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Author: Emma St. Lawrence

“The Book of Will” celebrates the reunion of our theatre family

Last week Colorado Shakespeare Festival opened “The Book of Will,” the third production in our 65th season. 2022 is both a time of celebration and reflection as we return to presenting plays at full capacity in all of our spaces.

It is especially meaningful, then, that “The Book of Will,” written by playwright Lauren Gunderson, contains so many parallels to the post-pandemic world. From celebrating the relationships and bonds forged by theatre to the bittersweet emotion of loving an ephemeral art, it’s a play that speaks across the centuries.

“This play, to me, has become in many ways the ultimate ‘love letter’ to all actors, theatregoers and acting companies,” says director Rodney Lizcano. It’s especially poignant given the postponement of the 2020 season and the restrictions of the 2021 season, the first such interruptions since the Festival’s founding in 1958.

This unprecedented pause was a large part of why a play about preserving art in the face of adversity was selected for the 2022 season.

“‘The Book of Will’’ struck us all with a jolt of inspiration,” Producing Artistic Director Tim Orr wrote, “It seemed to capture exactly how we were feeling about the importance of family and the resilience of a Shakespearean theatre company.”

This resilience is just one of several “re” words Orr uses to characterize the season. Alongside return, renewal, and rejoice, these words serve as the thematic heart of the summer and, by no accident, “The Book of Will” itself.

The play dramatizes the heartfelt and hilarious story of the artists and friends who fought to publish the Bard’s plays in the wake of his death, giving rise to the First Folio. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Folio, which contains 36 of Shakespeare’s plays, is what has ensured the lasting legacy of their progenitor.

The Folio contains all but six texts attributed to the playwright. Many of these plays had never been printed previously, including “The Tempest,” “Twelfth Night” and three plays included in this summer’s season: “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” “All’s Well That Ends Well,” and “Coriolanus.” Without the herculean effort of Shakespeare’s friends, family and fellow artists, these plays would have been lost to time, and our cultural fabric irrevocably changed.

“The Book of Will,” like the First Folio, is a tribute born of a love of art and a belief that theatre can bring us together even in times of turmoil. It’s a story that bridges time; a demonstration of how theatre, as Gunderson puts it, “holds hands with the past and the future at the same time.”

It’s also, unsurprisingly, very much a story about friendship and the family we make. “Family is a wide and inclusive word,” Gunderson believes, “We have the family we are born with, the ones we choose to love, the people we build things with and we create with.”

“The Book of Will” gives names and histories to the people closest to Shakespeare; not just family members, but a diverse community brought together by their shared love. In our production of the play, we’ve sought to similarly honor the diverse theatre community that has persevered through the challenges of the past two years and brought Shakespeare back to the stage.

Thus, the return to live theatre this year is a family reunion for all those who participate in the creation of it–both on and off stage.

“We can never return to the way things were, good or bad,” Orr acknowledges, “but we can return to a place. And that place is the theatre.”

Join us there for “The Book of Will,” running July 2 through Aug. 6 at the Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre. Tickets available at now at cupresents.org.