By any other name
Newly re-dubbed Chico Summer Theatre Festival opens two promising productions
Chico Women’s Club592 E. Third St.
Chico, CA 95928
Summertime Shakespeare has a long history in Chico. And though the official name of the annual production has gone through a few changes in recent years, the popular tradition remains.
In 2007, Shakespeare in the Park became Shakespeare in the Park Plaza, relocating downtown to City Plaza after 17 years in Bidwell Park, first at the Campfire Council Ring and then at Cedar Grove. Moved to Chico Women’s Club last summer, the series was renamed Shakespeare 2009. The new Chico Summer Theatre Festival moniker keeps the words “Park,” “Plaza” and “Shakespeare” out of the mix, and also “opens us up to other classics beside Shakespeare—the Greeks, Moliére, Middleton, and so forth,” said Jerry Miller, the troupe’s longtime artistic director and Butte College Theatre Arts instructor.
For those keeping track, this marks the fourth name in five years for the drama series, now in its 21st season.
Co-presented by Butte College and the Ensemble Theatre of Chico, the first year of Chico Summer Theatre Festival will feature two productions staged at the Chico Women’s Club: The Winter’s Tale, a William Shakespeare romantic-psychodrama-turned-comedy, begins tonight (Aug. 5), and Go Go, an original acoustic musical set in London in the 1960s, follows, opening on Aug. 12.
Jeff Dickenson (who has been involved with the summer theater series since 1997), a member of the Butte College Theatre Arts faculty since ’99 and current company director at Chico Cabaret, sits in the director’s chair for The Winter’s Tale, a story of mistaken jealousy, apparent death, a 16-year passage of time and finally, merriment (with some surprises).
“You’re all doing good,” Dickenson affirmed to the cast before a recent run-through at the 7th Street Centre for the Arts, which was made available as an air-conditioned, free rehearsal space by Theatre in the Now Program Manager Natalie Valencia. “This is going to be a good show, we’re already there. But with this cast I want it to be more than a good show.”
With an enthusiastic sparkle in his eye, mentoring some actors with seasoned advice, attentively listening to suggestions from others, and mapping out last-minute stage-blocking on a miniature tabletop stage dotted with tiny foam-core props and actors, Dickenson resembled a playoff-bound sports coach.
“Go full bore. I’d rather have you go big; blow the walls out of this little stage. Every opportunity you have is an opportunity for greatness,” he counseled the intent and admiring cast, which responded in-kind with enthusiastic applause.
The Winter’s Tale is partly being led by Sean Green as Leontes, King of Sicily. Dickenson said he watched the dynamic Green grow and “come into his own as an actor” and get the Shakespeare bug when Green appeared in the troupe’s production of King Lear in 2008 as well as Romeo and Juliet in 2009. The director commended Green’s stage presence and energy as well as his particular aptitude for performing Shakespeare, particularly his ability to embrace the Elizabethan-era language.
Dickenson also had plenty of praise for dignified and statuesque leading lady Hannah Knight, as Hermione, Queen to Leontes. A Chico State Theatre Department veteran who worked under William Johnson and Cynthia Lammel, Knight is also a banjo picker and vocalist for The Railflowers, an acoustic trio featuring her and her two sisters, Beth and Ellen.
“She’s a pro,” Dickenson said. “You can tell she’s got a lot of training. Hannah uses the language beautifully and … has an elevated quality to her work that makes her a good queen. When she walks into a room, you believe her.”
Go Go, a show co-written and -directed by Miller and Marcel Daguerre, a Chico State philosophy instructor and playwright/director, is an ensemble-casted acoustic musical. Starring Kelly Houston, Adriane Westerdahl, Samantha Francis and Lila Rich, it was inspired by the 1954 British comedy film Hobson’s Choice, starring Charles Laughton—“though we have diverged dramatically from that story, and incorporated many new elements,” Miller said.
“It has a bit of Lear and a touch of Fiddler on the Roof. But all in all it’s a new story. … A tyrannical father tries to bend his three headstrong daughters to his will. It’s London in the swingin’ ’60s and the girls are ready to declare their independence.”
British Invasion-era hits by The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Petula Clark and Herman’s Hermits will be featured as well.
Both productions will be preceded by a couple of free, outdoor, kid-friendly puppet shows: The Tale of Cupid and Psyche the first week, and Goldie Locks and the Three Not So Very Large Pigs during week two.