Idaho Shakespeare Festival marks 40 years of classical theater in Boise

What makes Idaho Shakespeare Festival special?

The Idaho Shakespeare Festival is one of Boise's leading arts and cultural institutions. In this video, Idaho Shakespeare Festival company members tell what makes this company so special to them.
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The Idaho Shakespeare Festival is one of Boise's leading arts and cultural institutions. In this video, Idaho Shakespeare Festival company members tell what makes this company so special to them.

Boise fell in love with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival on a “Midsummer” evening in 1977 on a Downtown patio. The summer romance between this plucky, grass-roots theater startup and creative Western town has remained true through changing venues and artistic leadership, financial struggles and encroaching development.

Today, the festival is a vital part of the Treasure Valley’s economy and cultural tradition. A night at its world-class amphitheater is an essential part of summer for many Idahoans. Theatergoers stroll down winding paths, picnic on the riverside patio and take in the beautiful Foothills view along with the high-caliber plays and musicals.

The festival and the city have grown up together, and now the company inhabits a national and local stage. Since taking the helm in 1992, Producing Artistic Director Charlie Fee and Managing Director Mark Hofflund have increased the company’s profile and production values by creating strategic alliances with Cleveland’s Great Lakes Theater and Nevada’s Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, where Fee also oversees artistic decisions.

ISF 2016 season

There are a lot of moving pieces in making a season.

Here’s how it works: The seasons at Cleveland and Boise dovetail into each other September through September. Great Lakes originates two productions, ISF does the same and they swap. Boise stages a revival of a past production and a new show for Tahoe. This year it’s Fee’s bossa nova-infused “Comedy of Errors” and Victoria Bussert’s “Forever Plaid.” The latter will play Boise in September, and Cleveland in May 2017.

“And Then There Were None”: Murder mysteries have become increasingly popular at ISF since Drew Barr’s 2012 production of Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap.” The trend continues this season with the Christie classic: “And Then There Were None,” directed by Fee.

“Audiences just go crazy for Agatha Christie,” Fee says.

Fee turned to his core company for this ensemble piece based on Christie’s best-selling novel of the same title. In it, 10 people are lured to a remote island and then murdered one by one in revenge for a death each is accused of causing. Christie adapted it into a play during World War II and was convinced to give the theatrical version a happy ending that is different than the novel.

Fee’s production uses a newly adapted “alternate” ending that takes it back to Christie’s original plot.

Friday, May 27, to Sunday, July 31.

“Love’s Labor’s Lost”: The second slot belongs to a comedy. This season he wanted to work with a new director, Tyne Rafaeli, whose career is heating up now. She’s been assisting former ISF resident director and Tony winner Bartlett Sher on his Broadway projects, such as the current “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Rafaeli took on Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labor’s Lost” with a snappy mix of music and theater genres to freshen Shakespeare’s story about four young men who eschew romance for study. That works great until 10 seconds later, when four beautiful women arrive at court. The production features eight young dynamic actors, a mix of familiar and new faces, and the company’s stalwart clowns.

Friday, June 3, to Sunday, June 26.

“My Fair Lady”: Since the success of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” in 2005, the center of the season has belonged to a musical. Fee and Bussert had been looking at “My Fair Lady” for a few years but couldn’t get the rights. Coincidentally, Sher had them tied up for an impending Broadway revival; however, his cast didn’t come together, so he released them and Fee pounced.

“It’s a classic book musical of the Golden Age and the kind of musical we haven’t done,” Fee says.

Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe based their musical on Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” a play about a linguist who bets that by teaching her to speak correctly, he can pass a Cockney flower girl off as a duchess.

The production features Jillian Kates, who gave a hauntingly luminous performance as Lily in “The Secret Garden,” as Eliza Doolittle and ISF artistic associate Tom Ford as Professor Henry Higgins.

Friday, July 1, to Friday, Aug. 26.

“Twelfth Night”: The next spot belongs to one of Shakespeare’s heavy hitters, such as last season’s “King Lear.” Fee was looking for a play for director Barr and chose the gender-bending romantic comedy “Twelfth Night.”

“It’s probably one of his (Shakespeare’s) top five of all the plays in terms of writing,” Fee says.

Barr has created some of ISF’s most memorable shows, including last season’s magical and mysterious “The Tempest.”

Like “Tempest,” “Twelfth Night” involves a shipwreck. Nearly all hands are lost, except for twins Viola and Sebastian, played by Cassandra Bissell and Jonathan Christopher MacMillan, who land on separate parts of the shore of Illyria, each thinking the other dead. Viola disguises herself as a boy and goes into the service of a melancholy duke. What follows is a high-spirited comedy of mistaken identities, romantic twists and shenanigans, and hilarious pranks by some of the bard’s best-written clowns.

Friday, Aug. 5, to Sunday, Aug. 28.

“Forever Plaid”: In September, Idaho Shakespeare Festival repertory season closes and a single-run show runs through the end of the month. This September show is Bussert’s production of “Forever Plaid,” the cult jukebox musical about the greatest boy band that never was.

A 1950s-’60s style four-part harmony boy group, The Plaids die instantly when their car collides with a bus load of Catholic schoolgirls on their way to see the Beatles’ U.S. debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964.

Cut off just before their first big gig, they make a heavenly comeback because their desire to sing was so strong, and get a chance to sing some of the greatest hits of the golden era of doo-wop in a posthumous performance.

Friday, Sept. 2, to Sunday, Sept. 25.

What else is up at ISF

▪  The big news this year is that the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., is sending one of Shakespeare’s First Folios, pictured, to Boise to mark the 400th anniversary of the bard’s death. The Folio is the first printed collection of his 36 plays. Nineteen of the Folger’s 82 folios are on tour, and drawing huge crowds.

You can see the folio, along with a retrospective exhibit of ISF’s 40 years, and participate in a variety of community events from Saturday, Aug. 20, to Wednesday, Sept. 21. The display will be at Boise State University’s Arts and Humanities Institute Gallery in the Yanke Family Research Center, 220 ParkCenter Blvd. Free. Find a list of events at

▪  This year’s Greenshows will feature mini-concerts by festival “house bands” 30 minutes prior to plays Wednesdays through Saturdays, except for preview nights and all shows in September. This year’s lineup is Classical Revolution, The Frim Fram 4, Kevin Kirk & Onomatopoeia, The Boise Chordsmen, Edmond Dantés, The Ringtones and Boise’s dance and music performance group LED.

▪  Each ISF production is interpreted into American Sign Language on one night of its run. Check the ISF calendar for dates.

Idaho Shakespeare Festival 40th Anniversary Season

Friday, May 27, to Sunday, Sept. 25, Idaho Shakespeare Festival Amphitheater, 5657 Warm Springs Ave., Boise.

▪  Single tickets: $45 chairs and lawn, $37 hillside on Fridays and Saturdays; $37, $27 on Sundays and Mondays-Thursdays ($13 for 6 and older on family nights); $27, $18 and $13 previews; $20 students for hillside any night, and rush tickets for reserved seats 1 hour before show time.

▪  Season packages start at $110 for three midweek and Sunday shows; $130 for Fridays and Saturdays. Student season passes start at $50, and flex packages start at $270. Four- and five-show packages and box seats also are available. 336-9221.