Fans of William Shakespeare may rejoiceth as warm weather brings the Bard to two outdoor venues this summer.
The ever inventive San Francisco Shakespeare Festival returns to Pleasanton to present its Free Shakespeare in the Park, this year with "As You Like It: a new musical."
This comedy is about the love between Rosalind and Orlando, who meet in the corrupt Court of Duke Frederick. To avoid political persecution, they must flee separately into exile before they have a chance to explore their budding relationship.
"While developing this new musical version of 'As You Like It,' we asked ourselves and our community, 'What does the Court represent? What does it mean to go into the Forest? What does it mean to be exiled, now and in the near future?'" explained artistic director Rebecca J. Ennals.
"And most importantly," she continued, "'What does it feel like to experience love -- this feeling that all human beings, no matter their circumstances, seem to have in common?'"
The company reached out into the community to explore the meaning of these questions and hear different answers.
"We are enormously grateful to our neighbors experiencing homelessness who have shared with us, in workshops and in rehearsals, their own humanity and their own stories," Ennals said.
In the play, Rosalind and Orlando cross paths once again in the Forest of Arden, but this time Rosalind is disguised as a boy named Ganymede, and Orlando is unable to see through her disguise. Despite challenges, they find new allies and fall in love all over again.
And Shakespeare as a musical? Even 400 years ago the Bard himself had a composer enhance some of his plays, including "As You Like It."
"Shakespeare himself put five songs in the show originally. We are building on what is already there," Ennals said. "But ours is a bit more modern; it's an indie rock musical."
Nine of the songs are composed by Oakland duo, the Kilbanes -- Kate Kilbane and Dan Moses -- who have composed musicals and written songs for Shakespearean performances. An additional two songs are provided by festival resident artist Phil Wong.
The play is being updated, Ennals noted, taking out old jokes that needed to be explained and adding songs to make it more enjoyable for the audience.
The production opens at 7 p.m. next Saturday (June 29) at Amador Valley Community Park, on Santa Rita Road and Black Avenue, and runs Saturdays and Sundays through July 14 in Pleasanton. After that, it continues at outdoor venues in Cupertino, Redwood City and San Francisco where it wraps up this year's offering Sept. 19.
Free Shakespeare in the Park shows draw crowds, so it is suggested folks arrive early with friends and family and bring blankets or low chairs and a picnic to enjoy before the performance. A 15-minute "Green Show" takes place at 6:30 p.m., which provides a lively introduction to "As You Like It" that is fun for all ages.
Also this summer, Livermore Shakespeare Festival is presenting "Othello" and an abridged and revised version of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare," to be performed outdoors at Wente Vineyards.
"Othello" will be set in post-Civil War America to explore the tragedy sparked by race, love, honor and, ultimately, betrayal. The story tells of a black Army general and hero, who is desperately in love with his Caucasian wife, and Iago, the ensign, who manipulates everyone around him, ultimately leading to multiple tragedies.
Shakespearean actor Michael Wayne Rice, who is directing the production, and troupe founder Lisa A. Tromovitch hope the production will lead to a wider community dialog on race and gender relations in our lives.
"'Othello' could be a contemporary TV drama," Tromovitch said. "It's amazing how we're still in the same struggle other eras faced as we strive to become confident in our ability to live together, as a community of different races, genders and gender identities, etc."
"A real community recognizes that differences do and will occur but don't have to be founded in animosity," Rice said. "Community story is more powerful than the individual story."
He hopes that at post-show discussions people will speak freely about their feelings.
"Othello" opens July 3, and "The Complete Works" opens July 18. Tickets range from $25-$58. Find more information and purchase tickets at www.LivermoreShakes.org or call 443-BARD (433-2273).