Shakespeare Festival looks for new leadership | NevadaAppeal.com

Shakespeare Festival looks for new leadership

Kevin MacMillan
Nevada Appeal News Service

INCLINE VILLAGE – The top priorities for the new Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival leadership team are to re-establish the struggling Sand Harbor mainstay as a community favorite – and make it profitable once again, officials said this week.

“The community there certainly has had a tough couple years, dealing with sort of a volatile company. There have been a lot of changes,” said LTSF Producing Artistic Director Charlie Fee. “We want to let people know we are here for the long run, and we want to build the future of the Shakespeare festival around the audience that’s there every year to see this wonderful event.

On Tuesday, Bob Taylor was named executive director of the festival, replacing Catherine Atack, who spent the past seven years there.

“Under Bob’s direction … we aim to produce full scale Shakespeare again next year, build back up to a two-show season and continue to grow our children’s educational programs,” said Terry Jones, Chairman of the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival board of directors.

This year, the festival is preparing for its 38th season. From July 9 through Aug. 22, it will present 32 performances of one Shakespeare play, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged),” a compilation of 37 of Shakespeare’s plays performed by three actors in two hours.

The festival will also present two musical acts Monday and Friday evenings, a total of 10 artists performing more than 12 shows. For information about the festival and ticket prices, visit http://www.laketahoeshakespeare.com.

Recent struggles

In past years, the festival usually featured performances of a pair of Shakespeare classics, such as “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Taming of the Shrew” in 2007 and “Macbeth” and “The Comedy of Errors” in 2005.

However, economic woes since 2007 are the main reason behind the decision to produce the one Shakespeare-encompassing play in 2010, Atack said.

“The last two years have been a struggle, and we really had to look at things closely both from a program standpoint and a fiscally responsible standpoint,” Atack said. “(The economy) did not impact my decision to move on – but the board definitely has a lot to think about.”

Shakespeare attendance – which hovered around 30,000 for most of the decade – dropped 10 percent from 2008 to 2009. The festival also laid off one full-time worker and reduced pay to other staff in 2009, according to published reports, and struggled further after losing sponsors, such as corporate giant Southwest Airlines.

“We also lost close to 70 percent of our corporate sponsorships, as well as many of our philanthropic private donors,” Atack said in a Jan. 2 North Lake Tahoe Bonanza story. “… the economic situation took its toll on our business model and that’s why we’ve changed the structure moving into next year.”

End of an era

Despite recent woes, the festival was fruitful during Atack’s tenure. Attendance grew 27 percent from 2003 to 2007, she said, with 2005 being the highest attended season in the festival’s 38-year history. That year, Sand Harbor saw, on average, 914 attendants per show for “Macbeth,” and 745 for “The Comedy of Errors.”

Another success, Atack said, was bringing popular Shakespeare dramas to the Lake Tahoe stage, as previously the festival stuck to the same eight comedies, rotated every year to feature two per summer.

Other accomplishments include championing educational improvements and evolving the Young Shakespeare Performances into a touring program, enhancing the Sand Harbor venue to include a full-service restaurant (Shakespeare’s Kitchen) and introducing “Clarity,” the new VIP lounge. She also introduced the Urban Village Night Music Series in 2009.

“There have been some very significant changes, and there is a lot to be proud of, and very few things have presented some challenges recently. That’s what happens when you go from a touring group to a self-sustaining production,” Atack said Friday, referring to the festival’s 2007 decision to end its 11-year contract with Nevada City-based Foothill Theater Company.

She said she’ll miss Tahoe and Incline Village – her home the past 10 years – as she begins her new role in Southern California with a nonprofit organization that provides support to foster youth.

“It’s a mixed bag of emotions. My time here has been fantastic,” she said. “It’s been one of personal growth and one of professional growth; it’s been a thrilling experience.”