Idaho Shakespeare Festival Producing Artistic Director Charlie Fee is an expert juggler when it comes to planning a season, keeping five balls in the air while balancing on a teeter-totter. The latter part is the balance between work he would like to do and the opportunities that present themselves — as in getting the rights for plays, with the right directors at the right time. And remember, he’s doing this for three theaters.
“You have to do it all at the same time,” Fee says. “So you keep playing with it like a crossword puzzle — that word fits but going across isn’t going to work, so you start over.”
Fee and the three staffs he works with at ISF, Cleveland’s Great Lakes Theater and Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival are about two years out in planning for what the shows might be and how they will travel between the three cities.
The current formula has been in place since 2011. And it’s working. Last summer marked the Boise company’s most successful season in its history, both in terms of attendance and fundraising. In Boise, they sold just under 65,000 tickets and logged a record number of donations.
Now for ISF’s 41st season in 2017, Fee wants to revisit Shakespeare’s great tragedy — “Hamlet.” In 2001, he produced a riveting Beijing Opera-influenced production of the play, filled with flowing silks and stark visuals, set in a contemporary-like, timeless “Shakespeareland.” This one will get closer to The Bard’s 1601 production, Fee says.
“I’ve never done an Elizabethan production, and frankly, I can’t find anyone (a director) who will do one,” he says. “But I have felt for a long time that our work on Shakespeare has become a little predictable in that it’s going to always feel like a contemporary world.
So, he decided to create a piece that uses the sensibility of the Elizabethan experience, he says.
“For me, that’s more about the audience’s physical relationship to the production. For the audience, it’s more about costuming.”
He’s been working with set designer Russell Metheny on how to reconfigure the ISF Amphitheater space to mirror aspects of The Globe, Shakespeare’s principal theater in London, and place the audience on stage, “like they’re in the side stalls at The Globe,” Fee says.
You won’t find groundlings, the traditional standing audience at the foot of The Globe stage. There are too many safety and sight-line issues. But you will have the feel that comes from a closer proximity to the actors.
And Fee and costumer designer Kim Krumm Sorenson are working on incorporating Elizabethan elements into costuming that will work for the summer venue.
“Putting our actors in real Elizabethan costumes would be like putting them into an oven,” he says.
He picked “Hamlet” for this experiment because the tale of the melancholy Dane is an ensemble piece, and “that text is energized in a way many of the others aren’t.”
Fee also promises some interesting casting for the production.
“I’m not ready to talk about it yet, but it will be a radical shift in how you look at ‘Hamlet,’” he says.
Here’s how the season shakes out
The Frederick Knott thriller “Wait Until Dark” will open the season. This is the latest trend of Fee’s programming to include murder mysteries and thrillers into the top of the festival’s lineup. “Wait Until Dark” is about a deadly game of cat and mouse as a trio of con men terrorize an unsuspecting blind woman to reclaim a mysterious doll.
This production will be helmed by Joe Hanreddy, who directed last season’s “King Lear.”
“Hamlet” will be up next. It will run 17 performances, a few more than the last time and maybe not long enough. But the play needs to close by the end of June so the company can take Tyne Rafaeli’s “Love’s Labor’s Lost” to Tahoe. “Love’s Labor’s” was on the stage in Boise and Cleveland in 2016.
In Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark seeks to avenge the death of his father in this twisted family tragedy, rife with betrayal, murder and madness.
The musical in the schedule is an ambitious pick: “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Inspired by the Disney animated non-musical film, it tells the story of the deformed bell-ringer Quasimodo, who falls in love with the gypsy Esmeralda.
The show never made it to Broadway, possibly because it uses an on-stage choir, which is cost prohibitive for most professional theaters.
Now, regional theaters use volunteer community choirs on stage — which ISF will do. There are hoops to jump through for the company’s Equity contracts, so no one choir can perform consecutive nights.
“It’s been done with choirs of up to 60 people,” he says. “That element is incredibly exciting.”
The plan is to recruit existing Treasure Valley choirs for the performances.
Fee will bring back Shakespeare’s comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with a new production for 2017. Its story about two couples who escape the restrictions of the court to seek love in a magical forests among the wily fairies and rustics makes it one of Shakespeare’s most performed and most popular comedies.
Fee’s ’60s Beatles-inspired production opened the current ISF Amphitheater in 1998 and became a signature piece for the company. This production will be the vision of another director who has not yet been named.
The September show will be “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” a zany, quick-change version of the Sherlock Holmes classic detective story. Fee will direct this production and is working on getting an A team together — three actors play more than a dozen roles in the show.
It follows Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story about the Baskerville family, who is plagued by a giant, murderous hound.
“It’s a little like ‘The 39 Steps,’ a little like ‘The Complete Works (of William Shakespeare, Abridged),’” Fee says.
That show will start in Tahoe, then finish its run in Idaho in September.
Idaho Shakespeare Festival 2017 season
Friday, May 26, 2017, to Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, Idaho Shakespeare Festival Amphitheater, 5657 Warm Springs Ave., Boise.
▪ “Wait Until Dark” by Frederick Knott, directed by Joseph Hanreddy. Dates from Friday, May 26, 2017, through Sunday, July 30, 2017.
▪ “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare, directed by ISF producing artistic director Charles Fee. Dates from Friday, June 2, 2017, through Sunday, June 25, 2017.
▪ “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Peter Parnell, based on the Victor Hugo novel and the Disney animated film, directed by Victoria Bussert. Dates from Friday, June 30, 2017, through Friday, Sept 1, 2017.
▪ “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare, directed by Joseph Hanreddy. Dates from Friday, Aug 4, 2017, through Sunday, Sept 3, 2017.
▪ “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” Steven Canny and John Nicholson’s adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, directed by Charles Fee. Dates: Friday, Sept 8, 2017, to Sunday, Oct 1, 2017.
Early-bird pricing is good through Tuesday, Jan. 31: The Classic package is $126 for three shows, $147 for four and $168 for all five on the weekends; it is $105, $127 and $148, respectively, for weekday performances. Student packages are $45 for three, $55 for four and $60 for five. There also are deals on the four- and six-seat boxes, and flex packages.