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Virginia Shakespeare Festival to open 36th season in June

  • Illyria
    Illyria
    The 2014 season will include productions of "Illyria" and "Julius Caesar." Here, actors perform during 2006's production of "Illyria."
    Photo courtesy of the Virginia Shakespeare Festival
Season to include Illyria, Julius Caesar

The Virginia Shakespeare Festival in Williamsburg will open its 36th anniversary season at William & Mary's Phi Beta Kappa Hall on June 25 with a revival of the 2006 hit Illyria: A Musical 12th Night, adapted from Shakespeare’s comedy by John Briggs, with music by Briggs and Eric Frampton.

“Crowds went wild for this show eight years ago,” said VSF Artistic Director  and William & Mary Associate Professor of Theatre Christopher Owens, “and so it seemed time to bring it back as a kick off for this season. It appeals to both Shakespeare lovers and people who wouldn’t think of coming to a Shakespeare piece. I daresay if Disney wanted to make a movie of Twelfth Night it would come out something like this.”

The season will also include a production of Julius Caesar, which will run July 10-20. All performances of both productions will take place in the main auditorium of William & Mary's Phi Beta Kappa Hall, located at 601 Jamestown Rd. in Williamsburg. Show times are Wednesday through Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. and a special Saturday matinee of Illyria on July 5 at 2 p.m.

Illyria

A scene from the 2006 production of ''Illyria''After the VSF production in 2006, Illyria went on to runs at Lake Tahoe Shakespeare and this last year at Georgia Shakespeare in Atlanta, where scenic designer J. David Blatt and costume designer and W&M Professor of Theatre Patricia Wesp re-created their initial designs from the VSF production. Both were nominated for Susie Bass Awards for their work (Atlanta’s version of the Tony) and both will return to VSF for the revival of Illyria in June.

The title comes from Shakespeare’s location for Twelfth Night, an exotic place somewhere near the Mediterranean Sea. For the VSF design, this land has a distinctively Turkish feel with minarets and colorful gardens. 

"One feels like you’ve walked into some combination of Aladdin and Dr. Seuss – a 17th century fantasy world where amazing things can happen,” said Owens.

The plot of Illyria is that of Twelfth Night, where a twin brother and sister are separated by a shipwreck (the opening scene of the show), and the sister Viola assumes the disguise of a boy to get a job serving the Count Orsino.

VSF favorite Karl Kippola (The Tempest, Macbeth, Complete Works of Wm. Shakespeare Abridged) reprises his star turn as the butler Malvolio, with Ed Whitacre as the Uncle Toby, Lynette Rathnam as Olivia (a role she played for Maryland Shakespeare last season), and Gillian Wiggan (fresh off Aquila Theatre’s National Tour of As You Like It) as Viola. John Ammerman, a veteran of two Illyria productions himself, will direct the show with musical direction by Anthony Smith and choreography by W&M Associate Professor of Dance Denise Wade (who choreographed the 2006 production for VSF, as well).

Julius Caesar

Following Illyria’s run June 25-July 6 comes the epic tragedy Julius Caesar, not seen at Virginia Shakespeare since 1993.

“I think for some people the sheer size of the play is daunting.” Owens remarked. “The cast size is arguably the largest in the canon, you’ve got multiple scenic locations both in Rome and on the battlefield at Philippi and costume challenges in both sheer number needed as well as workable leather armor if you intend to do it in its historical period of 44 B.C.E., which we are indeed doing.”

This is not a whitewashed Rome, but a diverse and colorful place where people from every corner of the empire have come to make their fortune. Caesar is their favorite, a man of the people who has spent much of his career outside of Rome’s walls. This popularity worries the patrician circle, headed by Brutus, which fears Caesar means to become emperor as his protégé Marc Antony seems to urging him to do. Their plot to save Rome from his likely despotism takes surprising and bloody turns in this, one of Shakespeare’s acknowledged greatest plays.

"It is probably required reading for most every 9th grade student in the country, but reading alone won’t give you the cathartic experience that this tragedy does when given a live performance of real scope and magnitude,” said Owens.

His sumptuous staging, with a cast of over 30 actors (featuring Karl Kippola as Brutus and Tré Cotton as Antony) utilizes every scenic mechanism of the Phi Beta Kappa Hall stage and is made possible by the show sponsorship of the Sumner Rand Foundation.  Julius Caesar will open on July 10 and play two weeks through July 20.

Over 50 actors, directors, designers and technicians are hired each year to produce the VSF season.

“They come from far and wide,” Owens said. “Tré Cotton, our Antony, may have the longest trek as he lives in Seattle, but scenic designer David Blatt from Denver and five of our company members from Houston also have a considerable commute. It’s this great combination of talented people from Williamsburg to Washington (the state) that makes the festival unique.”

Ticket information

Tickets are on sale now for both productions. The prices for single tickets are $28 for adults, $18 for students (age 14–college), and $12 for children. A season ticket (for both productions) is the best value for adults at $44 each. Discounts for groups of 15 or more are also available by contacting the PBK Hall Box Office at 757-221-2674.  Tickets are available online at www.wm.edu/vsf. For more information, consult the Virginia Shakespeare Festival website.

Productions of the Virginia Shakespeare Festival are made possible by grant funds from the Williamsburg Area Arts Commission, the York County Arts Commission, and by hundreds of individual donors who support the operations of this professional theatre company, now designated as the Official Shakespeare Festival of Virginia by the State Legislature.