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Island Shakespeare Fest organizers create a destination for the island
Many doors have been open to Island Shakespeare Fest founder Susannah Rose Woods and her idea to create a destination outdoor theater company on Whidbey Island.
The Hull family, who owns the land near the Whidbey Institute in Clinton, built the StoryHouse stage after they heard Woods was looking for a place to create a Shakespeare festival. Son, Timothy Hull, has been working non-stop for months getting the land ready for the performances of “Romeo and Juilet,” including felling several trees, hand-stripping and shaping the logs and building an impressive, curved-roof “teahouse” for the “lobby” of the theater where guests will refresh themselves with concessions during intermission.
“The other cool thing about this theater is that there is no risk, no investment that the audience has to make, because it’s free,” said Peggy Juve, director of development for the company.
Free admission is something that was important to Woods. She sees the company as one that can welcome everybody, regardless of their economic means, to enjoy the works of Shakespeare.
“This is Shakespeare demystified,” Woods said.
Juve had her work cut out for her. She’s been hard at work gathering support for an endeavor that intends to attract both local and regional audiences for its eight performances. She looked at other outdoor Shakespeare festivals around the country and was inspired by what she discovered. She pointed to companies such as Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival in Vancouver, B.C. which began in 1990 with an audience of 6,000. By 2009, that festival was welcoming 90,000 and its budget had increased from $35,000 to $3.5 million. The New York Shakespeare Festival has been offering free Shakespeare in Central Park 1954. She cited similar success stories for Shakespeare festivals all around the country.
“Now, we’re obviously not going to have 90,000 people coming to the island, but this festival could grow into something that could make Whidbey a regional and even a national destination,” Juve said.
Woods agreed and already is fielding calls from out-of-state.
“That phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from all over the country. People are starting to plan their vacations around ISF. I had one gentleman from Texas say that he had seen the show last year and wanted to plan his family’s annual visit to the island around the show dates,” Woods said.
“I feel very excited about this and about what this could possibly mean for the merchants in our community,” Juve said.
Juve is co-owner of Eddy’s, an art apparel shop in downtown Langley. She is also one of the festival’s major business partners, along with 11 others she said were ready and willing to support the enterprise.
Brackenwood Gallery co-owner Rene Neff said she was on board as soon as she heard Juve was looking for backers.
“Everything about Island Shakespeare Festival fits the bill for how we as a business want to invest in this community,” Neff said.
“Culturally, it just makes the town more vibrant, it brings people to the town. It’s an investment in our future. Plus, anything that Peggy is behind, I will support. I respect her for everything she’s done with the Whidbey Children’s Theater. I’m just so inspired by her. And I’m excited,” she added.
The festival’s major corporate sponsor is Whidbey Telecom and co-CEO George Henny said he’s excited, too.
“It’s fantastic. I love Shakespeare. The cultural richness sets the community apart,” Henny said, “and makes it a place where people want to come to work and live.”
Henny said he was impressed by the first season’s production and is looking forward to the show, especially since he is a sometime thespian.
“The level of the culture of a community is a reflection of its quality of life. A rising tide lifts all ships, as the saying goes. Island Shakespeare Festival raises the bar,” he added.
The goal, in the end, is to make Whidbey “Destination Island” and a free Shakespearean play in the middle of the woods might be just the thing to help make that happen.
“Island Shakespeare Festival is the result of a team of people coming together out of a sense of beauty, love and truth — people meeting out of respect for each other,” Juve said.
Island Shakespeare Festival’s “Romeo and Juliet” is presented by the Whidbey Island Arts Council, in collaboration with StoryHouse and Stage, the Hull Family and Whidbey Children’s Theater. Business partners also include Screen Thumb Web Landscaping, Whidbey Island Bank, Catherine DeWitt Framing, Sharon Shoemaker, Ott & Murphy Wines, Kamera & Gilles and Sound Business Center.
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Patricia Duff can be reached at 221-5300 or email@example.com.