The Beauty of the World

Lit Moon Presents the 2006 World Shakespeare Festival

by Charles Donelan

Entering the fifth century of his fame, Shakespeare enthralls
and energizes like no other author. How many restless days and
nights have been consumed in avid pursuit of his elusive meanings?
How many readers and actors have yearned and strived to make
Shakespeare’s words their own? Shakespeare, unlike even his
greatest literary rivals, has engendered not just a following but a
worldwide movement — a kind of international pilgrimage that
continues to grow, and to transform the people who participate. For
10 days this October, Santa Barbara will be home to this vast and
evolving Shakespearean movement, serving as the temporary
destination for an ongoing global journey into the enchanting
creations of the most imaginative of writers.

The 2006 Lit Moon World Shakespeare Festival, which opens on
October 12 with two of the bard’s most famous tragedies, Hamlet and
Macbeth, is the most ambitious drama festival ever mounted in Santa
Barbara, and one of the most broad-ranging festivals of Shakespeare
ever produced anywhere. Companies and individual artists will be
traveling from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Canada to
join with Lit Moon and the Santa Barbara-based Theatre Artists
Group to perform nine different plays in a stunning total of 27
separate shows. And that’s not all. There will be lectures,
including a keynote address on October 21 by Shakespeare scholar
Dennis Kennedy, and a slew of parties — big ones at the beginning
and end, and lots of smaller ones throughout the 10-day
extravaganza.

The festival represents the life dream of one particularly
active and enduring Shakespeare pilgrim, John Blondell, the founder
of Lit Moon Theatre Company and the chairman of the theater
department at Westmont College. The specific character of this
festival testifies to Blondell’s generosity, his vision, and his
willingness to travel in pursuit of theater, community, and
enlightenment. Because of the Lit Moon Shakespeare Festival, 50
Eastern European actors and directors — 49 of whom have never been
to the United States before — will spend two full weeks in Santa
Barbara, performing their innovative productions of Shakespeare’s
plays, meeting like-minded Americans and others, and engaging in a
ritual celebration not only of Shakespeare, but of theater and of
the life it represents.

The logistics alone would have stopped most impresarios, but
John Blondell is sanguine about the ongoing commitment he has made
to importing, feeding, housing, and compensating a large new group
of international performers for this event — which is planned for
every other year starting this month. When I asked him what was
most difficult about getting the festival together, he named the
fundraising and the visa process, but in the same breath he praised
the board of the festival, and in particular Jim Stern, along with
the Lobero Theatre, for making it all possible. Blondell, whose Lit
Moon Theatre Company has remained remarkably active for its entire
15-year existence, has the enthusiasm of a true believer when it
comes to the social role of theater and art in the community. He
sees the festival as a natural outgrowth of Lit Moon’s original
mission, which is to investigate what he calls “the landscape of
contemporary performance.”

Lit Moon’s preoccupation with the innovations of contemporary
performance practice is what makes the festival special and
different. Unlike most traditional Shakespeare festivals, this one
did not spring from a desire to embrace all things Shakespearean,
or even to showcase the writings of the great man it celebrates. It
grew instead out of Lit Moon’s participation in another festival
half the world away in Gdansk, Poland. Blondell recalls the
serendipitous encounter that began his journey this way: “I was
reading American Theatre magazine in 2003 and there was a small
display ad for a Shakespeare festival in Gdansk, Poland. I didn’t
know anything else about it, but we had been to Eastern Europe
before as a company, and I had a proposal under way for a new
production of Hamlet, so I sent it off, and we were accepted.” When
he got there, Blondell discovered a thriving festival with a new
mission and a fascinating history.

