Friday, March 20, 2009

Much ado in a recession

Shakespeare festival will take a year off

Express Staff Writer

The Sun Valley Shakespeare Festival is taking a sabbatical this summer due to economic strains brought on by the recession. The festival would have celebrated its 10th year.

Founded in 2000 by the nexStage Theatre in Ketchum, the festival was also held in conjunction with the Sun Valley Renaissance Festival, which has also been canceled for this year.

"The Sun Valley Shakespeare Festival is our flagship production," said nexStage Managing Director Kathy Wygle. "It is bittersweet, but is absolutely just for this year. We are taking a year off."

Wygle said the company has to economize on everything. It is scaling back the number of plays being produced at the nexStage Theatre and will spend time budgeting and brainstorming for a "leaner and meaner" theater company.

"The good news is we are producing "Six Degrees of Separation" and "A Christmas Carol," Wygle said. "We will also have Gershwin historian Jeffery Ernstoff coming to do shows and talk to schools."

Wygle said the theater itself is not at risk, but productions have been cut back by area theater groups such as Laughing Stock and St. Thomas.

"Everyone is struggling," Wygle said. "Theater is not the only way actors make a living in the valley."

The nexStage Theatre will be used for a variety of events, including a production by Gary Hoffman entitled "Fences." The play will be presented in conjunction with a traveling Smithsonian exhibition at The Community Library in Ketchum.

"We are really happy and optimistic," Wygle said. "We will use this time to put infrastructure in place, find more funding and grants, and be more inventive. Sometimes, lean times make a company better."

NexStage Theatre Education Director Patsy Wygle said adult classes are doing well and had a larger attendance in January than the previous session. Children's classes are also faring well, she said.

"The nexStage Theatre board is very strong about not cutting back on education," Patsy Wygle said. "We are looking for more grants for scholarships."

For years, the nexStage did not apply for National Endowment for the Arts grants because it is an expensive and time-consuming process. Now, there is opportunity to apply and look for foundation grants as well.

Kathy Wygle said theater managers also hope to find a use for a now-unused building behind the theater.

"We have so much to do," she said. "We have new people on our board and we are excited."

Sabina Dana Plasse:

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