Author: Adam Goldstein

“ShakesFear: An Autumn’s Tale” takes its spooky cues from the world of the Bard

It took a haunted house to reveal the true depths of William Shakespeare’s spookiness to Kevin Rich.

Rich, CU Boulder’s associate chair of theatre and director of the university’s Applied Shakespeare Certificate program, has plenty of both on-stage and academic experience with the works of Bard of Avon. Before coming to CU Boulder in 2016, he was the artistic director of Illinois Shakespeare Festival, where he created a series of 45-minute adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays that became a centerpiece of the ISF’s touring company. He’s been an actor and director for professional Shakespearean adaptations across the country and has taught the playwright’s canon at the undergraduate and graduate level for years.

Even with all this experience and expertise, Rich wasn’t fully prepared for the insights that came from designing a Shakespearean-themed haunted attraction for the first time in 2014. That project, a collaboration with artist and director Andy Park, revealed a whole new side of the Bard.

“We thought it would be cool to do something around Halloween that would be like a Shakespearean haunted house,” Rich recalled, adding that the pair wanted to “haunt” local grounds with eerie figures pulled directly from Shakespeare’s plays. “Andy and I have both said that we didn’t realize what a twisted mind that Shakespeare had until we did this. There are so many characters that are right for this world, so many ghosts and witches and non-human characters and dead monarchs.

“There’s no shortage of material,” he added.

That project turned into “ShakesFear: An Autumn’s Tale,” an outdoor haunted attraction presented by the CU Boulder Department of Theatre & Dance. It’s bound for CU Boulder’s Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre this October, just in time for the spooky season. This will be the third version of the attraction—the first was the debut run in Illinois, where it ran to sold-out crowds three years in a row, and the second took place in Lincoln, Nebraska last year, where Park serves as the artistic director of the Nebraska Repertory Theatre.

This latest iteration of the haunt will build on the previous successful runs, but be tailored to the specific layout and landscape of the historic Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre, which has hosted CU Boulder’s Colorado Shakespeare Festival since its debut in 1958. “ShakesFear” will feature student actors and designers, elaborate set pieces and hand-crafted puppets created by artist Jill Hibbard. Both Park and Hibbard are Roe Green Visiting Artists for the project.

Rich, who describes the attraction as a “haunted house meets Meow Wolf,” said that the characters, settings and spooks will all spring straight from Shakespeare’s plays.

“Visitors will walk in and see Shakespeare in a cage; he’s been locked in by his own characters. They’ll walk around the perimeter of the Rippon Theater encountering these figures,” he said, adding that the haunt will likely last 45 minutes. “They’ll walk through different areas that represent common settings in Shakespeare’s plays—there’s a haunted wood, there’s a graveyard. They may see Puck in the woods, or the gravedigger from ‘Hamlet’ in the graveyard. Of course, they may well encounter Macbeth’s three witches somewhere.”

The attraction will be designed to appeal to Shakespeare fans and newbies alike, Rich said, an approach that aligns with his longtime commitment to make the works of the Elizabethan poet relevant to modern audiences.

“People new to Shakespeare will see this material in a new and different way. People who know Shakespeare are going to find little easter eggs throughout,” Rich said. “I have a real interest in new work that can be described as Shakespearean. Shakespeare himself was an adapter, and I believe that we should be adapting his work in new ways for our contemporary popular audience.”

To that end, “ShakesFear” is designed for all audiences from ages 12 and up, in hopes of shining a new light on timeless drama. In lieu of zombies, gore and chainsaws, this attraction opts for more subtle eeriness drawn from the mind of one of Western literature’s greatest storytellers, an artist who, as it turns out, had quite a flair for spookiness.

“ShakesFear: An Autumn’s Tale” runs Oct. 7 to 16 in the Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre. Timed entry tickets are available in advance at