Reboot: With Rippon renovation on the horizon, Colorado Shakespeare Festival celebrates 66 years in the iconic outdoor theater with Bard’s ‘most towering works’
Every summer since 1944, save one, the plays of William Shakespeare have been performed at the historic Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Built between 1936-39 from pink sandstone quarried in the shadow of Boulder’s famous Flatirons, the Rippon has been the iconic home of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival since 1958.
But following the 2023 summer season, CSF’s 66th, the curtain will fall on the Rippon for at least one or two seasons to make way for a long-awaited renovation of the century-old Hellems Arts and Sciences Building complex.
“The theater that we have known, home to countless artists, actors and directors, and hundreds of thousands of audience members, will live on only in memory,” says Producing Artistic Director Tim Orr. “Even as we take stock of what so many people have built over the last 66 years, we’re excited about our future in an even better, more welcoming, easier to use and more accessible space when it reopens.”
The Rippon will be dark for at least the 2024 season, Orr says, and potentially longer. In the meantime, CSF will continue its streak of consecutive seasons producing Shakespeare — second longest in North America — in the newly renovated indoor Roe Green Theater in the east wing of the University Theatre Building.
For the original Rippon’s valedictory season, CSF will stage four of the Bard’s best-known plays, from across his career, and a new musical farce based on an 18th-century Italian comedy.
First up is Shakespeare’s beloved, middle-period, enemies-to-lovers romantic comedy “Much Ado About Nothing,” opening, June 11 in the Rippon.
“It’s so many things at once, a rich love story and comedy about relationships, growing up, fathers and daughters, raising children,” Orr says. “We haven’t done it since 2015, and it seemed perfect to open the season.”
“The Winter’s Tale” opens June 24 on the indoor stage. One of Shakespeare’s late-period “romances” — heady concoctions of myth, tragedy and comedy — the play examines the consequences of King Leontes’ jealousy and crackles with complex psychological drama before finding its way into comedic territory.
“It’s one of Shakespeare’s last plays, the work of a fully mature artist at the height of his powers. Tragedy, comedy, psychology, mythology — it’s all in there. It’s a tour de force of everything he can do as a writer,” Orr says.
The brooding, late-period tragedy “King Lear,” opens July 8 in the Rippon. Following the eponymous ruler’s decision to apportion his kingdom according to which of his three daughters best proves her love for him, it tells a dark tale of political machination and plumbs the depths of a ruler blinded by narcissism.
“We were drawn to it during the COVID lockdown, seeing how it struck our parents and grandparents particularly hard,” Orr says, citing the last four lines of the play:
“The weight of this sad time we must obey,
“Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
“The oldest hath borne most; we that are young
“Shall never see so much nor live so long.”
“It felt a little too soon, but now the time is right,” he says. “We haven’t done it since 2010, so we’re really revisiting it in a different world, with all that time and perspective.”
The 2023 non-Shakespeare entry is “One Man, Two Guvnors” by Richard Bean, a zany comedy set in the swinging London of the 1960s that opens July in the newly renovated Roe Green Theater.
“It’s a musical farce, a newer work (2011) based on a play from Shakespeare’s period that’s just pure fun,” Orr says. “And it’s going to be a great way to show off the indoor theater’s recent acoustic renovation.”
Finally, the company will stage a single “original practices” performance of “The Comedy of Errors,” Shakespeare’s first comic work, in the Rippon Aug. 6. CSF has become widely known for its works performed in the manner of Elizabethan England, including limited rehearsal, actors only receiving their own lines and no modern technology.
“These are athletic, brilliant productions that really showcase the raw talent of our acting company,” Orr says. “We’ve been producing rare ‘O.P.’ titles that the acting company isn’t familiar with. This year we decided to do something different and do a play that everyone knows inside and out.”
With that slate of classics — and a dash of the new — the festival intends to pay homage to its classic performance space.
“This season is a moment to magnify and enjoy the most towering works of Shakespeare in our flagship space before we say a temporary goodbye,” Orr says.
Season and single tickets for CSF’s 2023 lineup are on sale now at coloradoshakes.org.
Photo caption: “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” in 2022
Photo credit: Jamie Kraus