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Canine actor Scooter Moose de Chumber charms his Shakespeare Festival audience

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

By Dana Oland – doland@idahostatesman.com

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Copyright: © 2011 Idaho Statesman

Published: 07/03/11

Some actors have “it;” some don’t. “It” is that magical chemical bond one can create with an audience and fellow actors. It’s also the ability to get the laugh.

The moment Scooter Moose de Chumber walks onstage in Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” his “it” factor kicks in. The audience sighs with delight and watches with giddy excitement. When Chumber turns it on, one well-timed gaze, and they’re in his paws.

This is no average dog. His dead-on deadpan makes his acting partner — the festival’s broad-ranging and gregarious David Anthony Smith — into a straight man.

That’s no mean feat.

David Anthony Smith* and Scooter Moose

In “Two Gents,” the 3-year-old French bulldog plays Crab, one of the only dogs of name in a Shakespearean play, and the only actual canine character The Bard wrote. Crab is companion to Launce, played by Smith, who is the manservant to Proteus— one of the two gents.

“He’s a ham,” Smith says. “He’s a show dog, and he loves getting the attention and reward of the treat. People love him. On preview night, when I said ‘Yet did not this cruel-hearted cur shed one tear,’ he (Chumber) slowly turned and looked at the audience. His timing is impeccable.”

That’s in Launce’s first monologue, which recounts his hysterical farewell to his family because he must follow Proteus to Milan. In his second big moment, Chumber finished with best trick: a high-five.

The great W.C. Fields once said, “Never act with animals or small children.”

“I disagree,” Smith says. “With the right animal, it’s a joy. Chumber brings so much to the role. I love working with him. He’s my bud!” Smith finds Chumber’s happy spot and gives it a scratch, as the dog wags in ecstasy.

Shakespeare wrote Launce for Will Kempe, one of the original members of Shakespeare’s acting company, the Chamberlain’s Men.

Kempe had a dog that knew a lot of bits.

In “Shakespeare in Love,” Geoffrey Rush’s character Philip Henslowe says, “You see — comedy, Will. Love, and a bit with a dog. That’s what they want.”

Smith really is a dog person. He works (and plays) with Chumber.

“I stay with him all the time backstage. It would be a whole different thing if I just got him for our scenes,” Smith says. “I take him out; I play with him; we do our treats backstage; we rehearse. Then, me walking out with him onstage becomes an extension of our bond.”

Since Smith learned of Chumber’s love of lamb, he cooks up a batch of treats for every show. “He’s really all about the treats,” he says.

DOG CASTING

When ISF produced “Two Gents” in 2004, Crab was played by a dog statue — which now is known as Chumber’s stand-in. This time, assistant director Sara M. Bruner insisted on casting a real dog. It can be tricky to have a dog onstage, especially outdoors, where the audience and lights are just the tip of the distractions. There’s food, birds — including a peacock — cats that live under the stage and the occasional skunk.

Bruner held dog auditions in Boise and Cleveland, home of ISF’s sister company, the Great Lakes Theater Festival.

“I knew it would be a huge missed opportunity if we didn’t, especially in Boise. It’s kind of a dog city,” Bruner says.

In Cleveland, a 150-pound Newfoundland named Mojo played Crab. That was a very different portrayal.

“If he didn’t want to go on cue, it was difficult,” Smith says. “It’s a huge advantage that I can carry Chumber.”

Scooter Moose de Chumber belongs to Erin Gorringe, a vet-tech at Habitat Veterinary Health Center in Bown Crossing. She found him through a French bulldog rescue network. Chumber was supposed to be a breeding stud but had some undesirable traits, such as possession aggression.

“He just wasn’t acclimated to people. So, he had to learn that people aren’t just a source of food, but of affection, too,” she says. “We learned that, and we worked on his ability to share things, and he’s just a different dog.”

Chumber is now a neutered stud. He’s affectionate, playful and full of personality.

“He’s our baby, big time,” she says.

When Gorringe learned about the dog audition on the ISF Facebook page, she had a hunch that Chumber would be just right.

“He kind of looks like a gargoyle,” she wrote in an email to Bruner. The moment Gorringe and Chumber showed up at the site, Bruner knew she’d found her Boise Crab.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Not much, according to Gorringe. His A.K.C. name is Rocky’s Bullwinkle, and he was dubbed Moose when she got him.

“Then all these nicknames came up: Scooter, Schoochie, Schoochie McNugget, Chumby, Bumper, Chuch, Chechie … Dan, Dan-Dan — not sure where that came from,” she says. “He doesn’t really respond to any of them. You could call him Pot Pie. It’s all the same to him.”

Chumber landed in a good situation all the way around. Gorringe and her boyfriend, Sam Tibbs, give him tons of attention, which is something this breed requires — he often gets to go to work with Gorringe. She figured out some of his quirks and allergies that were making him miserable.

