Have you heard about the magical amphitheater hidden in the middle of the CU Boulder campus? Ever wonder why that banner appears over the central campus section of Broadway, saying “please don’t honk your horn”?
Certainly, you’ve heard of or been to our famous and big theatre spaces: Macky Auditorium, Boulder Theatre, Chautauqua Hall, Fox Theatre… but did you know that one of the biggest Shakespeare festivals in the whole country happens each and every summer at a huge outdoor stone space, hidden away smack dab in the middle of the CU campus?
Well it’s true. The Colorado Shakespeare Festival is one of the US’s preeminent Shakespearian events, second only to Tony Award winners and New York’s Shakespeare in the Park, and it’s one of the oldest, too. Each summer from June to August, CSF brings in artists from all across the country (as well as fostering the talents of many of the students in the stellar CU theatre department) to put up Shakespearean favorites as well as a sprinkling of other classics and even contemporary pieces in a Shakespearian vein.
This year, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival is in its 61st year (wow!) and the offerings are not to be missed. This weekend, the 2019 CSF season opens with my personal favorite Shakespeare play: Twelfth Night, and will continue with a handful of the Bard’s finest until mid-August. Here’s the rundown of what you can expect from a night of Shakespeare Under the Stars:
A big Bard deal
CSF has been going strong since 1958, and as such is one of the most acclaimed and long-running Shakespeare fests in the country. Of course, like any large-scale theatre company, it has had its share of financial ups and downs, but the ups have kept it afloat, and it’s still the favorite artistic destination for both tourists new to Boulder and long term Boulderites alike.
CSF has been running so long, that its selection of the Bard’s Greatest Hits has been produced in several different ways, orders, and peppered in with the more unusual or hardly ever produced plays, more than once over. The entire cycle of History plays, nicknamed by scholars as the Wars of the Roses plays, have been put forth in chronological order of the historical events over and over again. Twice now (once in the ‘90s and once more recently only a couple years ago) Hamlet has been produced alongside Tom Stoppard’s postmodern riff on same, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, with the same cast as the same characters no less!
It’s always fun and fascinating to see what CSF has in store for us next. This summer, for example, they’re putting up a new play in Shakespearian verse, called King Charles III, which looks particularly interesting, in that it takes place in the future, after the death of Elizabeth II, and, though written in a Bard-like style of verse, speaks to current (and future) issues. This play was nominated for a Best New Play Tony as well as various other awards.
The Mary Rippon outdoor theatre is built from that red sandstone so familiar to so many beautiful Boulder buildings (including most of the CU campus). It sits around a thousand people and is built in an amphitheater style, with the seats uncovered and arranged in big horseshoes. What’s really neat about this theatre is that the beautiful Boulder summer sky ends up being an integral part of each CSF play’s backdrop; the outdoor season’s shows usually begin at 8:30, and so the beautiful summer sunsets blend in with the beginning of the theatrical experience.
The theatre was named after Mary Rippon, the first female professor at CU (and first female professor of a state university in the whole country), and the theatre was used for many other events before the official CSF seasons began in 1958.
Shakespeare Under the Stars
These days, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival produces plays both in the outdoor Mary Rippon theatre as well as the indoor University Theatre (which has been renovated recently). But the full experience of the Shakespeare Fest involves the enjoyment of the outdoors, whether you’re attending a play inside or out.
“Shakespeare Under the Stars” is the inviting catchphrase of CSF, and it’s easy to see why: the beautiful Mary Rippon theatre is an experience not to be missed, but there’s more. The quad outside the building which surrounds the theatre is called the Green, and there are performances, music, activities, and picnicking galore all over the Green before the big shows of the night begin. Meal packages are available with your tickets to make the outdoor theatrical experience complete, and I can’t recommend this full evening experience enough. The Shakespeare Gardens nearby are an amazing addition to the night, with tours (and in some cases, specially brewed beer) to teach you about the plants there and where they show up in the Bard’s work, and just to enjoy the beauty. Shakespeare Under the Stars–talk about a stellar date idea, right? And they are doing Romeo & Juliet this year…
So Much Talent
Not only does the Colorado Shakespeare Festival boast an array of local talent of the highest caliber to put these award-winning productions on (and that’s saying something, knowing how many incredibly talented people are in Boulder, let alone the Denver metro area), but they gather brilliant artists from all over, to add CSF to their litany of credits.
Famous and locally famous people like Val Kilmer, Jimmy Smits, Lynda Ferguson, Emily Van Fleet, Gareth Saxe, and so many more, have appeared on the Mary Rippon stage, and the level of technical artistic expertise is hard to find better anywhere else, including the biggies like the DCPA (or even Broadway). The 61 years of stellar reputation does CSF well, and this year will be no exception.
What to Expect in 2019
This 61st Colorado Shakespeare Festival summer under the stars will consist of four main plays in the central season, as well as one what they call an “original practices” presentation of rarely produced piece King John. The main plays will be: Twelfth Night (which will be the opening play of the whole season on June 8th), another mistaken identity romantic comedy As You Like It, classic tragic romance Romeo & Juliet, and the new futuristic Bard-esque play mentioned above, King Charles III: A Future History Play.
Tickets are on sale now on the CSF website, so run, don’t walk and gather your passes to the magical Boulder summer experience that is the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.