Bard at the lake

Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival

The Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival Shakespeare has sand dunes and fresh air. What more could a summer theatergoer ask for?

The Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival Shakespeare has sand dunes and fresh air. What more could a summer theatergoer ask for?

Photo By David Robert

Under this summer’s unusually warm skies, the spectacular granite rock formations and famously turquoise waters of Lake Tahoe serve as a stunning backdrop for Shakespearean theater. The Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, in its 33rd year, is presenting The Comedy of Errors and the dramatic tragedy Macbeth.

The festival began in 1972 at Sugar Pine Point State Park, on Lake Tahoe’s west shore, with only eight performances. In 1976, the festival moved to Sand Harbor State Park near Incline Village. In 2002, the festival began playing at the park’s new, $2 million, state-of-the-art Warren Edward Trepp outdoor stage. This year’s playbill lists 34 performances over two months, and the event draws over 30,000 viewers.

This year marks the first time the festival will stage a tragedy: Macbeth. Previously, the festival rotated through Shakespeare’s eight comedies. Eventually, audiences began requesting the playwright’s well-knows tragedies.

Organizers hesitated to enter the more dramatic realm of Shakespeare’s work, largely because the more demanding tragic roles require more maturity and experience from actors. And, thus, more cost.

“Tragedies require an older, more experienced cast,” explains, Catherine Atack, the festival’s executive director. “We’re at that point we’re ready to do something different.”

Lately, the festival has seen a big enough increase in support from donors to break new ground and hire equity actors. The organization has also become a member of the Incline Village-based non-profit agency, Parasol, which offers no-cost assistance to cultural endeavors like the Shakespeare festival. This year’s cast is from the Nevada City, Calif.-based Foothill Theater Company, which has performed the past nine years at the festival. The cast includes nine union actors, about the same number as the more established and much higher budgeted Ashland (Ore.) Shakespeare Festival.

Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival also concentrates on the “festival” aspect of the series. Hungry patrons can find everything from steak sandwiches to quiche to sushi, provided by some of the area’s best restaurants. And Macbeth is not the only Scottish entity; the festival’s beverage purveyors offer a variety of single-malt Scotches.

For the children, there’s a one-hour version of The Tempest.

With more plays, more support and more Scotch, the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival is following the trend it set more than three decades ago of outdoing itself a notch (at least) each summer. The festival offers perhaps one of the most wonderful ways to spend an evening at Lake Tahoe: with a glass of wine in hand, feet buried in the sun-warmed sand and timeless theater on an outdoor stage.