Now, he’s a happy dog, she says. Being in the play has given him a new purpose, Gorringe says.

“I think he really loves it. He likes the attention and that he has a purpose to come here. He knows the routine: going out onstage and doing his role. He might not do it the same every time. but he knows that’s what’s going on.”

Dana Oland: 377-6442

Click to read at Idaho Statesman

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Best of Treasure Valley: Best performing arts group- Idaho Shakespeare Festival

Friday, June 24th, 2011

Idaho Statesman
Published: 06/24/11

This is the sixth year in a row that the Idaho Shakespeare Festival has been your top performing arts group, and it’s no wonder. This top-notch theater company puts on some of the greatest plays ever written — and does so in a serene, park-like setting against the backdrop of the Boise Foothills.

The heart of this theater comes from the fact that it grew out of this community. The company rehearsed the first production in a cow pasture and performed on the steps of a Downtown restaurant in the summer of 1977. Since then, it’s had many homes in Boise, settling in its world-class amphitheater in 1998.

The theater has grown to offer one of the best entertainment experiences in the state. You bring your own picnic and wine, or buy it from Lisa Peterson’s Cafe Shakespeare, dine on the lawn or in chairs, and enjoy a stellar night of theater by some of the country’s leading directors and regional actors.

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Click to read more at Idaho Statesman

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Sara Bruner: A love/hate relationship with the theater

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Boise Weekly June 22, 2011

by George Prentice

Sara Bruner is one of the most recognized faces in Boise, yet few people really know her. They certainly know her work. For 15 years, Bruner has transformed into Ariel, Rosalind and dozens of the classical theater's greatest ingenues. Later this summer, Bruner graduates to one of the most sought-after roles in the Shakespeare canon: Katherine in Taming of the Shrew.

Is it fair to say that playing Katherine is a significant change for your career?

It's a huge deal for me, mostly because I'm consciously and intentionally graduating from all of Shakespeare's ingenues and moving on to the leading ladies. I've never played anyone like this before. We'll see how it goes.

Many actresses aspire to a lot of the parts that you have already played. Have you ever had a checklist of roles?

I never had that list. When I was growing up in Burley, I couldn't even name three women in Shakespeare.

Yet you started with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival when you were 18.

It was very different for me in those days. But it's that way for a lot of young actors. Honestly, when you're young, you can get into some bad habits, like partying a bit too much.

Did that ever catch up with you?

OK, now remember, I was very young at the time. I threw up once on stage. Honestly, I was hungover. We were on tour and I was playing Juliet and I just wasn't feeling well, so I drank a little to much red All Sport [energy drink]. I was downstage center and one of the other actors was delivering a speech about poison, and I was hoping that he would just talk faster. Finally it just happened, and I threw up. This is so gross. I threw up in my hands, and of course, it was red All Sport. I had to run off stage and run back to finish the play. That was the worst, totally self-inflicted, ridiculous, embarrassing, awful moment.

What might you say to those people who are a bit surprised that you're still in Boise and not on the New York stage?

It's a question that frustrates me. I've never been the type of actor who gravitated toward New York. Even my parents sometimes say things like, “Maybe you'll go to Broadway.” There's something very naive about that. Most people don't realize that there's an entire subculture of actors who are functioning in regional theater. They don't realize that many of the actors in New York come to places like Boise to work.

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In addition to your acting, you hold the title of artistic associate. What does that mean?

I assist Charlie Fee [producing artistic director] on most things. I'm casting a lot of the time. It's mostly artistic odds and ends.

When can we expect you to direct one of ISF's main productions?

It will happen.

Are you talking about it now?

The truth is, I've been declaring for a while that I want to be a director. But it's a more difficult transition than I had expected.

What are the chances of you directing a production on the main stage in the next two years?

Pretty high.

But don't you have to say the words, “I'm ready?”

I absolutely do, and I absolutely have not said them yet.

When you see a younger version of yourself in a girl who aspires to be an actress, what might you tell her?

You always have these people coming at you with what they think is the answer to success. I always liken it to religion–everyone seems to think they know the way to God. The trick for an actor is to not believe in one particular way but to carry around your own bag of beliefs. Acting is so easily ego-driven–to be a star, to be recognized in the community–but it's important to me to demystify that.

But you have had more than a taste of that kind of success.

In all sorts of ways. I just don't think it's healthy to ride that kind of energy.

Can you see yourself doing this for the rest of your days?

I think I'll always be in the theater, but I think I'll always be redefining where I fit in.

Is it a love that is constant for you or does it change?

It's love/hate definitely. Just like a relationship.

Where are you currently?

Love, definitely. It's a summer of love [strong laughter]. Theater and I are doing quite well now.

 Click here to read at Boise Weekly

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The Two Gentlemen of Verona: Forbidden love and cross-dressing

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

by Deanna Darr
Boise Weekly June 22, 2011

Matters of the heart are never simple, but when your best friend goes after your girlfriend and in the process gets you banished from your city, that will put a strain on a friendship.

