SENSI MAGAZINE: Colorado Shakes
Literary scholar Howard Bloom called Shakespeare “the inventor of the human.” American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that Shakespeare “breathed upon dead bodies and brought them to life.” The Bard of Avon’s prose is now part of a colorful modern lexicon laden with words and phrases he invented out of thin air and used to create the type of sharable quotes that dominate your Instagram feed. “To thine own self be true.” “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” “Love all, trust few, do wrong to none.” “The wheel is come full circle: I am here.” This summer, to honor its 60th anniversary, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival also comes full circle: you’ll want to be there.
The “there” in question is in Boulder on the University of Colorado Boulder campus. Specifically at the Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre, an idyllic open-air setting where Shakespeare is performed under a canopy of stars. It’s quite fitting, then, that Shakespeare’s tale of two star-crossed lovers was the first play to be performed on the stage. The 1944 production of Romeo and Juliet was a precursor to the creation of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, a professional theater company in association with the University of Colorado Boulder established in 1958. That first year, a cast of unpaid students directed by CU theater faculty performed the company’s first summer program on the grass. All the world is a stage, you know. Perhaps As You Like It, the play where that saying originated, was too obvious a choice for that inaugural season. Instead, the lineup featured three of Shakespeare’s most celebrated works: Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew, and Julius Caesar.
What’s past is prologue still. Those three celebrated works are the centerpieces of CSF’s 60th season, and shows run through August 2017. The company is now comprised of an independent troupe of professional actors, set designers, directors, and stage hands. Many of their interns come from CU, but they’ve taken on students from around the world, too. This summer, alongside Hamlet, they will also present Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, a comedic modern retelling of Hamlet from the perspectives of the tragedy’s two least consequential characters. It was written by Tom Stoppard, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Shakespeare in Love. The cast of Hamlet also stars in Rosencrantz, in effect telling the same story twice, once as a traditional tragedy and again as a (relatively bloody) comedy.
Henry VI, Part 3—the last play in Shakespeare’s War of the Roses chronicle—rounds out the 2017 season with two Original Practices performances. The limited-run OP shows aim to “do Shakespeare the way Shakespeare did Shakespeare.” To thy own self be true, after all. To recreate the 15th-century theater experience, OP sets are as basic as can be, with no lights or sound systems. The costumes are just whatever’s on hand. Actors don’t even get a full script; they are given a rolled-up scroll with their handwritten lines and cues, and they have just 20 hours to rehearse.
When the show opens on August 6, CSF will become only the second Shakespeare festival in the country to complete Shakespeare’s entire 37-play canon for the second time—a milestone moment during a banner diamond anniversary run.