Even the high priestess Mary Jane of the past two summers might think this is pretty far out: Dell'Arte opens this year's Mad River Festival on June 20 with its production of Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors.
"It's a little daunting," director Michael Fields admitted. "But it's good for us to push into new territory." This is the first Shakespeare in Blue Lake since 1975, when Fields and Joan Schirle co-starred in As You Like It.
Not that Dell'Arte is abandoning its "theatre of place." This Shakespearian comedy is set in a mythical but recognizable version of a farmers' market on the Arcata Plaza.
Shakespeare's story involves two sets of identical male twins separated not long after birth: two are nobles, both named Antipholus (don't ask) and two are their servants, both named Dromio. In the Dell'Arte version the noble twins are Antiphola — two women who are both played by Mary Jane herself, Joan Schirle. The servants remain men but some other characters are also gender-flipped, so their relationships run almost the Humboldt gamut.
The traditional band is on hand, and part of the story is told in song, but Fields suggests that some proportion of Shakespeare's words will survive. He also promises an elaborate set and lots of visual appeal, as well as the usual mayhem.
But why Shakespeare? The idea came from KEET, responding to a push by PBS for local Shakespeare productions. That project didn't materialize here, but the idea intrigued Dell'Arte. "We looked at the plays to see what we liked," Fields said, "and The Comedy of Errors is certainly the most adaptable. There's some weight to it, too, with those questions of identity. So it's not just a knockabout, which is how people usually choose to do it." The Comedy of Errors plays for three weekends in the outdoor amphitheatre at Dell'Arte, beginning June 20.
Then this year's Mad River Festival continues with more theatrics than usual, beginning with Between the Lines, a 45-minute acrobatic show that plays after Shakespeare on Friday and Saturday, June 21 and 22, but inside on the Carlo Theatre stage (and the walls, etc.) It's created and performed by Dell'Arte School's Andrea M. Martinez, Audrey Leclair, Juliana Frick, Moses Morton, Alyssa Huglett, Nicholette Routhier and Joe Krienke. If you're really hip, you can call it "sexy acro."
The second weekend, June 29 and 30, features a noontime show out in "the back yard" especially for children. Called IN-Tents (A Conservation Comedy), it is created and performed by Dell'Arte's Pratik Motwani, Meghan Frank and Janessa Johnsrude.
Also on June 29 is the Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony and dinner, honoring Dell'Arte International co-founder Jane Hill. After securing the building that still houses Dell'Arte and directing the International School, she went on to rescue the Omaha Opera and expand the activities of the Sacramento Philharmonic as executive director. Michael Fields suggests he may interview Hill at the event in the manner of Inside the Actors Studio's James Lipton. (Including perhaps the ostentatious French accent when mentioning the questionnaire developed by Bernard Pivot.) It all begins at 4 p.m.
The third weekend features the notorious Red Light in Blue Lake: Adult Cabaret, this year with special guests, the Va-Va Voom Burlesque Vixens. "It sells out immediately," Fields noted, "so we're doing two this year." Shows begin at 10:30 p.m. on July 5 and 6. "It gets the weirdest audience," he added unnecessarily.
The fourth weekend — just before the Humboldt Folklife Festival takes over — Dell'Arte brings The Submarine Show to Blue Lake for four performances. Created and performed by Dell'Arte School alums Slater Penney (an Emmy winner) and Jaron Hollander (formerly of Cirque Du Soleil), this family-oriented comedy employing both pantomime and vocal sound effects was a popular and critical hit in San Francisco and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. (There's a short YouTube video to give you the flavor.)
Supported by the Nancy Lafrenz Memorial Scholarship, The Submarine Show plays Thursday through Saturday, July 11-13 at 8 p.m. and Sunday July 14 at 4 p.m.
Though bigger this year than in the immediate past, the Mad River Festival may be substantially larger next summer. That's because Dell'Arte just received a $350,000 grant from ArtPlace America to develop the Mad River Industrial Art Park. In addition to funding arts programs and projects that link the arts and economic development, part of the grant will be devoted to expanding the Mad River Festival into the Industrial Art Park.
Also announced last week: Ferndale Repertory Theatre is adding a "Stage Two" program to its previously announced "MainStage" lineup. These shows will still be on the Ferndale stage and integrated into the season, but with lower admission prices. The idea is to present newer and more cutting-edge work in less elaborate productions. Added so far are Backwards in High Heels by Chicago playwright Jim Henry (which is not the musical about Ginger Rogers with that title) that will run in April, and the musical The Spitfire Grill by James Valcq and Fred Alley, which will play next July.