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ae shakesSanta Cruz Shakespeare finds a way to get their Will

Putting the finishing touches on the whirlwind of behind- the-scenes production details, the cast, crew and directors of the all-new Santa Cruz Shakespeare (SCS) are set to demonstrate that all the world's a stage—especially one surrounded by dense redwood forests.

"We are thrilled that our audiences will get to enjoy Shakespeare's language in a place that is so suited to his words: at once wild and measured, epic and personal," says Mike Ryan, who, along with Marco Barricelli, former artistic director for Shakespeare Santa Cruz (SSC), heads up the
ambitious and lively new festival. Carrying on the tradition of professional, thought-provoking and passionate theater in Santa Cruz, co-artistic director Ryan—an actor well-known to local audiences— stepped away from dress rehearsals to admit that while the company had to work fast to get everything in place, the result of "brisk Bay Area auditions is a superb blend of audience favorites and brilliant newcomers."

Many will recognize Richard Ziman, who returns to play the robust carouser Sir John Falstaff. Marcus Cato, former managing director of Shakespeare Santa Cruz, takes the stage for the first time since 1997. Other familiar faces from the past include Julia Coffey, Allen Gilmore, William Elsman, Carly Cioffi and the ubiquitous Kit Wilder.

"I am extremely excited about the cast we have assembled," says Ryan. "Comprised of SSC audience favorites, Bay Area superstars, award-winning actors from Chicago and New York, and our amazing interns, they are the perfect group to take audiences on the sexy and hilarious ride that is our inaugural season."

As far as William Shakespeare was concerned, all the world loves a fool, especially a cross-dressing fool. And he proved it by packing his wittiest works with clever occasions to make feckless buffoons out of easy targets. Like Sir John Falstaff, who is back with us in this inaugural season of Santa Cruz Shakespeare, attempting to seduce two saucy women and pocket their husbands' money in the woodland caper The Merry Wives of Windsor. A few years back I described Ziman's Falstaff as "an irresistible organization of wit, joie de vivre and corpulence.” I, who wanted the chance to see “Falstaff in love,” again look forward to relishing Ziman in this juicy Shakespearean romp, written at the request of Queen Elizabeth I. Busy Bay Area director Kirsten Brandt takes the controls of this cheeky romp, whose forest setting makes the perfect match for UCSC's atmospheric Festival Glen.

More schemes, fools and cross- dressing abound in the romantic comedy As You Like It, which opens the festival on July 1. In this Renaissance sitcom, Rosalind is exiled from the court, and, along with the fool Touchstone, wanders into the idyllic Forest of Arden where she discovers her true love, Orlando. Rosalind hatches a dazzling scheme to win his heart by disguising herself as a boy and teaching him how to woo a woman. Only in Shakespeare! The production is directed by Mark Rucker, a Shakespeare Santa Cruz veteran and associate artistic director at the American Conservatory Theater.

Rounding out the SCS festival season is a "fringe show" production of Amy Freed's delicious The Beard of Avon which tracks one eager young man named "Shakespeare" and his wildly improbable struggles to escape the sticks and find fame as a playwright in the big city of London. Directed by Steve Boyle, the Fringe Show plays only on July 29 and August 5.

The backstory to this year's Santa Cruz Shakespeare festival is well known. Once the University closed down the annual summer theatricals after more than three decades, the community responded by raising the funds to support a new season of Shakespeare, with high-profile professionals at the helm.

"The difference in this new festival," Ryan said recently, "is that SSC felt like a festival at UCSC. The aim of Santa Cruz Shakespeare is to be a theater company for the community."


INFO: The Santa Cruz Shakespeare season runs July 1 - Aug.10, at the Sinsheimer- Stanley Festival Glen at the UCSC. As You Like it runs July 1 - Aug. 10, The Merry Wives of Windsor runs July 13 - Aug. 10. The Fringe Show: The Beard of Avon shows July 29 & Aug. 5 only. Tickets available online at santacruztickets.com.

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