What makes Idaho Shakespeare Festival special?
Theater in the Boise Foothills is a summer tradition in Idaho. In its well-shaded amphitheater by the Boise River, the Idaho Shakespeare Festival produces world-class interpretations of work by The Bard and others.
Over the next four months, nearly 75,000 people will bring picnics and wine to enjoy some of the greatest theatrical works in the English language.
This company has grown over its 42 years into one of the best in the region, known for its clear, accessible productions of Shakespeare's plays — and this year, high-stepping ABBA music.
There might be a dearth of strong roles for women in Hollywood, but not at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. Its 2018 season brims with dynamic female characters at the center of each production. These aren't the shrinking violets or breathless ingenues.
"These are powerhouse women who are dominating the stage and their lives and the world around them,” says ISF Producing Artistic Director Charlie Fee, who put the season together without realizing how many "incredible women" he had on stage.
- The season opens with "Misery," and one of the most maniacal female characters ever written: Annie Wilkes. A former nurse, she is cunning, brutal and devious as she terrorizes her captive — romance novelist Paul Sheldon — after she learns that he killed off her favorite character, Misery Chastain. And Sheldon's No. 1 fan is clearly capable of anything — even murder. Powerhouse actress Kathleen Pirkl Tague, who played Gertrude in last season’s “Hamlet,” takes on the role of sledgehammer-wielding Wilkes. Andrew May, one of the top regional actors in the country, returns to Idaho after nine years to play Sheldon. Friday, May 25 through Saturday, July 29.
- Next up is "Macbeth" and the forceful Lady Macbeth. With a mix of charm and deviousness, she spurs her husband on to one of the bloodiest rises to power on record after he receives a prophecy from three witches that he will be king of Scotland. Is she the power broker clawing her way through the glass ceiling or a witch herself? Either way she is ambition personified, and gets tripped up by guilt after she unleashes Macbeth's own drive toward cruelty and mayhem. Her demise comes with her sleepwalking scene and one of Shakespeare's most famous speeches: "Out, out damned spot." Erin Partin, who played Ophelia in last season's "Hamlet," plays Lady M, and longtime ISF company member Lynn Robert Berg takes on the title role. June 1 through June 23. (On-stage seating is available for this show.)
- The spunky Donna Sheridan and the women of “Mamma Mia!" hit the stage in Boise during the same summer that "Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again" hits movie theaters. This tuneful musical is filled with the buoyant, effervescent hit songs by Swedish supergroup ABBA, such as "Dancing Queen," "Money, Money, Money," "S.O.S." and the title song. But don't let the pop-ladened score let you think its lead character and the other women are lightweights. Donna is the former lead singer in a successful rock trio Donna and the Dynamos, and she lives life on her own terms while raising her daughter, Sophie, to be as independent and strong as she is. Sophie blindsides her mom when she adds her mom's three ex-lovers to the guest list for Sophie's wedding to find out which one is her father. Jillian Kates, who played Eliza Doolittle in ISF's 2016 "My Fair Lady," plays Donna, and ISF newcomer Kailey Boyle is Sophie. June 29 through Aug. 31.
- One of literature's most popular heroines , Elizabeth Bennet of Jane Austen's “Pride and Prejudice,” gets a chance at the stage with director Joe Hanreddy's adaption of the classic romance.
Sparks fly when spirited Elizabeth Bennet✓ (Laura Welsh Berg) meets wealthy and proud Mr. Darcy. Bennet is"strong and intelligent, yet bewitching in a completely feminine way," and she also possesses strength of character and moral integrity, which make her one of the most popular characters of all time. When she meets Mr. Darcy there are impediments to their romance — his snobbish sister, her pushy mother and the social mores of the day. But the biggest hurdle they must conquer is their own pride and perceptions of one another. Aug. 3 through Sept. 2.
- The season closes out with a jubilant celebration of the female singers and musicians who helped define the "girl groups" era. “Beehive: The '60s Musical" is a concert-style event that features 40 chart-toppers, including “Downtown,” “It’s My Party,” “Where the Boys Are,” “Respect” and others, and spans the musical spectrum from The Supremes to Janis Joplin. But these six powerful vocalists address a host of issues ranging from their first Beehive Dance to the challenges the nation faced in the 1960s. Sept. 7 through Sept. 30.
The Idaho Shakespeare Festival preshow entertainment has evolved in the past few years after the original "Greenshow guys" of the Fool Squad retired in 2014 after 22 years of wacky improv fun that ranged from downright silly to sharp-edged satire. Several musical groups picked up the torch.
But now The Fools are back at it. Tom Willmorth and Joe Golden will be writing new material for the company to perform on special Greenshow nights.
The other performers are Classical Revolution, swinging jazz cats Frim Fram 4, and the Renaissance Players — no not that Renaissance. Instead, think the heyday of funk, soul, classic Motown and rock ‘n’ roll.
Greenshows happen Wednesdays to Saturdays. Check the calendar at IdahoShakespeare.org to find out who is performing on which night.
What to bring
Something to sit on: A blanket or low-back chair is ideal for the lawn or berm. You can rent a small wooden chair for $2. The turf on the berm is newly planted.
Something to wrap up in: Once the sun goes down by the river, you know the temperatures will drop. Sunscreen, a hat and mosquito repellant are good ideas early in the evening.
Something to eat: Bring your own picnic, wine or beer. Or you can grab a meal at Café Shakespeare. Order at IdahoShakespeare.org/cafe-shakespeare or call 208-947-2067. Then dine in the amphitheater or on the riverside patio.
A good attitude: Performances don't get called off until the last minute when the weather turns. Actors will perform in a drizzle — or without costumes in heavier rain — but if things get torrential, the play will be stopped. If that happens before intermission, you'll get a rain check.
Dates: The festival runs Friday, May 25, to Sunday, Sept. 30, at Idaho Shakespeare Festival Amphitheater, 5657 Warm Springs Ave., Boise.
Hours: The amphitheater opens at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays and 6 p.m. on Sundays; Café Shakespeare opens a half-hour earlier. Greenshows start at 7:20 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays.
Tickets: Season tickets are $135, $157 and $178, general, for classic three-, four- and five-show packages on weekends; $115, $137 and $158 weekdays; $50, $60 and $65 for students. Individual tickets run $35-$50 general, ($20-$55 for “Mamma Mia!”); $13 for ages 6 to 17 on family nights only; $20 for students with I.D. any night. On-stage seating is available for "Macbeth" at the hillside price. Flex packages and large- and small-table seating also are available. IdahoShakespeare.org and 208-336-9221.
- Use the promo code 6097 to receive $5 off any ticket, except student, for opening weekend, May 25-27, and the Fourth of July.
- The festival offers discounts for teachers on Educator Appreciation Night on Wednesday, June 6.
- Active military and veterans will receive $3 off each ticket for themselves and their immediate family through the Blue Star Theater program.
- Monthly tastings from Bier: Thirty and Meriwether Cider.
Spoonthumb Ice Cream will sell small-batch, gourmet ice cream in flavors themed for each production on Fridays and family nights.
Signing Shakespeare: One performance for each play will be interpreted into American Sign Language. There are reserved sections on these evenings.