What the Lit Moon players walked into that summer of 2004 was a
city with a history of Shakespearean productions stretching back
all the way to when Shakespeare himself was alive. In the early
seventeenth century, Gdansk was a wealthy and important center for
trade, culture, and science. Dominated by a Puritan oligarchy of
well-educated men from all over Europe, including several
originally from England and Scotland, Gdansk lived most of the year
under a general ban on public entertainments. All the pent-up
energy of the city thus came to be released during the only
officially sanctioned time of revelry: the three-week summer
festival known as St. Dominic’s Fair. It was as guests and
entertainers at this annual public festival that English
players — including company members who had worked directly with
Shakespeare — first made their way to Gdansk.

Following on the general success of the English plays presented
during St. Dominic’s Fair, a group of wealthy Gdansk citizens began
in 1610 to build what became known as the Gdansk Fencing School.
Because of its large stage, this building, which ostensibly existed
in order to house fencing practices and competitions, became a
year-round home for actors, musicians, animal acts, jugglers, and
acrobats. The structure was modeled on the Fortune Theatre in
London, and it survived as a functioning theater for more than 200
years, until the early nineteenth century. Archival evidence
recently discovered in Gdansk demonstrates conclusively that the
Fencing School was home to some of the earliest known examples of
international productions of Shakespeare.

Flash forward some 400 years, and the Lit Moon Theatre Company
arrives after its own global pilgrimage from Santa Barbara to
Poland to find that not only does the St. Dominic’s Fair still
exist, but there is a plan underway to rebuild the Fencing School
as a new Gdansk Theatre on the very spot where the original once
stood. In its mission statement, the organization behind this
project, the Theatrum Gedanense Foundation, quotes from a
historical document found in the Gdansk hall of records. It is an
application to the Gdansk city council for a permit to perform
filed in 1616 by two English actors, John Green and Robert
Reynolds. Their statement, with its resounding Shakespearean
echoes, is as relevant today as it was nearly 400 years ago:
¶The way of the world can not be more artfuly presented than in
Comedies and Tragedies, which like a mirror represent and show all
men’s lives and natures, both good and evil, that everyone may see
and recognize himself therein. This art was valued above all
measure by the ancient Greeks and Romans, and with no doubt
continue as long as the world exists. It is also loved and admired
by all knowledgeable people in our own times, so that it now fnds
its way into and subsists in various tongues and manners.

John Blondell, already a devotee of the Eastern European school
of contemporary performance, and a certified Shakespeare nut, had
found his sacred place. Here was a city on the verge of
resurrecting a tradition as old as Shakespeare that began as an
international experience. All they needed was the support of an
international community. From England, they already had HRH The
Prince of Wales as their inaugural patron, and within their own
country backers included famed film director Andrzej Wajda and
writer Jerzy Limon. To bring the Gdansk Theatre to Santa Barbara,
along with the best of their annual festival’s European
participants — this would be something worth doing.

And so the project we are about to witness began to take shape
just two short years ago. Hamlet hits the Porter Theatre stage on
Thursday, October 12 at 7 p.m., and the festival won’t stop until
Prospero steps out at Center Stage Theater on Sunday, October 22 to
deliver the epilogue to The Tempest:

now my charms are all o’erthrown, And what strength I have’s
mine own, Which is most faint. Now ’tis true, I must be here
confin’d by you, Or sent to Naples. Let me not Since I have my
dukedom got, And pardon’d the deceiver, dwell In this bare island
by your spell; But release me from my bands With the help of your
good hands. Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill, or else my
project fails, Which was to please. Now I want Spirits to enforce,
art to enchant; And my ending to despair Unless I be reliev’d by
prayer, Which pierces so that it assaults Mercy itself, and frees
all faults. As you from crimes would pardon’d be, Let your
indulgence set me free.

Like Prospero, the Lit Moon World Shakespeare Festival will
enchant this island of culture but for a short time. It awaits the
indulgence of your attention, and the help of your good hands to
set it free. Take a chance on change and become a part of the great
Shakespeare migration, for without our gentle breath to fill its
sails, the project fails. What follows is a rundown of the theater
companies participating and their various productions. Go now, for
the bard is with you.

