Thursday, June 16, 2005

Agecroft Hall is home to The Richmond Shakespeare Festival.

"The Comedy of Errors" leads off The Richmond Shakespeare Festival at Agecroft Hall

RICHMOND - The Richmond Shakespeare Festival will present its eigth annual season of live performances Thursday through Sunday evenings this June and July. Actors return each year to 500 year-old Agecroft Hall's outer courtyard, just as Elizabethan traveling players would have done when the building stood in England. A joint venture of the Encore! Theatre Company and Agecroft Hall, the Richmond Shakespeare Festival is a two-month festival of outdoor performances under the stars and nestled beside the authentic English Manor house, which was brought over piece by piece from England by a Richmond developer in the 1920's.

Agecroft's Director and the Festival's Executive Producer, Richard Moxley, looks forward to the event all year. The building is truly special, but nothing brings it to life like these actors, on a summer night, as the sun sets over the rooftop. It's the magic of Agecroft."

The 2005 season will kick off with “The Comedy of Errors.” One of Shakespeare's most flexible of comedies, “Comedy” has been given wild interpretations, some even here in Richmond. For its production, the Richmond Shakespeare Festival wanted to return to the play's roots: combining slapstick hilarity, mistaken identies, identical twins, true love, and some of the greatest poetry ever spoken upon the stage.

Comedy is based on the Roman theatrical tradition and one play in particular, The Menaechmi, about two sets of identical twins separated at birth---one set of which unwittingly arrives in the home town of the other. Mayhem ensues.

And who better to turn to for such a play than a Romanian? Dan Istrate, born and raised in Bucharest, Romania, will serve as Master of Play for "The Comedy of Errors." His extensive knowledge of Commedia d'ell Arte, Shakespeare, and the Roman tradition “..are ideal for the task of crafting a hysterical, fun, and accessible Comedy,” says Mudge.

To follow “Comedy,” Mudge has chosen a re-staging of last year's often sold-out production of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Arguably Shakespeare’s most popular play, this Midsummer features several new actors and a return appearance (from the 2000 production) by Festival favorite Scott Wichmann in the roles of Bottom/Demetrius.

Both the 2000 and 2004 productions were record-setters: "It's been so popular," says Mudge, “we're bringing the fireflies and fairies back in 2005.”

Shakespeare probably penned the “Dream” in 1595 or 1596; scholars and legend propose that it was most likely composed for a significant wedding of the decade. Whatever the reason, the 2004 production was one of the biggest hits the Festival has ever had.
This year, patrons will get to see their favorite play filmed for broadcast on Public Television. The Community Idea Stations television arm, WCVE-TV, will be filming Midsummer for eventual broadcast later in the year. Patrons will have the opportunity to observe the filming firsthand during the live performance.

In the play a legendary Duke prepares to marry an exotic warrior princess, but his festive mood is interrupted by the dilemma of four young lovers, one of whom, Hermia, must choose between her true love, the will of her father, or her own death! Before we know it, all four lovers are spirited away into the woods surrounding Athens, and find themselves at the mercy of the King and Queen of the Fairies, who themselves are locked in a conflict over a mysterious changeling child.

In an ongoing effort to explore one method that Elizabethan actors were known to tour, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is performed with just five principal actors. Given that Agecroft Hall itself could even have hosted such tours four hundred years ago, Mudge and the Encore! staff are eager to continue exploring this style of performance.

Next up following Midsummer, the Festival will produce perhaps the most famous love story of all time, “Romeo & Juliet.” Mudge will again serve as Master of Play. Performed in the same exciting touring style, with just five actors playing all the roles in Shakespeare's ageless tragedy, Romeo & Juliet never fails to call up feelings of first love and brushes with violence, death, and fate.

Like the emphasis on five-actor touring companies, Istrate and Mudge will continue the Festival tradition of working in a style known as "Original Practices."

What's that all about?

Mudge describes Original Practices as "...not at all lip-service to period costume or false-sounding acting styles." Rather, Mudge explains “[o]riginal Practices describes how we approach rehearsal, and the style of staging. We inform everything we do with a carefully researched knowledge of how Shakespeare's own company worked: Universal lighting, essentially a bare stage, and costuming that indicates character more than it does a designer’s concept.”

While Encore! employs electrical lights and women actors where Shakespeare's company did not, they do strive to create an atmosphere of play, experiment, and sincere connection between actor and audience.

The 8th Annual Richmond Shakespeare Festival will play exclusively at Agecroft Hall from June 9 to July 31, Thursday through Sunday evenings at 8pm. Tickets and season subscriptions are available toll-free at 1-866-BARD-TIX, (1-866-227-3849), or online at


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