Shakespeare Festival drops LMS field from consideration

Like Hamlet did Claudius, the Island Shakespeare Festival killed a plan to use the field at Langley Middle School.

At the behest of the city of Langley, the festival’s organizers met with the South Whidbey School Board. During the school board meeting Aug. 8, the festival group proposed to use the field near the disused track. Only a few blocks and a short walk from Langley’s commercial core of restaurants, inns and boutiques, the flat, grassy area — though a bit worn — seemed an alluring prospect for both parties. However, the festival’s founder and artistic director said she plans to keep it at the StoryHouse Theater at the Chinook lands in Clinton.

“We’re not interested in leaving our current location. We’ve been extremely happy at the Chinook lands,” Woods said.

“There’s a certain amount of magic of going into the woods and seeing a Shakespeare festival.”

The original plan had a target date for next August. That meant the school district and festival group agreeing to rent or lease terms, landscaping the field and building stage and seating platforms.

“It was a pretty ambitious timeline anyway, from the process of getting approval of the board to having plans and acceptance of the community,” said Board Chairman Steve Scoles.

“To do it in one year and create a permanent structure, it would be hard to do it on such a short timeline.”

The news surprised Board Member Linda Racicot on Monday afternoon. She planned to walk with school district officials, an architect and the festival’s representatives to review the field in the near future. Racicot, a former middle school teacher, envisioned a joint-use space. The stage could have been used for professional productions during the festival and also give students at the middle school, which does not have a drama program, a chance to engage in stage work and take in the Bard’s tales.

“I was quite interested in it, actually. And I felt with a walkabout we could figure out how to use it and keep the field,” Racicot said.

“There’s so much property there, I really felt we could be clever about it and find a way to use it in both directions (the school and the festival).”

The meeting and news of the festival’s loss of interest in the field were so recent, money had yet to be discussed between the two parties. The school district publishes rental rates for its facilities. Field use at Langley Middle School would cost $11 of $22 per hour, depending on the festival’s classification, as well as $22 per hour for the parking lots. The field does not have lights, however.

One of the concerns for Woods was the type of stage and seating. The school district wanted removable platforms, and the festival group wanted a permanent fixture.

“It won’t work with a temporary structure,” she said.

“It has to be more than a field.”

As can be expected from a first meeting between two organizations, there were discrepancies in the plan. An architect’s sketch of the field had landscaping, lots of it, with bountiful hedges. That would not have worked, Racicot said, because students need the field for recreation.

“We can’t kill one entire field,” she said.

“We were willing to … continue talking about it.”

Woods, despite shutting down the field plan for use by next August, kept the possibility open for another year. In the meantime, she said other venues and locations — some in Langley, some not — were courting the festival.

“The happy part of this is that there are more than one location that wants us,” Woods said.

The festival has steadily expanded its audience at the current venue’s amphitheater. A few thousand people attend the festival annually, and this year has been right on pace with more than 800 visitors to watch the free shows the past two weekends.

“We didn’t expect this kind of growth or popularity,” Woods said.

Members of the school board said they were open to reviewing the plans again, if the festival organizers were interested.

“The board and school district are open to exploring ideas with them,” Scoles said.

Langley city officials said they will continue to explore the possibility of relocating the festival closer to the city’s core and hope to reopen talks with Shakespeare Festival folks.

“We’ll go back to the festival,” said Rene Neff, a city councilwoman who has been involved in the discussion. “We need to all sit at the table.”

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