Such is the situation that arises in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, the opening production of the new season at Idaho Shakespeare Festival. The comedy is full of the Bard's favorite devices: forbidden love, rejected lovers, stern parents, comedic servants and a touch of cross-dressing. But the production offers a fresh interpretation of the classic, creating a sort of Bohemian-coffeehouse take on the tale.

From the costuming by Star Moxley that combines modern and traditional pieces to the use of pop music performed by a live band, the production manages to feel both extraordinarily contemporary and timelessly classic. The singing voices of Sara Bruner and Jodi Dominick help transform the play into a musical of sorts, each interlude serving both as a transition and a guidepost.

Neil Brookshire and Dakotah Brown play the lead roles of Valentine and Proteus respectively, two best friends who are separated when Valentine goes off to see the world while Proteus stays put in order to win the heart of his beloved Julia (Lee Stark). But when Proteus is forced to follow Valentine, things get messy.

Dakotah Brown and Neil Brookshire test the bounds of friendship as Proteus and Valentine

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Valentine has fallen in love with Silvia (Nika Ericson), whose father intends to marry her off to a man she hates. The would-be lovers' plot to run away is thwarted after the newly arrived Proteus falls in love with Silvia and betrays Valentine. In the meantime, Julia sets her sights on Proteus and dresses like a young male page so that she can follow him.

ISF veterans David Anthony Smith and M.A. Taylor provide the bulk of the play's comic relief. Smith in particular faces a daunting duty: acting opposite an animal. The animal in question is a French bulldog (Scooter Moose de Chumber) who may well be the most laid-back pup to ever grace a stage. Including an adorable animal is a guarantee that any human actor will be upstaged, yet Smith makes the most of it, creating some of the most memorable moments of the production.

The set design is stunning, yet simple and functional. Clean lines of a scaffolding tower connected by two movable staircases and a rotating backdrop of bright orange, red and blue work perfectly to create the foundation of the production, while the actors' skills lead the audience's imagination to fill in the blanks.

The overall effect is a production that audiences will be sure to embrace, as well as serve as an amuse bouche for the rest of the season.

Click to read full article at Boise Weekly

 

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Review: Everything old is new again at Idaho Shakespeare Festival

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

Brevity may be the soul of wit, and a trio of festival players finds a wealth of humor in “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)”

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BY DANA OLAND – doland@idahostatesman.com © 2011 Idaho Statesman

Published: 06/13/11

When I heard the Idaho Shakespeare Festival would produce “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” I gave a little groan. I’ve seen it.

Producing Artistic Director Charlie Fee, with his penchant for bringing back festival favorites, programmed the work in 1996, 1999, 2001 and 2005. Now he’s brought it back, again, for the festival’s 35th anniversary season.

So, then, why am I laughing? The source of my mirth is this: Tom Willmorth, Joe Conley Golden and M.A. Taylor — three of the funniest guys you’ll see work on this or any other stage. In their hands, the show works.

The show opened on a blustery Saturday night, which made it a little hard to hear Willmorth. The show ended with a little rain, which only chased a few people from their seats.

With as many times as ISF has produce this show, it is a surprise that this is the first time these three have performed it together.

M.A. Taylor*, Tom Willmorth*, Joe Conley Golden*

 

Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield wrote this clever deconstruction of Shakespeare’s canon in 1987 for their Reduced Shakespeare Company, which performed parodies of the Bard’s plays. It takes you through many of his best works, lingering on the ones that make for the best comedy, which just happen to be the tragedies. The comedies are treated to an uber-mashup and condensed into one long-winded play.

So you have “Titus Andronicus” as a cooking show, “King Lear” as a cameo in a football-game take on Shakespeare’s histories, and a “Hamlet” that goes both forwards and backwards. There’s enough room in the formula for the three to riff and improvise, so each night is slightly different.

Some of the bits are dated (the character formerly known as Prince, etc.). View those as groaners, like a familiar knock-knock joke or obvious pun. But Willmorth, Golden and Taylor infuse a mix of relevant pop and local culture that freshen things up.

You’ll find more than a few Sarah Palin jokes, a few Tom Luna jabs (Willmorth and Golden are both teachers), some rap, loads of physical comedy and even a few Idaho Shakespeare Festival references to past productions.

And just to remind you that these guys also are well-heeled actors, when Taylor dives into Hamlet’s famous “What a piece of work is man” soliloquy, he more than does it justice.

One of the fun aspects of “Complete Works” is that you’ll actually learn something about Shakespeare and his plays. You don’t need to have seen or read them to get the jokes. Although if you know the plays, the jokes are funnier.

The trio also gets the audience involved in hysterical way — so be prepared to play along — and beware if you sit in the first few rows.

Gage William’s sweet little Globe Theatre-esque set works as a glorified changing room, as the guys dash in and out for costume and wig changes.

