Exploring a summer of love and ambition
What goes into planning a season at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival? Quite a bit, in fact, says Producing Artistic Director Timothy Orr with a laugh.
“I have this ridiculously large table/desk, and I’ve got tons of plays out on that desk, tons of headshots and resumes of actors, lots of portfolios of directors. There’s a lot of reading—months and months of reading—that goes on. And sometimes [inspiration comes from] great conversations with other theatre artists who I love talking to. But I’m always kind of looking for the way it’ll all come together.
“If I were imagining somebody who loves going to the theatre, [I want them] to look at the whole package together, and go, ‘Huh. That’s not what I expected! Honey, let’s see the whole thing!’”
Along with CSF Managing Director Wendy Franz and the season’s artistic team, Orr then discusses the core messages of each play and together he and Wendy hone in on the through-line running from production to production.
For the 61st season of CSF, those brainstorm sessions landed on a key juxtaposition: love versus ambition. “Each play in this season explores a different facet of the complexity of the human experience and the way that the struggle of opposing forces is essential to good storytelling,” says Franz.
Indeed, good storytelling abounds. How love and ambition play out in the four main productions—”Love’s Labour’s Lost”, “Richard III”, “Cyrano de Bergerac”, and “You Can’t Take It With You”—is truly unexpected. With epic love stories, dark family dramas and laugh-out-loud fun, there’s something for everyone here.
Kicking off the season under the stars
In this summer’s first production, “Love’s Labour’s Lost”, love and ambition are central to the plot. In the bucolic Kingdom of Navarre, four attractive young men make a pact to swear off romance and focus on their studies—just minutes before the future loves of their lives walk by. Hilarity ensues in the form of clever disguises, foolish pranks, mistaken identities and mixed messages.
As Dramaturg Kathryn Moncrief explains, “Love and ambition are two types of desire. In many of his plays, including ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’, Shakespeare examines what it means to desire something—fame, friendship, love, respect. In this play, characters discover, much to their surprise, that love alters their ambitions.”
Like with any good romantic comedy, love conquers all, even oaths. Anastasia Davidson, CSF’s Jaquenetta, shares one particularly iconic moment: “All four of the men, unbeknownst to each other, break down and profess their love for each of their ladies through the readings of heart-opening letters and sonnets. This scene is the point that each lord decides to give in to their love, throwing ambition to the wind. They are all willing to break their oath for the sake of their ladies.”
The summer’s theme doesn’t stop with Shakespeare’s text, of course. It speaks to more than one member of the artistic team. Costume Designer Meghan Anderson Doyle says, “In this play, I am really drawn to how love transcends all levels of power. Everyone from the king to the country maid is profoundly impacted by love. It’s a wonderfully unifying and hopeful thing to strive for.”
Stephen C. Jones, scenic designer for both this production and “Cyrano”, concurs. “The idea of love and being under the stars fits in perfectly with how these two stories are set. Both stories involve the influences and power that nature—the moon, the trees—can have on the soul. This gives me the power to incorporate and adapt the scenic design to the natural beauty of the Rippon theatre as an outdoor venue.”
In “Cyrano”, a look at the man behind the nose
“How does pride and vanity blind us to love we might be missing?” asks Franz when discussing one of the greatest love stories of all time, ‘Cyrano de Bergerac‘. For theatre-lovers, this epic production—a huge undertaking for the festival—sums up the summer’s theme through its title character.
Speaking of the iconic balcony scene, Dramaturg Alyssa Miller adds, “To me, this moment perfectly encapsulates Cyrano’s inner division between his love for Roxane and his ambition to be accepted in the social world in which he lives.
“He has presented himself with an opportunity to reveal his true feelings to Roxane, but his stubborn pride and his crippling self-consciousness keep him from doing so. As ambitious as Cyrano may be in love, he is equally ambitious in deceiving his lover, which will be a fault that haunts him until his dying breath.”
Unexpected pairings to come
Later this summer, audiences can enjoy a truly unexpected pairing, one that Orr has mulled over for years: “Richard III” and “You Can’t Take It With You”. Orr says, “I think the complete polar opposite of ‘Richard III’ is a play like ‘You Can’t Take It With You’: American. Contemporary. Screwball comedy. It’s a beloved piece of theatre that doesn’t get produced enough at the professional, regional level.
“The thing they do have in common is ambition. But they take a completely opposite viewpoint of the nature of ambition and what life should be about.”
For the CSF team, it’s a unique opportunity to explore the plays side by side. Because they have similar casting breakdowns, the two indoor productions will be performed by the same company of actors.
Scenic Designer Caitlin Ayer provides insight: “Although these plays (and their scenic designs) couldn’t differ more in tone, ‘Richard III’ and ‘You Can’t Take It With You’ really are in conversation with one another. The ‘Richard III‘ set, as its designed, feels stark, confining—an airless chamber on a summer day. The Sycamores’ home, in contrast, bubbles over with a sense of breezy, buoyant joy. But both plays, at their cores, really center around the corrosive effects of blind ambition and the bolstering power of love on familial relationships.
“In this light, this season might as well be about destruction and creation—so powerful are the dual forces of ambition (in the wrong hands) and love (in the right ones).”
Audiences looking for the complete indoor experience will surely want to see both.
A summer of love, ambition—and excitement
Talking to Orr, his excitement about the season is catching. And, of course, that’s the goal. “If I have a unique production idea … I can get the staff excited, I can get the board excited. And that excitement rolls out to the directors and designers and then out to the actors.
“And it rolls all the way out into the audience, I hope.”
The summer’s first production, “Love’s Labour’s Lost”, begins Friday, June 8. Tickets start at $20.