Causeway to the bard

Davis Shakespeare Ensemble steps it up

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The Davis Shakespeare Ensemble just launched its third season with its original adaptation of Macbeth: The Radio Play, which was staged outdoors at night in the gazebo at the UC Davis Arboretum, with live sound effects and appropriately dim and moody lighting.

And Rob Salas—who co-directed Macbeth with Gia Battista—was recently offered an opportunity to be the assistant director of The Taming of the Shrew at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival next year. Salas will be in Ashland, Ore., from January until March, working under David Ivers (artistic director of the Utah Shakespearean Festival).

The idea for a Shakespeare troupe in Davis hatched during a spring 2010 production of the 1960s musical Hair, produced by a campus theater club, Studio 301 Productions, during the Whole Earth Festival. Salas attended that show, staged on the lawn next to the gazebo, which functioned as a “back room” for the production. Salas was taken with the idea of the open-sided gazebo as a performance space.

The Davis Shakespeare Ensemble was launched that September in partnership with the UC Davis Arboretum, presenting Romeo and Juliet. It was a successful production and more followed: Henry V, Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as well as some original works.

“We love performing in the gazebo because of its circular architecture,” Salas said. “It allows for dynamic staging and also gives that ritualistic feeling of sitting around the campfire sharing stories. We love the opportunity to embrace storytelling in the simplest, purest form.”

Salas and Battista share duties as co-artistic directors. Salas has a bachelor’s degree English and dramatic art from Yale University and a Master of Fine Arts in directing from UC Irvine. Battista is a graduate of UC Davis, as is associate artistic director Richard Chowenhill, who is also an MFA candidate at Brandeis University. Chowenhill has contributed original scores to several shows.

Look for upcoming shows: a movement piece in April titled Nightingale (to be performed in the Pamela Trokanski Dance Workshop and Performing Arts Center) and As You Like It in the gazebo next summer.