July 31, 2008

New Shakespeare Festival in I.E.

By Vanessa D. Overbeck

There's a new show in town.

Paul Jacques, former board member of the Redlands Shakespeare Festival, has founded a new theater series called the Inland Empire Shakespeare Festival.

"Over the last several years we've seen a number of theaters beginning more and more to take on Shakespeare," said Patrick Brien, executive director of the Riverside Arts Council. "This is very exciting as for a long time Shakespeare has been extremely under- produced and misunderstood in this region. Many people forget that Shakespeare is one of the great storytellers of all time."

The series opens with "Macbeth."

"In creating the Inland Empire Shakespeare Festival we are bringing together the very best talent in the Inland Empire and producing Shakespeare in a manner that is accessible to all," Brien said.

The Inland Empire Shakespeare Festival boasts the talents of award-winning director Brien, who won the 1993 ACT National Best Director of the Year Award and was the U.S. representative to the Dundalk International May Time festival in Ireland.

Brien also oversaw theater troupes in a number of other states, as well as the U.S. Army's performing arts theater in Europe.

"He has been around the block," said Jaques, the festival's artistic director, who has worked with Brien for the past 10 years at Performance Riverside where Brien was the associate director.

Jeff English is acting as the festival's staged-fight coordinator. Redlanders may recognize him from the first two seasons of the Redlands Shakespeare Festival. He has also worked in television and films.

Playing Lord Macbeth is Travis Rhett Wilson of the renowned Southcoast Repertory Theater in Orange County. Theatergoers may also recognize performers from the Redlands Shakespeare Festival.

Brien is directing the festival's inaugural production about greed, ambition and treachery.

" 'Macbeth' is at its heart a horror story," Brien said. "It's about black magic, prophecy, murder and insanity."

Brien said his production of "Macbeth" will focus on relationships, most central of which are Lord and Lady Macbeth.

"It's about their relationship and how it's based in greed and how it disintegrates in the face of murderous ambition," Brien said.

The Inland Empire Shakespeare Festival's production of "Macbeth" will also focus on the motivation of the witches and how their actions not only bring an entire country to its knees, but also undo a good man who could have been a great king, Brien said.

Four of the performances of "Macbeth" take place at the auditorium at San Bernardino Valley College, 701 Mount Vernon Ave., San Bernardino. Tickets are $10.

Two free performances are being held, at the Sycamore Highland Park in Riverside 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 17, and at Fairmount Park in Riverside 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 24.

"The Inland Empire Shakespeare Festival is helping to create a cultural infrastructure between Riverside and San Bernardino," Brien said. "This is an example of two communities sharing the arts and making them available to people who might not otherwise have an opportunity to see theater."

The Inland Empire Shakespeare Festival is running in conjunction with the San Jacinto Valley Shakespeare Festival's production of "The Tempest."

"The festival's formation was born from the desire to create art, but it quickly developed into something much deeper," Jacques said. "This seemed like the perfect opportunity to blend the arts with academics."

The Inland Empire Shakespeare Festival is employing theater students to assist with the technical and design elements of the production.

"This gives the students the opportunity to work side by side with seasoned theatrical professionals," Jacques said.

Jacques has been developing the festival for the past year, finding support from private donors, the Riverside Arts Council and most importantly from San Bernardino Valley College, where Jacques is an instructor.

The college is developing a technical and performing arts academy, which should come on board next year. The first step was putting in place productions in which theater students could apply the tools of their trade. With the creation of the festival and the theater program, students will be able to earn their technical theater certificate.

The festival selected "Macbeth" and "The Tempest" as its inaugural productions because they are the most supernatural of Shakespeare's works and seemed to pair well together, Jacques said.

"The Tempest" will be performed Saturday, Aug. 2, and Friday, Aug. 8. Both performances are at 8 p.m. in the auditorium at San Bernardino Valley College. Tickets are $10.

"We feel that the infrastructure is in place to make this festival a pillar in the arts community for years to come," Jacques said.

The festival plans to expand its repertoire next season with two Shakespeare productions and will use the college's Greek Amphitheater in addition to its 1938, pseudo-craftsman-style theater, which Jacques called "beautiful."

The festival also has hopes to expand into neighboring cities, such as Rialto and possibly Redlands.

"We have talked with people in Redlands where there is such a strong arts community," Jacques said.

"Macbeth" runs 2 hours 15 minutes and "The Tempest" is two hours long.

Tickets for both "Macbeth" and "The Tempest" are available at the door. To purchase tickets in advance or for more information call (909) 384-4435. Interested theatergoers may also visit the Web site www.inlandempireshakespearefestival.com for more information.

E-mail Vanessa D. Overbeck at [email protected]

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