Bard in the hills

Sierra Shakespeare Festival plans big changes for 2005

Steve Brock, left, pulls a revolver on Kelly O’Hurley in the wild comedy-noir <i>Murder at Howard Johnson’s</i>, now at Garbeau’s Dinner Theatre.

Steve Brock, left, pulls a revolver on Kelly O’Hurley in the wild comedy-noir Murder at Howard Johnson’s, now at Garbeau’s Dinner Theatre.

Think of it as the theatrical equivalent of winged migration.

Each July for the last seven years, the Foothill Theatre Company of Nevada City has staged two Shakespeare plays under contract with the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, at Sand Harbor on the Nevada shore.

In late August, Foothill brings everything back to the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley, where the same shows are presented as the Sierra Shakespeare Festival, which runs until late September.

Thus, the Tahoe productions of Merry Wives of Windsor and A Midsummer Night’s Dream closed on Sunday; they reopen in Grass Valley on Friday night. For Sacramento residents, it’s the closest Shakespeare festival using Equity actors.

But according to Foothill’s artistic director, Philip Charles Sneed, major changes are in store.

“Starting in 2005, we are going to produce the Sierra Shakespeare Festival separately, opening in July and running simultaneously with the festival at Tahoe,” Sneed said. “We’re going to build a summer audience for our own festival, and it’ll give us an opportunity to do a wider range of classical repertoire for our audience. We’ll get into the whole Shakespeare canon, English playwrights like [Richard Brinsley] Sheridan and [William] Wycherley, also [Jean-Baptiste] Molière.” (Sneed has chafed under the “comedy only” policy maintained by the Tahoe festival’s board.)

But producing four Shakespeare shows simultaneously will be a huge undertaking. Ordinarily, Foothill uses four or five actors in its shows during the regular season at the Nevada Theatre in Nevada City. A Shakespeare production involves 15 to 20 actors—sometimes more. Foothill dramatically expands its payroll to do the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. Further expansion will be needed to do the Sierra Shakespeare Festival in July.

Sneed hopes to draw a broad regional audience. “I think we’re well-positioned. [Nevada County] represents a getaway that’s not as far as Tahoe, and it’s already a popular tourist destination. It certainly works with Foothill’s summer shows in Nevada City. This year, our production of Always, Patsy Cline sold around 6,000 tickets [in July and August], and they weren’t all Nevada County locals. But summer Shakespeare draws on a different audience. We want them to think about coming to us.”