They’re helped by a trio of dressers who whip Charlotte Yetman’s Velcro-heavy costumes on and off.

Dana Oland: 377-6442

Click to read full article at Idaho Statesman

Click to see Idaho Statesman's Photo Gallery of “Complete Works”

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Shakespeare Fest pulls out all the stops

Friday, June 10th, 2011

The Treasure Valley summertime institution celebrates its 35th anniversary with plenty of Sir William’s works

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Friday, June 3, 2011 11:35 am

By Dan Lea 3g@idahopress.com Idaho Press-Tribune

BOISE ― More Shakespeare … more often. That’s what director Charlie Fee promises audiences who come to bask in the early evening summertime twilight at the 35th annual Idaho Shakespeare Festival that opens this weekend.

“We have a really great, broad mix of plans and experiences for audiences this summer,” Fee said in an interview with 3G. “We’ve got more Shakespeare than we’ve done in a single season in some time with “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” “The Taming of the Shrew,” and of course, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).”

What that means for audiences is that they will see every play in the Shakespeare canon this summer.

Fee gleefully admits that might be a bit of a “send-off” but quickly added that performing so much of Sir William’s work is a blast for the company.

“I think it’s going to be a great year for us,” Fee said. “It’s our 35th anniversary and we were kind of hoping to pull out all the stops and I think we’ve got a fantastic company and a great line-up for it.”

“‘The Complete Works (Abridged)’ is kind of a signature piece for us,” Fee said. “We’ve done it before and it’s super fun.”

What makes this year’s production of “The Complete Works” extra special, according to Fee, is that the Fool Squad duo of Joe Golden and Tom Willmorth return to the stage to star in the production after last year’s hiatus. The duo wrote and starred in a Boise Contemporary Theater production last summer and only appeared in their “Green Show” prior to Shakespeare performances.

“‘Two Gents’ is one of the great early comedies of Shakespeare and a piece we’ve created a very interesting production that features live music being performed and sung by our company,” Fee said. He said the live music sets the mood and rhythm for the play.

“It’s a different kind of experience and a big experiment for us,” Fee said.

Cast blends veterans and exciting newcomers

This year’s Shakespeare Company boasts loads of familiar faces and some bright new talent. Veterans Sara Bruner, Jodi Dominick, and David Anthony Smith join Golden and Willmorth among the regulars that audiences have come to love.

“The two young lovers in ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’ are new to us but are doing a spectacular job,” Fee said. “We’ve got lots of new, talented performers we are excited for audiences to see.”

‘The Two Gentlemen’ debuts

Fee said that “Two Gents” has been the poor stepsister of Shakespeare plays for too long.

“It is a play that has been largely kind of dismissed by Shakespeare scholars because it’s an early comedy, but I think they are really making a mistake by doing that. It’s a great play,” Fee said.

“It’s a play where we see the development of all of these characters Shakespeare is going to continue to work on from later plays. It is the beginning in the line of great characters from Julia who dresses as a boy in order to negotiate her way through the world to the clowns we see in later productions.”

“Two Gents” is extremely accessible to audiences, Fee said.

“It’s four kids who are really trying to figure out what it means to be friends, what it means to fall in love and how to negotiate the difference between friendship and passion, and how to love someone,” Fee said. “Of course they do a terrible job of it,” he laughed.

In the end, “Two Gents” is about forgiveness and understanding.

“It’s not a physical comedy … much more like a romantic comedy and quite dramatic in many ways,” Fee added. “And the live music being played live gives it a very, very beautiful rhythm. I think audiences will love it and it is a contemporary setting of the play.”

 Click to read at Idaho Press Tribune

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Boise Mayor’s 2011 awards honor Surel Mitchell, Tim Woodward and others

Monday, June 6th, 2011

The biennial accolade honors the people and groups that fuel Boise’s arts and cultural scene.
BY DANA OLAND – doland@idahostatesman.com
Copyright: © 2011 Idaho Statesman
Published: 06/05/11

The 2011 winners include visual, literary and performing artists, longstanding cultural organizations, lifelong arts lovers, people who work to preserve Boise’s past and one of the city’s most enduring voices.

Mayor Dave Bieter made the final decision with recommendations from a community panel and members of the Boise City Department of Arts and History.

The awards will be handed out at a dinner and ceremony at 5 p.m. Sept. 22 at the Old Penitentiary, 2445 Old Penitentiary Road, Boise. Tickets will go on sale in August.

Here are the winners for 2011:

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT

Æ Jane Oppenheimer died last year at age 92 and left a rich legacy of artistic support and integrity. She ardently supported the Boise Art Museum, Idaho Botanical Garden, Idaho Shakespeare Festival and Boise Philharmonic, among other groups. She served on the Idaho Commission on the Arts and provided leadership at a critical time that ensured the ICA’s support reached the entire state.

