150 Boise icons: Idaho Shakespeare Festival amphitheater

awebb@idahostatesman.comMay 31, 2013 

Did you know? Some of the amphitheater’s sandstone came from the Odd Fellows Building that once stood on 9th Street (where Berryhill & Co. is now). The complex also includes about 200 tons of sandstone from the city’s Sand Creek drainage flume. The donated stone sat at the West Boise Wastewater Treatment plant while the ISF was pulling the amphitheater building project together.

IDAHO STATESMAN FILE

Boiseans flock to the Idaho Shakespeare Festival's amphitheater for the plays. They also come for the venue - an open air amphitheater beside a nature reserve.

Because of this amphitheater, all of the following are possible in a single evening: Smelling cottonwood trees while listening to the words of the Bard and the honks of geese; starting your evening with a picnic while it's 100 degrees outside and ending it with a sweater and a thermos of hot chocolate; watching the sunlight dim on the Foothills as the lights get brighter on the stage.

The Idaho Shakespeare Festival presented plays for 20 years before the amphitheater opened as its permanent home in 1998. On the bill for the venue's first season: "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Romeo and Juliet" and "Cymbeline."

It took three years to find the perfect spot for the amphitheater, said Mark Hofflund, the festival's managing director. Festival leaders considered 40 sites, including Warm Springs Community Park behind Adams Elementary and Veterans Memorial State Park. None of them worked out.

When the Idaho Foundation for Parks and Lands suggested its land on the far end of Warm Springs, festival leaders got inspired. They saw the beauty of the place - the light, the trees, the location beside the 480-acre Barber Pool Conservation Area. The area is home to one of the largest stands of native black cottonwood trees in the region, not to mention 200 species of wildlife, Hofflund said.

A private/public partnership among the festival, the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation and the Idaho Foundation for Parks and Lands secured the land for the amphitheater. The partners kicked off a capital campaign to build it in 1997.

The design of the amphitheater harks back to the circular Globe Theater in London built by Shakespeare's acting company, Hofflund said.

The classical amphitheaters of Greece and Rome and small amphitheaters at College of Idaho and Boise State University also influenced the design.

Lead theater architect Gene Angell began his career as a scenic designer for the stage. The amphitheater's placement with a dramatic Foothills backdrop makes sense.

"When people come to a play for the first time, they tell me they've never realized the Foothills were so beautiful until they saw them with the sun setting, framed by the stage," Hofflund said.

Æ The Idaho Shakespeare Festival's 2013 season begins Friday with a preview of "Blithe Spirit" at 8 p.m. 336-9221. Turn to Scene in today's paper for more details.

5657 Warm Springs Ave.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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