Record number seeking roles in Shakespeare Festival

Three plays, 46 performances and 147 days until opening night.And 218 actors vying for 20 positions.

Such are the early season statistics for the Island Shakespeare Festival as it begins its 11th year.

Auditions for the 2020 summer season took place in December and January. More than 200 actors from 75 cities, 28 states and one other country are vying for roles in three plays: “Love’s Labor’s Lost” and “Titus Andronicus,” by William Shakespeare, and “Cyrano de Bergerac” by French poet Edmond Rostand.

About two-thirds of the actors applied for roles via video while the rest read monologues in front of directors at auditions in Seattle and Langley.

“We send short scenes cut directly from the plays to have folks record on video for us,” said Island Shakespeare Festival artistic director Olena Hodges. “From looking at a monologue, we get a sense of an actor’s facility with the language and some of their unique qualities.”

Each play has its own director chosen for their experience and desire to relocate and work on a rural island.

Santiago Sosa, from Ecuador and now a visiting assistant professor at the University of Kansas, will direct the comedy “Love’s Labor’s Lost,” while retaining his artistic associate role at the Nashville Shakespeare Festival.

Erin Murray splits her time between Seattle and Chicago and is returning for the third season as a director. She describes her theater passion and preference as “multi-generational stories with a delicious femme center.”

Murray said she plans to adapt the well-known tale of the large-nosed, reticent romantic Cyrano de Bergerac with a non-binary actor in the titular role “to explore the themes of Otherness in society and the military.”

Scott Kaiser, a nationally recognized playwright, director and author on staff with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland for 28 years will head the production of “Titus Andronicus.”

“I feel really great about this trio of directors,” Murray said.

Each director must figure out how to fill their play’s respective cast needs while also considering the needs of the other directors.

“It is a puzzle and we have to piece it together,” Ada Karamanan said.

As a casting associate, she’ll assist the directors during the months-long process whittling down the talent pool to 20 from more than 200.

The cast is expected to be announced in March.

“We’re looking for a company of people that will all work well where we need them,” said Karamanan, who grew up on Whidbey and now works in New York City theater productions.

All actors receive the same wage, $1,200 for one play, $2,400 for appearing in two plays and $3,600 if they are selected for roles in all three.

Total budget for the festival is $282,000, said Peggy Juve, co-founder of the festival. Of that, 80 percent “goes to human beings.”

Private donations and grants comprise the bulk of the budget.

Judging from the number of professionals inquiring about the festival running July 10-Sept. 6, the event is gaining serioius attention. One U.S. actor living in the United Arab Emirates applied via video, an international first for the festival.

“Every year as we bring more folks in from all over, our network grows,” Hodges said. “On our audition form we ask how people heard about us, and it’s exciting to see how many past company members encourage their friends and colleagues to submit.

“I think it speaks to the quality of the experience they have here.”

Wanna-be Whidbey actors — especially the many dozens applying from big cities, such as Chicago, Nashville and New York — are warned about the limits to Langley’s nightlife.

“An outdoor rotating repertory in a small town that doesn’t have a restaurant/bar/nighttime scene for post performance socializing is not a perfect fit for everyone,” Hodges said. “We take care to build an ensemble who will work well together and will enjoy their time here.”

Whidbey Island may be home to one of the smallest Shakespeare summer repertory companies in the country but its scenery can’t be beat, which is why many actors and directors come for an encore.

“I love Whidbey, and I consider any time spent on the island creating theater to be a genuine gift,” said Kaiser who has been a visiting winter artist when his collection of monologues called “Shakespeare’s Other Women,” was chosen for winter productions in 2018 and 2019.

About half of the cast is comprised of local and non-local actors who’ve previously appeared under the big white and orange tent, affectionately called Henry.

“It’s also important to us to create a company of artists who consider ISF an artistic home, and we honor that by bringing as many back as we can every year,” explained Hodges. “The demands of every season are different, and new directors want to bring folks they’ve worked with before, which is wonderful and exciting, but it’s important to have some continuity from season to season.”

Housing and transportation are the biggest challenges. Every season, organizers put out a plea for community volunteers to house actors and/or shuttle them around.

Should he land a part, Logan Ball is one actor who won’t have to worry about logistics.

The Freeland resident walked the hallways practicing for his shot at Shakespeare just hours before taking the stage as Sam Hee Haw Wainwright in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the December play at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts.

“When I’m actually acting I never get nervous,” Ball said. “But I could be a little nervous right now.”

More in Life

New owner aims to realize restaurant’s potential

When Jennifer Hua became the new owner of the Hong Kong Gardens… Continue reading

Record number seeking roles in Shakespeare Festival

Three plays, 46 performances and 147 days until opening night.And 218 actors… Continue reading

Give nature a hand on Saturdays this spring

By Ron Newberry Special to the News-Times Springtime kicks off the season… Continue reading

Whidbey couple wins $50,000 in state lottery

So many things could have gone differently the day Betsy and Amir… Continue reading

South Whidbey fisherman takes up a new type of tackle

South Whidbey resident John Norris is hunting for treasure. But he isn’t… Continue reading

Coupeville teacher takes a novel approach to Holocaust lesson planning

Coupeville eighth grader Jones Walther recognizes that it’s easy to remove oneself… Continue reading

Exhibits, parade mark 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage

Before the 19th Amendment was finally ratified in 1920, women across America… Continue reading

M*A*S*H hit takes to Playhouse stage

It may have been more than 60 years since the Korean War… Continue reading

Chocolate Walk to feature storytelling competition

In addition to the rich flavor derived from the delectable cocoa bean,… Continue reading

Playtown opens for city’s littlest residents

Last Thursday afternoon, Ethan Boswell busily hammered away, wearing a fluorescent orange… Continue reading

Activists wrap kids in care

Combining the generosity and artistry of the South Whidbey community with a… Continue reading

Whidbey Reads 2020 book focuses on gender identity

Don’t fret if you’re not ready for Whidbey Reads 2020. All five… Continue reading