Æ In his 36 years as an Idaho Statesman columnist, Tim Woodward documented the events, people and culture of Boise with a warmth and humor that made him one of the city’s treasures. He chronicled most of our shared milestones, and brought a few to our attention that would have escaped notice without him. He told each story with a particular Woodwardian style that touched our hearts and helped us care a little more about where we live. He retired from the Statesman on June 1.

EXCELLENCE IN THE ARTS

Individual: Painter and multimedia artist Surel Mitchell has been a creative force in Boise’s arts community for many years. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the early 1980s. Rather than let that become a setback, she used her struggle against the disease to deepen her artistic process and inform her subject matter. It gave her a way to cope, she says.

Organization: The Cabin, formerly called The Log Cabin Literary Center, was founded in 1995 to bring together people who love reading, writing and literary discourse. It blossomed into an organization that reaches the entire state through its Writers in the Schools program and summer writing camp. It offers area writers a forum for their work. Through its “Readings and Conversations” series, it also brings nationally recognized authors, such as Amy Tan and Jonathan Franzen, to Boise.

EXCELLENCE IN HISTORY

Individual: Mark Baltes combines his passions for art and history in his life and his work. Through his company, Landmark Impressions, he makes interpretive markers for historical sites. He also uses history as a context for his public art pieces, such as “Penny Post Card,” a mural at Boise City Hall that features historic images of Boise. He’s also served on several local historical preservation boards, including the North End Neighborhood Association.

Organization: The Basque Museum and Cultural Center won this award for “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Basques,” historical exhibit the museum created for the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. Since 1985, the museum has been the connection point for Boise Basque heritage and culture, preserving Boise Basque oral history, artifacts, manuscripts and photography. In 1998, it founded the country’s first Basque preschool, Boiseko Ikastola, which teaches Basque language and culture to kids 2 to 6.

BUSINESS SUPPORT

The Arts: Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center will be recognized for its dedication to integrating the work of local artists into its Center for Advanced Healing. Art consultant Jacqueline Crist guided the process by commissioning artists to create glass and ceramic sculpture, fiber art, enameled work and custom-designed furniture. Saint Al’s also created an artist-in-residence program.

History: Through his company, Planmakers Planning and Urban Design, John Bertram works to help communities and companies understand the character and historical significance of a particular place. He helped develop C.W. Moore Park, the Old Boise district and the 8th Street Marketplace in Downtown. He has served on the Idaho Humanities Council and the Boise City Historic Preservation Commission.

EXCELLENCE IN EDUCATION

The Arts, individual: Modern dancer Leah Stevens Clark turned her love of her art into a way to nurture a new generation. Since founding Balance Dance Co. in 1997, she has trained and inspired hundreds of young dancers to feel empowered as artists and as women. Many go on to pursue dance as a career. Others follow other passions, but they all become stronger individuals for the experience.

History, individual: Boise High School history teacher Doug StanWiens created the Boise Architecture Project in 2007 to inspire his students to take an interest in historic and contemporary architecture. The students document Boise’s cityscape through oral history, photography, art and other mediums.

Organization: It’s hard to imagine how many Idaho students have been inspired by the Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s Shakesperience and Idaho Theater for Youth educational outreach performances. More than 50,000 school children see one of these companies perform each year. The festival also helps prepare the next generation of performers through its drama school, summer camps and the festival’s apprentice program, through which young actors work with the professional company during the summer season.

Dana Oland: 377-6442

Click here to read full article at Idaho Statesman 

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Review: Idaho Shakespeare Festival's ‘Two Gents’ director takes a modern approach

Monday, June 6th, 2011

BY DANA OLAND – doland@idahostatesman.com
Copyright: © 2011 Idaho Statesman
Published: 06/06/11

“Man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion.” These words, spoken by the much more mature Benedick in Shakespeare’s more mature “Much Ado About Nothing,” find their seeds in the Bard’s earlier comedy “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.”

The season opened on a perfect warm night, with the sky clearing just before the play began.

It’s thought that Shakespeare wrote “Two Gents” early in his career, and so academics and some theater artists tend to trivialize it, but thankfully not producing artist director Charlie Fee. In this play Shakespeare introduced ideas and themes of human behavior — principally the fickle nature of love and loyalty — that fascinated him his whole career.

Dakotah Brown and Neil Brookshire*. Member Actors' Equity. Photo by Joe Jaszewski / Idaho Statesman

In it, lifelong friends Proteus (Dakotah Brown) and Valentine (Neil Brookshire) part ways as, to put it in modern vernacular, Valentine goes off to college and Proteus stays home to be with his girlfriend Julia (Lee Stark). In Milan, Valentine finds Silvia (Nika Ericson) and falls hard for her. The problems start when Proteus — forced by his father to follow Valentine to Milan — sees Silvia, and he too falls for her, forgetting all about Julia.

