To host or not to host?
That is the question that soon may be on the minds of Whidbey Island residents.
Island Shakespeare Festival, or ISF, is gearing up for a packed 12th season of three lively productions this summer for the first time since 2019.
But not all important players are on stage.
Every season, the theater company brings in a diversity of talent from around the nation that would not be possible without the help of hosts on Whidbey, who open their homes to the visitors.
Actors, stage managers and other people involved in the plays rely on the generosity of Whidbey residents year after year.
All that needs to be offered is a spare bedroom with access to shared restroom and kitchen facilities.
“It can really be a fun inside look to see how these plays come together, having an artist in your home,” ISF Artist Director Olena Hodges said. “Sharing that experience, I think it’s pretty neat to see that from the inside.”
Operations Director Angelica Metcalfe, who is now a permanent Whidbey resident, started her career with the festival as a stage manager. For three years, she was assigned to the same host because they get along so well. She now considers her to be one of her best friends on the island, and the pair live together year-round.
“She’s delightful and she lives in my house. We’re kind of like sisters. It’s wonderful,” said her former host and now landlady, Cynthia Tilkin.
Not everyone is expected to form such close friendships, however. Many hosts have found that their guests prefer to do their own thing, especially after a long, tiring day of rehearsal.
“They tend to be so busy and so tired and a lot of times actors are pretty introverted. They recharge by spending time alone,” said Jane Bothel, who has been host to two different actors over two separate summers.
“There’s a misnomer that theater artists are all loud, outgoing. Not true,” she said. “Very many of us are quite introverted and just want to go read a book when we’re done with rehearsal.”
ISF has developed a survey that helps match hosts to their guests. Questions address pets, transportation and the level of interaction hosts hope to have with the theater artists, among other things. Hosts can choose to host the whole summer, a few weeks or anything in between. There is no obligation to provide anything beyond the space.
Interested parties doth not have to be fluent in Shakespeare-speak in order to openeth their homes.
“I promise we use iambic pentameter only on stage, for the most part,” Hodges said with a laugh.
Bothel said she has been impressed by how well the survey has matched her with her guests in the past.
“The two actors I had were very mature,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect, and I was so impressed with their professionalism and how seriously they took their work.”
For Elizabeth and Stephen Guss, hosting has been a rich and fulfilling experience. A total of three actors and one sound architect have stayed in their home just outside of Langley, and they plan to host again this summer.
“It’s just fun to learn a little bit more about Shakespeare through these people that have studied the plays at quite a bit of length,” Elizabeth said.
Bothel said hosting had little impact on her day-to-day life, although she did enjoy having a guest who liked to cook communal meals.
“ISF has grown over the 10 years I’ve been here to really become a destination for serious actors who are interested in Shakespeare,” she said. “We get really top notch people.”
This year, about 15 to 20 actors and stage managers will be looking for a place to stay on the island from May 25 to Sept. 14. Some will be here for a few weeks, others will stay the whole duration.
Now more than ever, people are needed to step up to the role of host.
“I think COVID has changed things,” Metcalfe said. “A lot of people have moved. Many people have adjusted their living situations. The housing market is just booming right now.”
“Love’s Labor’s Lost” opens July 15, followed by “Cyrano de Bergerac” July 23 and “Titus Andronicus” July 31. Shows run until Sept. 11.