Lit Moon Theatre With three full productions in the festival,
host company Lit Moon is the most prolific contributor. For Hamlet,
which will open the 10-day event, Lit Moon collaborates with Czech
designer Milon Kalis. A gigantic sheet of paper dominates the set,
and throughout the evening the four actors will draw and write on
it, rip holes in it, and speak and act through those holes. Jim
Connolly will perform the one-man musical score live and onstage.
In Eastern European performance tradition, expect an intense,
condensed, and multi-faceted Hamlet that focuses the sprawling text
down to prismatically altered key passages.

In their groundbreaking production of King Richard II, Lit Moon
uses the church and the rectory of Trinity Episcopal Church to
create a mobile spectacle in which the audience travels between
differently configured versions of the two spaces over the course
of the evening. A fascinating experiment in stage perspective, this
King Richard II demands to be seen by those interested in
site-specific theater. The Lit Moon’s world premiere at the
festival is an intimate production of The Tempest in which the
audience of just 70 people will be seated onstage, among the
actors. Taking the innovative participatory style of King Richard
II a step further, this Tempest is sure to be the talk of the
festival.

Teatr Antonie-Kalis Billed as That (Famous Scottish) Play out of
respect for the age-old theatrical superstition against saying the
name “Macbeth” out loud, this collaboration between designer Milon
Kalis and Czech dancer/choreographer Antonie Svobodova promises
deconstruction and dance, all to the tune of Shakespeare’s
shortest, darkest, and most frightening tragedy.

Canis Tempus This company from Montreal was founded in 2005 by
Lit Moon alumnus Andy Cuk. Canis Tempus will be using masks created
by Santa Barbara’s Lesley Finlayson, along with dance and dramatic
movement in the first of the festival’s two productions of Romeo
& Juliet. This one, however, is reversed — Juliet &
Romeo.

Teatr Modjeska From Legnica, Poland, Teatr Modjeska enjoys a
reputation throughout Europe for hair-raising productions in
unlikely spaces. Expect the unexpected as these wild ones assault
the interior of our own Lobero Theatre with their highly acrobatic
style, honed in abandoned buildings throughout Poland and Eastern
Europe. Teatr Modjeska will perform Othello in Polish, with
accompanying English libretto.

Erik Ehn Ehn directs the highly regarded theater and performance
program at CalArts. He will be performing Rogue, his one-man show
investigating the backstory of Hamlet. Ehn belongs to the small
elite of truly visionary theater artists working today. This is a
rare chance to catch him in an intimate setting performing his
version of what is perhaps the most important work of literature in
the world. If you care about literature, performance, or ideas, you
won’t want to miss it. Free.

Theatre Artists Group, Santa Barbara Risa Brainin and Irwin
Appel of the UCSB Drama Department team up to produce Timon of
Athens, one of Shakespeare’s least-performed, most-misunderstood
tragedies. Appel has given us several compelling performances
recently in secondary roles. It will be exciting to see him open up
as the world-weary Timon.

State Puppet Theatre of Bourgas, Bulgaria Hristina Arsenova won
the Ikar Award last year for running Bulgaria’s best puppet
theater. See these traditional puppets take on Shakespeare’s
ever-charming comedy of forest idyll and masquerade, As You Like
It. In English.

Bulgarian National Theatre Lilia Abadjieva’s dance-theater
version of Romeo and Juliet, performed by a cast of six male
dancers, is one of the festival’s most anticipated productions.
Co-produced by UCSB Arts and Lectures at the Lobero, this Romeo
& Juliet is billed as satirical, and director Abadjieva is
described as “notorious,” all adding up to another can’t-miss
production. In Bulgarian, with English supertitles.

4•1•1 For complete information, including a full
schedule with all times and locations, visit litmoon.com or lobero.com. For tickets,
call the Lobero box office at 963-0761.

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