- Associated Press - Saturday, June 7, 2014

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - This summer the Idaho Shakespeare Festival will present a season of murder and mystery, magical romance, epic human struggle, farcical comedy and heart-tugging humor.

How does it come together?

By striking a balance between planning and casting, says producing artistic director Charlie Fee. Those are the basic building blocks, because getting the right artists together makes this collaborative art form work.

For every theater company, it’s a complex puzzle to solve. And frankly that’s why many theaters have moved away from the repertory company model over the years. Actors focus on one show and that’s that.

ISF is a repertory company with actors coming in to do two to three plays over a summer, and now with Fee and company running theater seasons in Boise, Cleveland and Lake Tahoe, casting is a kind of year-round Rubik’s Cube that needs almost constant adjustment.

“It’s never-ending,” Fee says. “We’re out two years in planning and 18 months in casting.”

In the end, it adds up to five shows that fit together nicely, in the Idaho season. But getting there takes some work.

Dozens of actor headshots paper the windows of Fee’s office and spread like a deck of cards along one of the two desks. The computer screen is open to email and his calendar as he plots his seasons, communicating with directors, designers and actors.

The first step is to just decide on a show. “So, you say let’s do ‘Les Misérables,’” he says. “What would that mean? Then because we run shows in rep, especially in the second half of the season here, you put another show next to it - like, ‘Merry Wives.’ “

Whether two shows make sense together sometimes comes down to the numbers of men and women in each cast. Other times it’s about specific roles.

This season, the company is bringing in New York musical theater actors Stephen Mitchell Brown and Brian Sutherland as Jean Valjean and Javert.

“So, then where do you put them in ‘Merry Wives’?” Fee says.

That dance goes back and forth between programming and casting, balancing the plays directors want to work on with how they match up with opportunities for actors. Then factor in who’s willing to travel, because these two shows will open the Cleveland season in the fall.

“You have to do it all at the same time. You can’t pull any one element out,” Fee says. “So you keep playing with it like a crossword puzzle - that word fits but going across isn’t going to work, so you start over.”

It’s a game Fee’s been playing since 1992, when he became ISF’s artistic director, first juggling four then five shows a season.

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