This is Fee’s second take on this play, and appropriately in his 20th season with the festival, this “Two Gents” shows Fee’s maturing as a director. He’s broken his habit of restaging his greatest hits and taken a fresh look at this play. This time he goes for the heart instead of the obvious laugh. The only thing that could use more punch is the not-so-wacky chase scene at the end.

Fee strips it down to a Modernist view, with a stunning, colorful rotating geometric set by designer Russell Metheny that works in beautiful tandem with Michael Chybowski’s dynamic lights. As the sky darkens for the second act, you see an intense green wash on the grasses behind the stage. Star Moxley’s stunning costuming will make you wish she ran a boutique. Lush designs, elegant draping and fabulous shoes made every outfit a standout.

Instead of hip recorded music, Fee appointed musical director Matthew Webb and assistant director Sara M. Bruner to create a live musical soundtrack, anchored by Webb on keyboards and Todd Chaves on drums. Bruner, Jodi Dominick and Stitch Marker sing, play instruments and step into roles as needed.

It’s a great idea transforming the band into a Greek chorus, commenting on and punctuating the scenes through song. Yet with music by quirky vocalists Regina Spektor, Ingrid Michaelson and Nick Drake, there’s an obvious collision of style when the songs are translated to more trained theatrical voices.

The success of this production owes much to the performance by this young crew of fresh talented faces.

Stark is thoroughly winning as Julia and Ericson makes an elegant and earnest Silvia, who sees through Proteus’ manipulations. Brookshire, who returns to the festival after a four-year absence, is a charming, stalwart Valentine and Brown, in the play’s most difficult role, manages to make Proteus a likeable fellow in the end. Love them all and want to see more of them.

These actors keep it real and keep the play centered, which allows the real comedians to shine: David Anthony Smith does an hysterical turn as Proteus’ servant Launce — performing with the newest company member Scooter Moose Chumber, who plays his dog, Crab. M.A. Taylor plays Speed, Valentine’s man, and takes full advantage of the character’s name for physical humor. Together they are comic masters. This is a great beginning to a promising 35th season.

COMMENTS FROM THE CROWD
Marylyn Luna, Boise: “It was wonderful. I loved the singing. It was like seeing a play I know, like it was the first time again. And the dog was great. How can you go wrong with a dog on stage.”

Glen Scott, Eagle: “This was my first play ever and it was splendid. The comedy was great and it felt very real.”

Bernadette Beck, Kuna: “It was very funny. The actors were very good at conveying their emotions.”

Jeremy Beck, Kuna: “It was very entertaining and worth the drive. This was our first time. The comedy and the characters were very good. You really felt part of the journey.”

Dana Oland: 377-6442

Click here to read full article at Idaho Statesman

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Idaho Shakespeare Festival's version of the “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” goes a little musical

Monday, June 6th, 2011

This band of players puts a spin on the Greek chorus
 - Idaho Statesman
Copyright: © 2011 Idaho Statesman
Published: 06/03/11

When Sara M. Bruner first heard director Charlie Fee’s idea of performing live music for his new production of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” she panicked.

“I was, like, honestly, ‘Oh, no.’ I had a sense of dread,” Bruner says. “I thought this is going to be a disaster. I just couldn’t imagine it.”

But creativity and collaboration soon took over, as Bruner and music director Matthew Webb began pulling songs together and placing them in the scenes.

“So far, it’s been a blast. We’re like a real kickback Greek chorus,” Bruner says.

You can see and hear the Two Gents band — Bruner (guitar, vocals), Jodi Dominick (vocals), Stitch Marker (guitar, vocals), Webb (keyboards) and Todd Chavez (drums) — when the play opens the Idaho Shakespeare Festival season this weekend.

As a director, Fee is a master of manipulating music to help tell his story and offer a new context. He did that artfully in his Beatles-infused “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and his 2000 production of “Two Gents.”

But here he wanted to do something different, he says.

“Why not just perform the songs live? Turns out it’s so much better,” Fee says. “It just opens up this whole new possibility.”

Through a mix of songs by Regina Spektor, Ingrid Michaelson and Nick Drake, the musicians create a bridge between the play’s characters and the world around them.

As singers, they comment on the action, like a Greek chorus, but because it’s music, they also can subtly — and often slyly — highlight and underscore the intention of a particular scene.

They also are company actors, so they easily step into smaller roles in the play, those who act as guides and advisers for the main characters.

“Two Gents” is one of Shakespeare’s early comedies. In it, two bosom buddies, Proteus (Dakotah Brown) and Valentine (Neil Brookshire), find their friendship challenged when Proteus falls in love with Valentine’s girl, Silvia (Nika Ericson). When Proteus’ girlfriend Julia (Lee Stark) suspects something is up, she disguises herself as a boy to discover the truth.

Through Julia’s riotous and heartbreaking journey into the world of men, we meet some of Shakespeare’s funniest characters, Speed (M.A. Taylor) and Launce (David Anthony Smith).

