WESTWORD: Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s Timothy Orr is ready for a risky season
When Timothy Orr, then the assistant director of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, was called on to take over the whole thing following the departure of CSF artistic director Philip Sneed in early 2013, he found himself immersed in what he now calls — in a profound understatement — “a very interesting year.” Company auditions were less than a week away, and he needed to find a director almost immediately for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which Sneed had been slated to direct. Orr offered the slot to Geoffrey Kent, who had worked for the festival as an actor but never as a director; Kent quickly accepted. “We had about five days to think about the concept and what we would be looking for at the auditions,” remembers Orr. “It was tough.” He laughs. “It was harder than the last year of grad school.”
Still, the 2013 season was a success: Dream won critical praise, as well as a Best of Denver award. The upward trend continued through the next two years, and now, with the 2016 season opening this weekend with The Comedy of Errors, Orr’s hand on the tiller is steady. “This season is selling better than last,” he says, “and last was the record breaker.”
This season is a risky one, however. Shakespeare companies almost always rely on sunny works like Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream to fill seats, along with the best-known tragedies: Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth. The CSF’s selections this year are less well known and more difficult, including Troilus and Cressida, a tragedy featuring lovers sadder, older and less romantic than Romeo and Juliet and a heroine who’s either faithless or the victim of a patriarchal society, take your pick. The play is rarely shown, and was last seen in Boulder in 1964 — “the same year the Beatles landed in America,” Orr observes.
Carolyn Howarth, who’s directing, was nineteen when she first saw the play in London in 1986, with Alan Rickman playing Achilles. “It was a life-changing experience,” she recalls. “Something about that production touched me so deeply. I fell in love with Shakespeare and with the play.”
Her chance to direct it came about unexpectedly. She and Orr had been discussing a different play, she explains, “and I happened to text him: ‘If you ever do Troilus and Cressida, you have to let me direct it.’” Read the full preview here.