Notes from 1958: Ken and Ruth Wright
Ken and Ruth Wright have attended the Colorado Shakespeare Festival every year since the beginning.
To celebrate the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s 60th season this summer, we’re sharing stories from actors, directors and crew involved in the very first festival in 1958. This story comes from Ken and Ruth Wright, co-owners of Wright Water Engineers, who have attended the festival every year since the beginning. CSF thanks Wright Water Engineers for its generous sponsorship of the festival.
Ruth Wright: Ken and I had just finished studying at the University of Wisconsin when we moved to Boulder with our three-month-old daughter in 1957. We were walking around on campus and discovered a Shakespeare play was being presented, so we got tickets.
Ken Wright: [Seeing a Shakespeare play] was a lot better than reading one!
Ruth: I was an English major, and I certainly read a lot of Shakespeare in high school and college. But to see it was eye-opening. The pageantry, the costuming, the intimacy and the drama. Shakespeare did not write to be read, he wrote to be seen. We just got hooked. I think at this point we’re the only couple still around who have been subscribers since 1958.
Ken: Neither of us has ever been in a play or a musical. We don’t have that kind of talent.
Ruth: We did have the opportunity during our college years to usher at a theater in Milwaukee. They did concerts, they had the Chicago Symphony come up there once … but they also had plays. We got very much involved with theatre that way.
Ken: It seemed natural to get tickets to the Shakespeare performances here. Our house was so close to the theatre that we could get a babysitter, walk right over to campus and have a special evening.
Ruth: The Mary Rippon [Outdoor Theatre] is just designed for that. It’s Shakespeare under the stars. When you see the stars, it’s just a part of the whole set. I like the intimacy of sitting in the first few rows, where you can really see the whites of their eyes. You feel like you’re almost a part of it. I don’t think I’d have that enthusiasm for seeing Shakespeare at Macky Auditorium.
That first season was wonderful. You can’t go wrong with the plays: “Hamlet,” one of the greatest dramas in the entire world. “The Taming of the Shrew,” it’s such a farce, and so entertaining. And you’ve always heard about Julius Caesar getting stabbed in the Forum, but when you see it onstage … it takes your breath away. We’re thrilled we’re going to see them again this season.
Ken: We’ve loved seeing the festival develop little by little, with more plays, the addition of all the wonderful non-Shakespeare plays, the lighting, the sets, the microphones.
Ruth: I always love seeing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” every time CSF does it, because it’s so imaginative. Our daughter and our grandchildren were in town for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in 2013, and I told our 12-year-old grandson, Mason, that I had a ticket for him and whoever wanted to join him. The friend he invited said he couldn’t go because he had plans to see a movie with his aunt. Mason said, “A movie? Shakespeare’s a lot better than a movie!” And that was his friend’s introduction to Shakespeare.
Ken: We’ve also introduced some of our coworkers [at Wright Water Engineers] to Shakespeare. Some of them say, “I don’t know, that’s Old English, that’s beyond me.” And then we take them with us and they get totally absorbed with what’s going on onstage and they become Shakespeare-o-philes.
Ruth: Once, a few years ago, I was invited to the first rehearsal of a play. The director, Geoffrey Kent, said, “You’re all actors; you’re creative. Don’t expect me to have all the ideas. If you think of things you can do that would add to the story, we’ll try it out.” He wasn’t acting as if he was there to tell everyone what to do. For the actors, that must have been exhilarating—to know that their creative talents could make a difference in the way the play turned out. I really appreciated that.
Ken: Ruth and I consider CSF to be a big part of a life well lived. During all of our own changes over the years—kids growing up, consulting business challenges and successes, Ruth’s time in the legislature, deaths, births, accidents, celebrations—-the Colorado Shakespeare Festival has been a constant that has punctuated our personal moments. Politics? We remember “Julius Caesar” and “Henry V.” Romance? We think of “Twelfth Night” and “As You Like It.” The world seems chaotic? We think of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Macbeth.” Over the years, we have seen the plays change from brilliant but rough and tumble productions (that were probably true to the flavor of the Globe Theatre) to polished stagecraft that rivals or exceeds the quality of any performance anywhere.