Sacramento Shakespeare Festival director Luther Hanson has found a silver lining in last year's theft of $30,000 worth of lighting and sound equipment. Community attention to the vandalism at the William Carroll Amphitheatre in Land Park made the festival known to far more people. With newspapers, social media and television all churning the story for several weeks, the festival saw a significant growth in first-time attendees.
"That kind of exposure was kind of amazing," Hanson said.
"So many people don't know that we exist. Our challenge is still just being known even after 28 years," Hanson said.
The festival opens tonight with director Matt K. Miller's '70s New York disco-themed "Twelfth Night," starring Kelly Ogden. On July 5, Hanson's own "Julius Caesar" set during the 1870s unification of Italy and at the height of Italian opera opens with a cast including Sara Hanson as Julia Caesar, Allen Pontes as Marc Antony and Michael Sicilia as Brutus.
Produced by City Theatre at Sacramento City College, the festival produces its work with staff and personnel coming from both the college theater department and the community.
In the past, the festival has faced identity challenges as it reconciled its mission with its ambitions and realities. Hanson even took a sabbatical from his teaching position at the City College theater department a few years ago and used a grant from the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission to go up and down the West Coast visiting 20 Shakespeare festivals to get a sense of how things are done elsewhere.
"My head was spinning," Hanson said.
"Every festival does things completely differently (from the others). I realized there's as many ways as you can think of to do a Shakespeare festival, and they all have different value systems."
His two favorite festivals were those in Marin and Santa Cruz, both year-round professional companies.
"I want to be something like Marin it's cozy and well thought out and I liked Santa Cruz for their acting and their venue," Hanson said.
Hanson has always been committed to using actors of varying experience levels from first-timers and students to experienced professionals, though not Equity actors because of the expense. Though Sacramento's festival receives support from numerous local non-profit arts funding sources, its budget is lean and focuses on the most necessary expenditures.
"You have to question what your values are and what you are going to protect when you have to lose other things," Hanson said of the festival's finances.
"Ours has always been the show, the acting, what's on stage."
The stolen equipment was eventually found and recently was returned to the festival after being held for several months in a police evidence storage unit. A tech booth in a tent in front of the stage replaces the old behind-the-audience booth, which was destroyed in the looting.
Last year after theft, the shows began at 6 p.m. to make do without the missing lights. Audiences liked the earlier starting time. So there will be regular 6 p.m. Sunday shows this season.
"So many people said they don't like to go to the park when it's dark. They like to bring their families, so we'll see," Hanson said.
"If it's 108 out there, I'll say to the audience, 'You asked for this.' "
SACRAMENTO SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL
What: Produced by City Theatre at Sacramento City College, presenting "Twelfth Night" directed by Matt Miller and "Julius Caesar" directed by Luther Hanson.
When: "Twelfth Night" opens today and runs Sunday, July 7, 12, 14, 20, 25 and 27. "Julius Caesar" opens July 5 and runs July 6, 11, 13, 19, 21, 26 and 28. Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 6 p.m.
Where: The William A. Carroll Amphitheatre, 3901 Land Park Drive in William Land Park, behind Fairytale Town across from the Sacramento Zoo.
Information: (916) 558-2228 or www.sacramentoshakespeare.net
Call The Bee's Call The Bee's Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120. Follow him on Twitter @marcuscrowder.