Bard on the beach

Food, wine, laughter and perhaps—gasp!—a bit of culture await you this summer at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival at Sand Harbor

Against the sparkling backdrop of Lake Tahoe, the Foothill Theatre Company performs for the Shakespeare Festival at Sand Harbor.

Against the sparkling backdrop of Lake Tahoe, the Foothill Theatre Company performs for the Shakespeare Festival at Sand Harbor.

The first time Rob Tocalino attended the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival at Sand Harbor, he was hooked.

“We sat down, we had a great meal, had some great wine [and] just laughed our butts off,” he says. “It was just so fantastic to be out there. Then it gets dark, and you’re looking up throughout the course of play, and there are all these stars around you, and the water, and it’s phenomenal. It’s stunning. You leave there feeling like, ‘That was such a cool thing to give me a reason to be outside at Tahoe at night.’ … I was hooked immediately.”

Tocalino (an RN&R contributor) volunteered at the festival for several years and worked one summer part-time as a box office manager before he was hired on as managing director. His enthusiasm for the five-week festival is obvious—and it might be contagious.

“I’ve been pretty passionate about it from day one, but I think everybody who goes up is the same way,” he says. “We see it every year: Ticket sales begin earlier and earlier, and they’re all repeat customers coming back, because once you [see] it … you want to come back. It becomes a summer event, something that people actually mark their calendars for and say, ‘We’re going to go to Tahoe during these five weeks.’ “

But Tocalino says one of the biggest goals of the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival this year is to draw more people from the Reno/Sparks area, and to that end, promotions have been set up with local businesses such as Soundwave CDs and Sundance Bookstore. He says many locals tell him they always mean to go, but they never seem to make it “up the hill.”

“I think so many of us that live down here anyway forget about Lake Tahoe,” Tocalino says. “You do take it for granted. You don’t go up there as much as you’d like to. So this is a great incentive to combine a couple things into one. You get a little culture; you get the lake; you get some good food. And you get to spend some cool time [with friends and family].”

So what makes the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival so special? Tocalino says it’s a number of things.

First and foremost, there’s the Bard himself, interpreted by Artistic Director Philip Sneed and The Foothill Theatre Company from Nevada City, Calif.

Tocalino sympathizes with those with a Shakespeare phobia—"I was a literature major, so I was probably an easier sell than a lot of people"—but he says the performances aren’t likely to put you to sleep.

“Culture and the high-brow sense that goes along with Shakespeare—I don’t know if that’s what we’re about,” he says. “I think that we’re much more about making Shakespeare fun for people. And I know there is some resistance from people to see Shakespeare, period. They hear the name and they zone out. ‘I had to read that stuff in high school, and I don’t even want to deal with that.’ And I think if there is a setting for Shakespeare that is not threatening at all, it’s up at the lake with some friends and some good food.

“If nothing else, you can enjoy the picnic, sit on the beach, and if you pass out before intermission, OK.” Tocalino laughs. “Not that that ever happens, of course.”

Rather than delve into Shakespeare’s heavier works, the festival will present productions of the comedies Twelfth Night and The Taming of the Shrew, both of which should be lighthearted and incorporate fun elements like slapstick and dance routines. Shrew will be set in the Caribbean—"You can’t go wrong with pirates!” Tocalino jokes—and Twelfth Night will take place in Czarist Russia.

Another special point about the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, Tocalino says, is the atmosphere. Set against the gorgeous backdrop of Lake Tahoe, surrounded by majestic mountains and towering pine trees, under a sky blazing with stars, you could almost do anything at Sand Harbor and have a good time.

“It’s summer. It’s Lake Tahoe. It’s outdoors,” Tocalino says. “[When] people come to the festival, they love to enjoy drinking a bottle of wine, having a picnic, being with their friends. I mean, that’s the experience. … And they feel good. They’re doing something cultural at the lake, and I think that combination is essential, because anybody can go to the beach during the day; anybody can go sit on the beach at night. But this ties in everything that’s good about summer.”

And then there’s the food, which you can bring yourself or buy from the festival’s International Food Court. Choices include such gourmet delights as a Caesar salad with pesto shrimp and more traditional fare such as ribs and burgers, not to mention deserts, espresso, sushi and crepes.

But arguably the most important aspect of the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival is its impact on the economy of the community—and that includes the Reno/Sparks community.

“Just because we’re at the lake doesn’t mean we’re not part of this community,” Tocalino says. “We drive tourism in this community. We have 30,000 visitors to the festival every year … and about half of those are from out of town. … They’re back every year. We get people from all over the country coming back. I don’t think it’s just us, but I don’t think we hurt, either. I think that we are definitely a destination event. People do plan their vacations around it.”

In addition, the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival is working on securing funding for children’s outreach programs, and Tocalino says they hope to be able to offer a free performance for kids each summer.

“We [want to] get the kids involved and also teach them something about Shakespeare, but at the same time entertain them—not go up there and just read Shakespearean language and watch the kids go blind,” Tocalino jokes.

You could say the same for the adults.