Check it out
What: Davis Shakespeare Festival with “Much Ado About Nothing” and “She Loves Me”
When: Alternating days Thursdays through Sundays, June 26, through Aug. 3
Where: Veterans’ Memorial Theatre, 203 E. 14th St.
Tickets: $20 general, $18 for students and seniors, $15 children 12 and under
The Davis Shakespeare Company, which has been entertaining audiences at the UC Davis Arboretum gazebo for four years, is growing up.
They are moving indoors to a bigger venue at the Veterans’ Memorial Theater, where there will be ample parking, lots more (comfortable) seats, and the audience can leave the mosquito repellent at home.
To inaugurate its new venue, the company is presenting the Davis Shakespeare Festival, featuring two shows in repertory, Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” and the company’s first musical “She Loves Me.” The shows will run Thursday through Sunday for six weeks, from June 26 through Aug. 3. Visit the web site, http://www.shakespearedavis.org/buy-tickets/, for show dates and times.
“We’re really excited about what we can do designwise in a real theater,” artistic director Rob Salas said. “We wanted to bring in more designers and pick up our game technically. The city has been very encouraging of our plans because the Vets’ is not used much during the summer, so it seemed like a perfect deal for everyone.”
If this year’s festival is successful, they will be able to build on that for the following year.
“We have had some support from the city lately. We were recognized at the City Council meeting on June 13,” Salas said.
He also shared that as the company is commemorating its fifth season, there is some groundwork being laid which will deepen the company’s relationship with the city.
“We hope this festival really takes off and it can be a part of building an even better relationship,” he said.
He pointed out that while it was fun being in the gazebo, which lent itself beautifully to Shakespeare’s more “pastoral” plays, he recognized that parking was frequently a problem and he expressed his gratitude to those loyal patrons who made the often long walk to the performing area.
The choice of “She Loves Me” (which many might recognize as the forerunner to the movies “You’ve Got Mail,” “In the Good Old Summertime” and “The Shop Around the Corner”) was a no-brainer.
“The shows speak to each other so well,” Salas said. “Both involve a dueling couple that find love. They parallel each other well and as the same actors will be playing the same roles in both productions, it serves to deepen their relationship.
“It was a perfect musical for us because it’s character driven and intimate which is the main thing that we’ve been doing over the years, focusing on that kind of interplay. We like the intimate story lines.”
The acting ensemble remains at about a dozen actors, but negotiating Equity contracts allowed them to advertise nationally and to hold auditions in San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles. People from as far away as Salt Lake City and Louisiana submitted videotapes. Fans of actor Matt K. Miller, seen in many Sacramento productions, will be happy to hear he is part of this festival, as is Matthew Edwards, who made his DSE debut last year, after a lengthy professional career, as Jacques in “As You Like It.”
The musicians will be a blend of those who have worked with the company before, largely UCD alumni and current UCD students. Associate artistic director, award-winning composer Richard Chowenhill — a current Ph.D. candidate at Brandeis University — has been able to attract top-notch musicians.
“She Loves Me” will feature a five-piece ensemble and “Much Ado about Nothing,” which is being performed in the Swing Era, also will feature original compositions. Chowenhill is committed to bringing the work of Shakespeare into a modern context through the incorporation of relevant and contemporary forms of music and musical ensembles.
“Swing is very flexible so we can really work all the different tones in the play,” Salas said. “Richard’s compositions are good.”
“I think people will be impressed at how easily we make this transition,” he added. “Our designers have flown in (and housed) a whole bunch of designers from across the country.” Set designer Tatiana Kuilanofs is from UC Irvine, now working in Los Angeles. Light designer Nick Swanson, from Texas, has worked at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. “We’re committed to making this festival the best it can be.”
“Because we have so much extra space in the Vets, I think people will be surprised at what the theater can be. People maybe don’t give that space its due. Space, angles, acoustics, nice fly space, etc. We’re really utilizing all of it all the time. Our set will be professional quality,” Salas said. “People still talk about the Davis Comic Opera Company and how great it was in there, so I’m hoping that we are restoring the space to what it should be — a professional house.”
To finance this festival, the Davis Shakespeare Ensemble has partnered with several Downtown Davis businesses such as the Hallmark Inn, Hibbert Lumber, Yolo Federal Credit Union, Davis Community Church, Theater Bay Area, and others listed on the group’s web site.
Salas points out that because this festival is a way to bring people to Davis, he has been pretty successful in partnering with organizations in town. Donation forms will also be available at all performances.
In addition to the main stage production, there will be a free “green show” on the grass at the side of the theater, and a list of which performers will be performing on which night will be available later on the web site.
Four-and-a-half years ago, The DSE began with “Romeo and Juliet,” but they knew that they eventually wanted to do something on a much larger scale. That dream has now come true and they are determined to make this not only a professional quality experience but one that is “unquestionably happy.”