The Central Coast Shakespeare Festival’s summer production is “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” described by its co-directors as a delightful comedy with a surprising, unexpected ending.
Artistic director Zoe Saba and co-director Cindy Totten, who have been collaborating as actors and directors for CCSF as the company moved from outdoor to indoor to outdoor venues around the Central Coast, discussed the joys and the challenges of presenting the Bard’s works.
Saba teaches theater at Cal State Bakersfield, and Totten teaches in the theater department at Eckerd College in Florida. They met more than a decade ago, when Totten acted in a CCSF play and later began directing.
“We just hit it off artistically. We are simpatico,” Saba said.
“While we’re working on the current season and throughout the year, Zoe and I discuss what to produce next year,” Totten added. “We look at past seasons, what we’ve produced … and what we might want to revisit.”
The last time they produced “Love’s Labor’s Lost” was in 2002 and it was indoors, so they decided the outdoor venue at River Oaks Hot Springs in Paso Robles was just the right atmosphere for the play. Apparently the time was right as well, as coincidentally the play is being performed in New York’s Shakespeare in the Park as a new musical adaptation, and is also being produced by Shakespeare & Company in Massachusetts.
The directors said the things they love about the play are lush language, giddy humor, a ridiculous premise, and surprisingly moving ending.
In it, the King of Navarre and his courtiers vow to pursue a monastic life, swearing off all contact with women for three years, but the plan goes awry when the Princess of France and her attendants arrive on political business, setting off a battle of the sexes.
This summer’s company includes college graduates from Cal State Bakersfield and Cal Poly, area professionals trained at PCPA, A.C.T. and New York’s Atlantic Theatre Company, and high school graduates from Arroyo Grande and San Luis Obispo.
Shakespeare’s plays are a challenge for both actors and directors as they strive to make his Elizabethan language accessible and moving for audiences.
“We both came to directing through acting, so we understand the challenges actors face and the bravery it takes to deliver an honest believable performance in front of an audience.”
The directors said they work for clarity and accessibility of the text without compromising the richness of Shakespeare’s language. For this play they did a workshop based on acting exercises from Cicely Berry, voice director for the Royal Shakespeare Company.
They worked on the “muscularity” of Shakespeare’s language, relishing what is said and how it is said. They gave the cast a glossary and pronunciation guide and discussed what each line means. They say they work for clear language through technical means like diction, enunciation, sharp consonants, full vowels and emotional connections — clarity of thought and truthfulness of feeling.
“The first hurdle is learning the lines,” Totten said, “but then we move beyond that and dig deeper — what they’re saying and what they mean.” Movement and physicality are important to the process.
“We do in-depth work that encourages actors to take creative risks,” Saba said. The goal is to have the actors giving their roles a personal touch and working at the top of their potential.
She said it’s necessary to move beyond the language. “This is a play like any other play, and these are real human beings.”
Shakespeare’s plays remain popular, Totten said, because he “addresses timeless, universal themes, how to make the right decisions and moral choices when confronted with the large unanswerable questions of life.
“He makes us laugh and cry, sometimes in the span of a few moments. He takes us to fantastical locations, gives us colorful storylines, foolish lovers, wise clowns, brawls, swordfights, songs and dances. Shakespeare gives life writ large onstage, in all its rich complexity.”
The rolling lawn at River Oaks Hot Springs is a festive atmosphere for this play. Families are invited to bring folding chairs and picnic meals, and wine is available to purchase. This is the fifth year at this location, and the directors said the move has been a positive one, with loyal audiences following them from around the county and new audience members that have discovered the festival since the move.
IF YOU GO
"Love’s Labour’s Lost"
7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 6 p.m. Sundays, today through July 27
River Oaks Amphitheater, 800 Clubhouse Drive, Paso Robles
$12 to $20
546-4224 or www.centralcoastshakespeare.org