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Nevada Shakespeare Festival to leave Piper’s Opera House

by Susie Vasquez, Appeal Staff Writer

Following tensions between the board of Piper’s Opera House and Nevada Shakespeare Festival, the theater company is leaving.

The organization made Piper’s their primary venue, performing Shakespeare’s classics as well as bringing special events, like Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain. It will be leaving in October, which marks the completion of the company’s second season.

Board member Bill Beeson said there were contract negotiation problems and misunderstandings over Nevada Shakespeare Festival’s role at Piper’s. The board’s inexperience also played a part.

“The (Piper’s Opera House) board had a lot to learn about venue, and the contracts were not as well written as they should have been,” he said.

There were many disagreements, but Beeson said he didn’t want to point fingers.

“The most important thing the Nevada Shakespeare Festival did was show the town how important Piper’s performances are,” he said.”I wish them luck in the future.”

In addition to friction with members of the board, the theater is always a construction zone, never safe and always dirty, despite the fact that the troupe paid a cleaning deposit, according to Nevada Shakespeare Festival’s artistic director Jeanmarie Simpson.

“We felt like we should be treated like a professional theater group,” Simpson said. “We wanted them to take care of their end of things, but we had to pay people to clean.”

The final blow came in May when Simpson was physically assaulted by a 16-year-old Virginia City high school student on the opening day of their production of “The Music Man” May 3.

“We were trying to get the theater ready for the show and the high school drama teacher showed up,” Simpson said. “We were assured it would be a tour (of high school students), but in truth it was a performance.

“Every one is always pushed at the last minute and we were assured there would be no other performance,” she said. “It was such an obvious breach of protocol on top of someone’s opening night. ”

An altercation with the high school student followed that incident. She filed charges as recommended by Sheriff Pat Whitten and the matter was mediated by Justice of the Peace Annette Daniels. Charges against the girl were dismissed and the mediation was constructive, but the damage had been done.

Board member Malcom Hunt, who performs with the group, publicly apologized after the incident.

“We had another production scheduled on their opening day. It was really an unfortunate choice of timing,” he said. “I think the world of the Nevada Shakespeare Festival. They’re fantastic and I’m sorry to see them go.”

Hunt said the Piper’s Opera House renovation is a giant task and the board is new.

“Basically, we’ve only been open for a few seasons,” Hunt said. “We’re just now getting the bathrooms upgraded. This is an 1875 building that has to be brought up to modern standards: a very tall order and a complex thing for the nine members of the board.”

Beeson said departure of the company does not mark the end of performances at Piper’s.

“It means we’ll be doing more weekend partnership and repertory work,” Beeson said. “We have quite a lineup for that. There will be fewer performances, but a lot more variety.”

Simpson said the theater company is sifting through their options and is considering transformation to a touring company, playing to theaters in Reno, Truckee, and Carson City.

“We have a lot of patrons from Carson City, Minden, Gardnerville and Dayton,” Simpson said. “We’re talking about an identity that isn’t tied to one venue, of being a Nevada Shakespeare Festival that belongs to Nevada.

“All indications are that this region wants to see pre-eminent artists and real theater on stage,” Simpson said. “We have resident artists that deserve to be nurtured and should be given the opportunity to work with artists that can help them make that leap to the professional levelE Development of the company is going so well. The only stumbling block we’ve had is the Opera House and that’s not going to continue.”