As she likes it

Jan Powell

“Thy eternal summer shall not fade.” LTSF artistic director Jan Powell holds the Bard in her hands.

“Thy eternal summer shall not fade.” LTSF artistic director Jan Powell holds the Bard in her hands.

Photo By David Robert

For more information on the annual Sand Harbor Shakespeare Festival, visit

Call it a mid-winter’s nightmare, up against Mother Nature in a bid to get actors to the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival’s late February auditions, in the face of a ginormous storm. A few brave souls made it, monologue-ing their posteriors off for a chance at a good-paying, summer-long gig in paradise … or is it purgatory? To be or not to be, indubitably!

Thespians from New York, San Francisco, Portland, Memphis and L.A. tried out for LTSF’s new artistic director, Jan Powell, who wrapped the 2008 season’s final auditions in Incline Village. She’ll direct Richard III, with Michael Walling of English National Opera fame, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Powell promises pleasant surprises on the shores of Sand Harbor, LTSF’s home—come rain or come shine.

“The people who did come were wonderful,” Powell says of the snowy auditions. “On Saturday, I was about to start packing up and a man ran in and said, ‘Oh, thank heaven you’re still here! We just flew in from North Carolina.’ On Sunday, we had an actress from Salt Lake City. She said it was the most adventurous audition she’d ever had.”

Powell hopes to include local actors, and company members will appear in more than one production, including Cambio, the new musical based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Adding to the drama is the festival’s negotiations with Actors’ Equity Association—nuances to which Powell must give a nod.

“The kind of agreement we have with them determines how many Equity actors we’ll be hiring, which determines how many non-Equity actors we’ll be hiring. It’s a very big impact on our budget, but these are professional actors; worth every penny, and then some.”

Equity actors receive audition preference over non-Equity actors, and could earn around $650/week at the LTSF, a deal sweet enough to lure the timid into tights.

“I’ve seen over 2,000 actors,” Powell says with an almost imperceptible sigh. “I’d ask them to read a speech from Clarence—who is Richard’s brother and knows he’s going to be murdered—and he talks about this nightmare he has. He’s describing falling off his ship, going to the bottom of the sea and seeing heaps of jewels and beautiful stones in the eyes of skeleton heads. The images are indelible. One New York actor did it so accurately, I was tearing up.”

Powell intends to maintain the integrity of Richard III by keeping it “historically dressed … robes, crowns, broad swords and wonderful, big battles. What I want to see with this character is, who would Richard have been if he had not been born with a twisted body [and] not been scorned by everyone? He has a twisted arm, twisted leg and a hump on his back—which he’s adapted to work for him very well. In this grotesque way, he’s very effective on the battlefield. I’d like to see both the hero and villain in one [actor].”

With extensive experience in Shakespeare, Powell is thrilled to be pursuing her lifeblood in such a storybook place.

“When I came for my interview, I was astonished how beautiful it is,” she says. “It’s a hackneyed phrase, but this is a dream job.”

As Will himself wrote in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was.”