Saturday, September 09, 2006

Serrano puts his stamp on Shakespeare

By Maribel Villalva / El Paso Times
El Paso Times

El Paso producer/director Hector Serrano struck a chord with El Paso audiences when he combined Shakespeare with the backdrop of El Paso's mountains and moonlight.
Shakespeare-on-the-Rocks was born on the stage of McKelligon Canyon. These days, the venue has changed, but the show remains the same.

For the second year in a row, Serrano will present the popular Shakespeare-on-the-Rocks Theater Festival in the amphitheater of the Ysleta Independent School District's Fine Arts Complex.

"When we first started, the canyon was my inspiration because it is such a beautiful, magical place. That transfers wonderfully to this venue," he said. "And because there are rocks here, that meant we could keep the name."

This year's festival kicked off Thursday and will continue with performances throughout September. It will end with a Renaissance Fair featuring shows, vendors and food.

This weekend, audiences can see "The Tempest." The other productions are "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Julius Caesar."

Serrano first developed the Shakespeare-on-the-Rocks performances in the 1980s under the auspices of the El Paso Association for the Performing Arts.

That first attempt lasted four years. It was revived in 1991, and continued for 10 years.

When Serrano and the association parted ways in 2001, he took the idea with him because the association wanted to focus solely on its other big production, "Viva El Paso!," he said. He restarted it in 2004 with a traveling production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." This time, he's doing it under his own company, Eden Enterprises.

Serrano remembers those early days of Shakespeare.

"At that time, 'Viva' had evolved into a dance show, which meant the actors I had hired didn't have an opportunity to really display their talent," he said. "I decided to start a festival at the end of the season and let the actors show what they could do."

That remains the motivation for Shakespeare-on-the-Rocks -- an opportunity to showcase El Paso's community actors. All cast members must audition for the shows in July.

Serrano has a company of 30 actors who perform in the productions -- some of them in all three.

One of those actors is Danny Fogle, who plays Brutus in "Julius Caesar" and Lysander in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." He also performed with Serrano in the mid-1990s.

"I love theater, and I thought it was a good experience, especially because everyone always says how hard it is to do Shakespeare," Fogle said.

But the language came easily for Fogle, who studied Shakespeare for years. At 34, he is a veteran Shakespearean actor and helps the younger actors.

"Even though the plays were written more than 400 years ago, they're still very pertinent today. It's actually easier to teach people how much things haven't changed all that much," he said.

Fogle also said there is a market for Shakespeare in the El Paso/Las Cruces region.

"Last year, we averaged about 100 people a show and that's actually really good," he said. "We're starting to build, we're adding new shows and getting more publicity. I think we're just getting better."

The transition from McKelligon Canyon to the YISD's Fine Arts Complex was a smooth one, Serrano said.

The amphitheater seats 350 people, which means it's a perfect, intimate venue for theatrical productions of Shakespeare's works. The fact that it's outdoors also meant it would be a great backdrop for plays that are set outside, including "The Tempest," A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Julius Caesar."

Before each show, El Paso Community College faculty members will give a talk about the production.

And in what has become Serrano's trademark, he has incorporated some dance elements into the plays.

"Shakespeare used to do that, too," he said. "That's something I've wanted to do all along."

Maribel Villalva may be reached at; 546-6129.

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