The live music performance gives this very funny play a little more heart, Bruner says. There are moments when the singers become involved in the action, in one scene serenading Silvia as Proteus seeks to woo her.

It’s like producing a play and a musical at the same time. It works because classical text is already musical, says Dominick, who comes from the world of musical theater. Her first role at ISF was the Baker’s Wife in “Into the Woods” in 2008.

“In the text, you find your peaks and your operative words, just like you do in musicals,” she says. “If you let yourself live in the moment, the worlds blended very easily. It was organic the way we would find a song that would heighten the scene or tell what’s to come.”

Bruner, Webb and Dominick originated the band in this production at Cleveland’s Great Lakes Theater Festival, ISF’s sister company.

In Boise, they will put their act on the outdoor stage, and add longtime company member Marker, who is very much a troubadour, Bruner says.

She recalls touring with Marker in the educational outreach program Shakespearience.

“We’d do the Shakespearean play in whatever little Idaho town we were in, then Stitch would sit in the big truck we used and just play guitar all the time,” she says. “He’s a total musician when he’s not onstage.”

Webb knows the music; Bruner knows the play. She played Julia in Fee’s 2000 production of “Two Gents,” and is the production assistant director. As Webb selected songs, Bruner figured out where they would go.

Webb rearranged the songs and wrote new harmonies to fit the group. These aren’t covers, Webb says.

“We’re trying to make things more touching and true to the story,” Webb says.

Click here to read full article at Idaho Statesman 


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Is it real or is it Peter John Still?

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Listen closely when the Idaho Shakespeare Festival opens its 35th season
By Dana Oland – doland@idahostatesman.com
Published: 05/20/11

“Boom!” A loud clap of thunder ripples through the Idaho Shakespeare Festival amphitheater on a hot summer night. As the sound slowly rumbles away, it leaves a vibration in your chest. You look up and then around. Clear skies, then — “Boom!’

You tighten your collar and reach for a hat or plastic bag. Rain is a hazard of outdoor theater, except this isn’t real thunder. It’s a Peter John Still sound cue.

Call it the “Peter Effect,” a phenomenon that the resident ISF sound designer has been pulling off for 20 years at the festival’s various locations. [0x0b]

You can’t tell a Peter Still thunder crash from a real one, says the festival’s producing artistic director, Charlie Fee.

“I can’t tell you how many times that’s happened,” he says.

It’s bound to repeat this summer when ISF opens its 35th season the first weekend in June. This year, you’ll hear Still’s sounds in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” in June and “The 39 Steps,” a Hitchcockian farce, in September.

Still is the mad professor of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival who approaches a play with a penchant for cultural research.

“Peter brings a huge knowledge and perspective — and sometimes a truly crazy sensibility — of global music and theatrical traditions,” Fee says. “That has been enormously helpful to me and anyone who is willing to work with him, that allows us to go in directions I don’t think we would achieve without him.”

Still came to ISF in 1992 as part of director Bartlett Sher’s creative team for “Richard III.” Still started working with Fee the following year, fell in love with Boise and stayed.

Still grew up in the lush English Midlands. He studied music at Oxford’s New College, training in early music choral traditions. He learned about theater by working in it — in storefront theaters in San Diego, repertory houses in London, regional theater in the U.S., on Broadway and in Boise.

He settled in Boise in the late 1990s and took his citizenship oath at the U.S. Federal Building, “looking at the Boise Foothills,” he says with a smile.

Still works at ISF, its sister company — Great Lakes Theater Festival in Cleveland — and Boise Contemporary Theater. He also helps Sher create work at the Metropolitan Opera, such as this season’s “Le Comte Ory,” and on Broadway with Sher’s 2006 Tony-winning revival of “Awake and Sing.”

THE MAGIC OF SOUND

Over the years Still’s sounds have elicited coyote howls from the surrounding hills, incorporated the actual birds in the amphitheater into the soundscape and created stirring moments on the ISF stage.

Last season’s ghost story “The Woman in Black,” a show that is in essence about imaginative theatricality, was the perfect sound feast for Still. He packed it full of thunder, wind, horse hooves on gravel, London street sounds, trains, screams and one magic squeak.

Actor Chad Hoeppner sat on a chair next to a picture frame, which became the window and seat on a train. As the train pulled into the station, he used his sleeve to rub the nonexistent glass. Hoeppner’s move came with the perfect “squeak, squeak, squeak” of a shammy rubbing on glass. (Actually it was the squeak of an antique spyglass.) And bam — in that instant the glass was there. That’s what sound adds to the art of theater, Still says.

Still is eccentric, quirky, captivating, maddening, difficult, mystical and brilliant. He chose the less-trodden creative path, following esoteric ideas, such as theories of subliminal sound and mystical approaches to Shakespeare’s texts.

“If you take a bad idea and keep working it, you’ll end up with something amazing, because no one else would have done it,” Still says. “That’s the truth of how it (theater) works. The way we’re brought up thinking doesn’t teach you that.”

