020. We were just about to go into the theater and start tech, and everything was shut down. So it is an absolute joy to be back with the company in Cleveland finally getting Much Ado up onto the stage.

PRENTICE: And that is the production that will also kick off our summer season in Idaho.

FEE: So we will play it in Cleveland and then we will bring it along with a couple of other shows from Cleveland all out to Idaho will open our season mid-May with Much Ado About Nothing.

PRENTICE: Charlie, this spring…this summer… with as many people as possible doing the right thing, it certainly has the potential of being a season unlike any other. It feels not only as if we're emerging from winter, but almost a two-year winter.

FEE: That is exactly what it feels like around the whole company. Every level of our company, from the acting company to production. Our audiences, our season ticket holders. it and a full season of plays and opening in mid-May. I have every expectation that we will be back to a world that we can just see each other, see each other's actual faces, you know, and enjoy our experience of theater. And like it was the old days and it is so exciting.

PRENTICE: Can you take us behind the scenes for a moment or two on Much Ado? How are you approaching it this year?

FEE: Much Ado is absolutely one of my favorite plays of the Shakespeare canon, absolutely without question, and I've only directed it one time before this. Very early in my career in Idaho in 1994, I think it was, yeah, long time ago. It is a play that has absolutely every kind of experience in it. There's a very dark undercurrent in it that we're constantly having to fight against in the play, right, the characters are and we're setting in in the 1920s. George, you know, the 2020s are turning out to be sort of like the 1920s kind of scary ways, kind of kind of fun ways. And occasionally, you know, we look back to the twenties and they had just come out of the Spanish flu pandemic. Right? And the wars had ended finally, and people suddenly just felt free and a little crazy. I think right from those experiences and the way I think that we're starting to feel here, you know, and that underneath all of it were problems that we knew were coming for us. So Much Ado has all of those sensibilities.

PRENTICE: I think of Much Ado and I think about truth winning over deceit.

FEE: Yes, that's exactly right. And so this current that we're finding in the plays, but particularly in much ado, it's really about what rumor can do to us, what as we would say today, fake news can do us and what it can do is destroy your life. Yeah. But in Shakespeare's hands, there are two parallel plots. One plot rumor is being used to destroy love and then another plot. Rumor is being used to Kindle love to to make it grow, and so strangely, Shakespeare is able to show two completely different effects of this community coming together and playing tricks on each other, right?

PRENTICE: And your production designers must be having a field day with the 1920s.

FEE: We love the 20s. You know, it's such a beautiful period, and it also has this great great advantage. Women start wearing pants, right? And it's just such a relief for the women, you know, it's like…no corsets, those are gone, right? Tremendous amount of freedom in their ability to dress however they want to. And of course, we're set in an Italian villa in southern Italy in Messina with the governor of Messina. And it is. It is really the war just ended..

PRENTICE: Let's see, next you’ll have Ain’t Misbehavin’.

FEE: Yes, these are shows we've been holding since 2020, right? Ain't Misbehavin was supposed to follow much ado, then Ain't Misbehavin is a brilliant, exciting, thrilling musical exploration really of Fats Waller's great music and the Harlem Renaissance, and we have a fantastic company of actors, and Jerry McIntyre, our director, is just one of the best choreographer directors in in the country today, with a long experience as a New York and Broadway actor and a wonderful man. And so he's going to helm our Our Ain't Misbehavin, and I think it's going to just it's going to it's going to bring the joint down, right?

PRENTICE: Ok, so what are the other three shows?

FEE: We are right back to Shakespeare following Ain't Misbehavin. Sarah Bruner is going to be directing Romeo and Juliet, right? Her first time directing Romeo and Juliet four for the main stage. She, of course, has played Juliet for us. She's played Mercutio even at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and she loves Romeo and Juliet. I think you're going to talk to her soon.

PRENTICE: And you've got another musical coming.

PRENTICE: And then following Romeo and Juliet. We're off to Little Shop of Horrors, one of our favorite sort of mid-size musical casts crazy based on based on the horror movie of the title and a man eating plant. What can I tell you? And all that and all that wonderful music from that. And then from that musical, we launch right into 39 Step, the Alfred Hitchcock based play. It's a quick change show, a little bit reminiscent of Complete Works…and Alfred Hitchcock, and that's being directed by our wonderful choreographer Jackie Miller, making her debut as director in the company. And we're just excited and thrilled that she gets this opportunity to step up in a place, a piece that she loves.

PRENTICE: Charlie, I have known you for. Well, I was going to say too many years, but I am sensing if there is such a thing as a twinkle in your voice that I haven't heard in a while, it's very inviting and anticipatory.

FEE: And you know, we've known each other a long time and I and I appreciate that so much. I'll tell you, these two years have been brutal for everyone, right? I mean, it's just hard and it's hard when you're the leader of a company to know that you can't put your people to work right. All these artists in our company and I couldn't do anything other than just talk to them and, you know, tell them, don't worry, we will get back to work well now. We are fully back to work.

PRENTICE: Well, summer can't come soon enough… which is to say May. In the meantime, all the best to you, your colleagues, your company.

FEE: Thank you, George. And if I could just shout out we're going to start single ticket sales on April 1st. And if you are still thinking about a season ticket, buy it before we go on sale for single tickets because the tickets are going to go quickly, everybody. So jump in as soon as you can. Thanks, George. Can't wait to see you out at the amphitheater.

PRENTICE: Safe journey to you.

FEE: Thank you.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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