My good friend Ron Severdia has asked me to write a blog this summer to be posted from the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, where I'll be playing Cardinal Wolsey in Henry VIII. It's a significant event for me for two reasons.
First, Colorado Shakespeare is where I cut my teeth as a Shakespeare actor, 42 years ago. I came to Boulder as a naive 19-year-old in June of 1966, fresh off my sophomore year at Swarthmore, and embarked on a steep learning curve that transformed my life; I was already aware of an active interest in the theatre and in Shakespeare's works in particular, but it was one among many other interests (classical music, Aegean archaeology, caving and rock-climbing) competing for space in my hyperactive young brain. But I came out of that summer with a new sense of acting as a vocation and a commitment to explore the fascinating world of these amazing plays and the actor-poet-entrepreneur who penned them. That summer led to a lifelong commitment to the Bard's works and many, many more summers of Shakespeare in Colorado, in Oregon, and finally in California, where an almost twenty-year association with the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival-- which is now doing business under its new title, California Shakespeare Theatre (Cal Shakes for short)-- as actor, director and Associate Artistic Director, eventually involved me in productions of all of the 38 plays-- all but one. Which brings me to the second reason this summer is special.
Last July, I found myself, uncharacteristically, with no Shakespeare festival in need of my services. I have passed Shakespeareless summers before over the past four decades, but it's been a rare occurrence; May or June usually finds me with an acting or directing gig coming up at any one of the half-dozen or so festivals that have found use for my professional skills. But summer 2007 found me with time on my hands, and I decided to use the unfamiliar down time to take a road trip and visit my friends around the West who were more fortunately employed. A two-week swing took me to see shows in Portland and Denver, as well as friends who were performing in the companies at Ashland, Oregon, and at CSF in Boulder.
I was in the latter city visiting my friend Julia Motyka when we met the new Artistic Director, Philip Sneed, walking across the CU campus. I had met Phil once or twice in recent years; he headed the Foothill Theatre Company, who in turn had operated Lake Tahoe's summer Shakespeare festival for several seasons. We had talked in general terms about my working at Tahoe sometime, but the conditions had never been just right. Now, in the course of a friendly conversation, here was Phil telling me of his plans for the 2008 season: he was going to produce Henry VIII, the one Shakespeare play in which I've never performed.
Needless to say, my interest was piqued. I had been looking for a production of Henry VIII since 1988, the year I had knocked off my last-play-but-one, Timon of Athens. (In fact, when I had appeared as a contestant on Jeopardy! in 1993, Alex Trebek had been kind enough to appeal on my behalf to anyone planning to produce the play!) I was pleased to find that the interest was mutual, and in due course an invitation arrived to join the CSF company for the 2008 summer season, to play Cardinal Wolsey in Henry and a small role, M. Bonacieux, in The Three Musketeers.
So this May finds me preparing to leave for Boulder, more than forty years after I began my Shakespeare apprenticeship there and thirty-five since my last appearance on that stage, as an actor in the 1973 season. Something more than nostalgia, I think, accounts for my excitement at this prospect. Very few actors are ever afforded the privilege of appearing in every single Shakespeare play in production. My old friend Barry Kraft, whom I first met in Boulder that same summer of 1966, is the only actor of my personal acquaintance to accomplish this feat, having polished off his canon with a production of The Two Noble Kinsmen in Ashland some ten or fifteen years ago-- and I have smarted all these years under the knowledge that he got there first! I would love to hear from readers who know any other members of our particular little fraternity, or who might themselves have achieved this unusual distinction.
I intend to write two or three times a week about my trip to Colorado, my experiences with the company there, and the fulfillment of what has been one of my lifetime goals. I hope you'll share the journey with me...