Not all ISF directors will work with him. His shows are technically dense and difficult to run, Fee says with an exasperated sigh. One sequence can have more than 70 sound cues, which the production stage manager must call through the headsets.

“It boggles the mind how complex they are, and there is no simplifying for him. He can’t do it,” Fee says. “It’s so frustrating, and yet — is the play better? Probably. It seems like it when I’m working with people who aren’t Peter. They’re easier to call, but they’re not better somehow.”

ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK

Still’s small cave-like basement room has been his home away from home since the building opened as a theater 11 years ago. (The ISF offices are in the Boise Contemporary Theater’s building.)

The office is lined with shelves that are stuffed full of plays, books on bird sounds and theater aesthetics, binders full of cues from past shows, bits of wire, electricians’ tools, blocks of wood, the bass drum used by the Sgt. Pepper mechanicals in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” working and broken guitars, bells, whistles and a jumble of other things that make interesting sounds.

He spends more time in his office on his computers and 1980s vintage Soundcraft mixer than he does in his apartment.

It’s easy to forget he’s there, says Hannah Read, marketing director of ISF and a costume designer for BCT.

“There have been many late nights when we’re working and it’s midnight, and suddenly there’s Peter emerging from his basement,” Read says. “And oddly it’s usually at a time when we need something done.”

BACKSTAGE BLACK

Still likes to stay behind the scenes. He tried acting once in a stage-crew send up of a Christmas panto (a traditional British holiday comedy). At the end of the run, the backstage crew puts on a parody.

“I had three small roles in one of them, which is enough to understand that walking out in front of 550 people is pretty much the same stress level as a minor car wreck,” Still says. “That’s a standard piece of knowledge that any theater person can tell you. An actor really has no skill, except themselves. They either like you or you fail. It’s very different.”

He wears backstage crew-wear — T-shirts and Levi’s 501 jeans (cut-offs in the summer) — every day, even when he’s not at the theater. He rides his bicycle year-round, seriously practices aikido and is known for esoteric dinner parties where he prepares 18th- and 19th-century recipes such as elk en croute and pheasant with mustard cream sauce.

Still practices Shintoism, an ancient religion. Shinto mysticism dovetails into Still’s approach to classical theater, he says.

“The more Shakespeare you do, the more you’re taken out of your own culture, and the more you learn about theater,” Still says. “More people are getting into the mystical side of things; it’s really not that obscure. The thing about my interest in Shinto is it really is the closest thing to pre-Reformation, slightly pagan Catholicism, the thing that Shakespeare and his family, and milieu were nostalgic for. It wasn’t Catholicism as we think about it. This was also about going off and dancing in the woods and in the churchyard.”

WHAT YOU DON’T HEAR

OK, this is where it gets spooky. Besides the audible cues, Still employs subliminal sound in his designs. So there always is sound going on, though some of it is below human perception (but not a coyote’s). Still is convinced subliminal sound changes the dynamics on stage.

“I’m trying to make scenes work from the get-go from moment to moment. If you feel a lack sometimes it only takes a subliminal sound to fill the absence and make if feel right.”

It’s an idea Still came up with working at ISF’s ParkCenter location where street noise was constant. In 1993’s “Julius Caesar,” he added a low-level gunshot that you couldn’t hear on stage, but “I felt on edge,” Still remembers. “It created a mood.”

These techniques get used in Hollywood, he says. Sound editors underlay animal cries in car crashes, or low-pitch pipe organ sounds under dramatic music to create tension.

“We (humans) are very sensitive,” Still says. “Different sounds activate different parts of the brain. You can stimulate emotions on stage.”

Your nonconscious mind processes subliminal input. That’s where you feel things before you intellectually understand them.

“It works with evolution and instinct. So does telling a story. That’s why you come out of play feeling whole, because your mind has been filled two different ways,” Still says.

There really is something to it, says BCT artistic director Matthew Cameron Clark.

“I’ve seen it work on stage and from the audience,” he says. “There was a subliminal dog cue in ‘Zoo Story.’ Jerry, my character, is making reference to a dog growling. The sound was coming from a speaker mounted under the floor. It really gave me something.”

Still does some of his best sound work at Boise Contemporary Theater, where he has complete control, and a stage manager, Kristy Martin, who doesn’t mind calling hundreds of cues she can’t hear.

“There’s no question that the quality of the work being put on stage is higher because of Peter being here,” Clark says. “He’s this extreme on both ends of the spectrum. The attention to detail and this impressive scientific approach to things, then he always leaves a door open for something to be totally by chance.”

That makes it stand out.

Dana Oland is a former professional dancer and member of Actors Equity who writes about performing and visual arts for the Idaho Statesman. She also writes about food, wine, pets, jazz and other aspects of the good life in Boise. Read more arts coverage in her blog at Voices.IdahoStatesman.com/oland.

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