Much ado about Shakespeare in a circus tent

The Island Shakespeare Festival will get a home under the big top this summer when the group takes up residence at the Langley Middle School campus.

Company members Valerie Huntington Olena Hodges (act out a scene as Hermia and Helena in “Midsummer Night’s Dream” last year. The Southern Oregon University students will return for “Much Ado About Nothing” this summer.

The Island Shakespeare Festival will get a home under the big top this summer when the group takes up residence at the Langley Middle School campus.

But until the first line of “Much Ado About Nothing” will be performed this summer, organizers need help.

Festival organizers have acquired a custom circus tent, but a portion of the funding still needs to be raised.

Island Shakespeare Festival Development Director Peggy Juve said the $32,000 tent is ordered, which was made possible through a donation of one-third of the funds by Nancy Nordhoff and Lynn Hayes. A Kickstarter campaign will be launched in mid-May with a 30-day pledge window, and the group is approaching individuals and community organizations for grants and donations.

The money must be raised by the end of June when the company will deliver the tent and rehearsals for “Much Ado About Nothing” begin, Juve said.

“The tent was almost serendipitous,” Juve said.

Director Rose Woods will set her production of “Much Ado About Nothing” in an 1890s circus setting. The idea for the tent was born in planning for the show.

“I was not thinking of a forever home for the festival, but of set design,” Woods said.

Juve began researching and came across the oldest tent maker in the United States, Armbruster Tent Makers.

“We realized we could have a home, and move around,” Juve said of the tent which will be 40 feet by 60 feet, can hold up to 300 people and be pitched anywhere they can drive a stake into the ground.

Woods and Juve chose canvas and neutral colors so the tent will still blend with future production settings. The tent will last 30 to 40 years and retains 50 to 60 percent of its value, Juve said.

“It’s a good investment,” she added.

Indeed, the Island Shakespeare Festival has grown in leaps and bounds in its first three years. In 2011, it drew 800 people in two weekends. Last year 2,000 people attended. This summer, organizers expect 3,000 and will perform six weekends and 18 shows.

“It’s crazy how it has grown,” Woods said. “I just started it because it was the right time and I was in love with the Story House land.”

Her beloved venue also changed, but organizers are still excited. From the Story House stage at the Whidbey Institute in Clinton, the festival has moved to Langley and will set up on the Langley Middle School grounds.

Juve and Woods say the school district was accommodating because its leaders see the education potential to their students and the land is not used in the summer.

Langley merchants and lodging owners were excited about the prospect of thousands of Shakespeare fans coming through town.

Shakespeare festival board member Rene Neff, also a Langley City Council member and gallery owner, said the potential for economic development for Langley is huge.

“We’re so excited to have the festival in town. It’s 3,000 people shopping and spending time in Langley,” she said.

Organizers also said that they will be happy to let the community use the tent for other events when it is not used for the Island Shakespeare Festival, which may generate rental revenue. Advertising may also be sold in the tent flaps to help pay for festival expenses.

The shows are always free.

“Much Ado About Nothing” will take to the stage Aug. 2 through Sept. 8 under the Big Top in the heart of Langley.

Anyone who would like to support the tent project may send checks to ISF, P.O. Box 1262, Langley. Checks need to be made payable to WIAC with ISF in the memo.


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