Record number seek roles in Shakespeare fest

Three plays, 46 performances and 147 days until opening night.

And 218 actors vying for 20 positions.

Such are the early season statistics for the Island Shakespeare Festival as it begins its 11th year of production.

Auditions for the 2020 summer season took place in December and early January. More than 200 actors from 75 cities, 28 states and one other country are vying for roles in three plays: “Love’s Labor’s Lost” and “Titus Andronicus,” by William Shakespeare, and “Cyrano de Bergerac” by French poet Edmond Rostand.

About two-thirds of the actors applied for roles via video while the rest read monologues in front of directors at auditions in Seattle and Langley.

“We send short scenes cut directly from the plays to have folks record on video for us,” said Island Shakespeare Festival artistic director Olena Hodges. “From looking at a monologue, we get a sense of an actor’s facility with the language and some of their unique qualities.”

Each play has its own director chosen for their experience and desire to relocate and work on a rural island in the Pacific Northwest.

Santiago Sosa, originally from Ecuador and now a visiting assistant professor at the University of Kansas, will direct the comedy “Love’s Labor’s Lost,” while also retaining his artistic associate role at the Nashville Shakespeare Festival.

Erin Murray splits her time between Seattle and Chicago and is returning for the third season as a director.

Murray describes her theater passion and preference as “multi-generational stories with a delicious femme center.”

Murray said she plans to adapt the well-known tale of the large-nosed, reticent romantic Cyrano de Bergerac with a non-binary actor in the titular role “to explore the themes of Otherness in society and the military.”

Scott Kaiser, a nationally recognized playwright, director and author on staff with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland for 28 years will head the production of “Titus Andronicus,” considered the Bard’s bloodiest tale of revenge.

“I feel really great about this trio of directors,” Murray said.

Each director must figure out how to fill their play’s respective cast needs while also considering the needs of the other two directors.

“It is a puzzle and we have to piece it together,” Ada Karamanan said during a break in auditions held at Whidbey Children’s Theater in Langley. As a casting associate, she’ll assist the directors during the months-long process whittling down the talent pool to 20 from more than 200.

The cast is expected to be announced in March.

“We’re looking for a company of people that will all work well where we need them,” said Karamanan, who grew up on Whidbey and now works in New York City theater productions.

All actors receive the same wage, $1,200 for one play, $2,400 for appearing in two plays and $3,600 if they are selected for roles in each of the three productions.

“Everyone is paid the same regardless of the size of the role or experience because there is no small role,” said Peggy Juve, co-founder of the festival.

The total budget for the Island Shakespeare Festival is $282,000, Juve said, of which 80 percent “goes to human beings.” Private donations and grants comprise the bulk of the budget.

Whidbey Island’s version of Shakespeare in the park is gaining in notoriety, judging from the number of theater professionals inquiring about the festival running July 10-Sept. 6.

One U.S. actor living in the United Arab Emirates applied via video, an international first for the festival.

“Every year as we bring more folks in from all over, our network grows,” Hodges said. “On our audition form we ask how people heard about us, and it’s exciting to see how many past company members encourage their friends and colleagues to submit.

“I think it speaks to the quality of the experience they have here.”

Wannabe Whidbey actors — especially the many dozens applying from big cities, such as Chicago, Nashville and New York — are warned about the limits to Langley’s nightlife.

“An outdoor rotating repertory in a small town that doesn’t have a restaurant/bar/nighttime scene for post performance socializing is not a perfect fit for everyone,” Hodges said.

“We take care to build an ensemble who will work well together and will enjoy their time here.”

Whidbey Island may be home to one of the smallest Shakespeare summer repertory companies in the country but its scenery can’t be beat, which is why many actors and directors come for an encore.

“I love Whidbey, and I consider any time spent on the island creating theater to be a genuine gift,” said Kaiser who has been a visiting winter artist when his collection of monologues called “Shakespeare’s Other Women,” was chosen for winter productions in 2018 and 2019.

About half of the cast is comprised of local and non-local actors who’ve previously appeared under the big white and orange tent, affectionately called Henry.

“It’s also important to us to create a company of artists who consider ISF an artistic home, and we honor that by bringing as many back as we can every year,” explained Hodges. “The demands of every season are different, and new directors want to bring folks they’ve worked with before, which is wonderful and exciting, but it’s important to have some continuity from season to season.”

Housing and transportation are the biggest challenges. Every season, organizers put out a plea for community volunteers to house actors and/or shuttle them around.

Should he land a part, Logan Ball is one actor who won’t have to worry about logistics.

The Freeland resident walked the hallways practicing for his shot at Shakespeare just hours before taking the stage as Sam Hee Haw Wainwright in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the December play at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts.

“When I’m actually acting I never get nervous,” Ball said. “But I could be a little nervous right now.”

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