Fri 4/14-Sun 4/30
Since the turn of the century, the Ohio Shakespeare Festival has spent the summer outside entertaining theater audiences with its productions of the classics at the Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens.
Then last fall, the Rubber City company made a jump, moving into the Greystone Hall. The Ohio Shakespeare Festival’s 2016-2017 season ends with a production of The Bard’s The Comedy of Errors April 14-30 at the downtown Akron venue.
CoolCleveland talked to Ohio Shakespeare Festival managing director Tess Burgler about the move and future of the company.
First of all, congratulations on the Ohio Shakespeare Festival’s new chapter. Why was the timing right?
The outside company has been going on for 15 years, but this just fell in our laps. We weren’t actively looking for a new space, but the artistic director of a theater company that was in this very Tudor, Elizabethan-looking space retired, and they ended up closing the theater. And we kind of went, “I wonder what they’re doing with that space?” We made one phone call and that snowballed. Then two weeks later, we all of a sudden had a theater when we hadn’t been looking for one. We pretty much saw the universe putting something in our path, and we couldn’t ignore it.
So far what productions has the company produced at Greystone Hall?
We signed the lease October 1 and our first show was October 21. It was our family theater Robin Hood: An Adventure, with Music. We then had Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). We had a rotating repertory of two one-acts and now The Comedy of Errors. In the future, we’ll have two shows outdoors at Stan Hywet and four shows indoors for the entire season.
Tell us about Ohio Shakespeare Festival’s decision to produce a non-Shakespeare production.
About a decade ago, Ohio Shakespeare did three shows and one wasn’t Shakespeare. We did a few musical revues and plays, but then the recession hit and we couldn’t keep the three plays going. Then this past year, before we even had the notion of having indoor space, we decided to launch this family theater initiative with Robin Hood. That performed for one weekend outdoors at Stan Hywet to totally sold-out audiences. That’s why we remounted it for the first thing in Greystone Hall. The family theater thing is totally original scripts and music — all Ohio artists, mostly Akron-based too.
How important is it for Ohio Shakespeare Festival to continue to produce outdoor plays?
That’s definitely who we are, and we don’t want to ever get rid of it. For one thing, there is something very magical about Shakespeare, particularly outdoors when you talk about running away from the Forest of Arden, and you’re actually outside in the Forest of Arden. Or when we have actual soldiers come out of the woods, it’s amazing. It’s something that’s very important to us
What kind of hurdles did the company overcome moving into Greystone Hall?
Going from an outdoor theater to a brick-and-mortar building was a huge project. The concern was just the extra expenses we’d be incurring. We ran a (crowdfunding) campaign. We were asking for $20,000, and we raised $34,000. That helped us with the initial moving costs and preparing us for this first year. We’ve been playing to average crowds of 100 or more each night across the whole season. We’ve been really thrilled with that attendance and the extra events — like our “ShakesBEER” — we’ve done in our lobby bar have been total sellouts and totally fun. Also, now we can offer season subscriptions that we haven’t been able to offer before. It’s just been fantastic.
Finally, has the move inside had an effect on the Ohio Shakespeare Festival experience?
It’s just a totally different beast. There’s a magical quality of being outside, especially for these shows that literally take place outside. Then, of course, there are trains that come through or rain to worry about and noise pollution. All of those hurdles we were very familiar with. Now coming indoors, we have to worry about making sure our diction is really strong because there’s a small echo in the space. So there’s been a learning curve. The other really cool thing is our stage outside is a proscenium, but the stage inside is a three-quarter thrust. All of a sudden, the show changes a dynamic by having all of this depth to the staging, especially the sword fights. They’re just unreal.