- 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.

Today, Fee takes into account the actors in his core company in Boise - who now perform regularly at Cleveland’s Great Lakes Theater, where Fee has been artistic director for 12 years - and his Cleveland-based company, many of whom now are regulars in Boise. The two theaters each create and then swap two shows each season.

Four summers ago, Fee added Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival to the family, complicating the puzzle even more.

For the first time this season, a production, Shakespeare’s romantic comedy “As You Like It,” will go from Cleveland where it originated, play 14 performances here and then move to Tahoe and run July 11 to Aug. 24, all with pretty much the same cast.

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THE SEASON: MAY 30-SEPT. 28

Tickets: $18-$46 general, $12 for ages 6-17 on family night only, at 336-9221 or IdahoShakespeare.org.

Hours: The amphitheater opens at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays and 6 p.m. Sundays, May 30 through Sept. 28. Café Shakespeare opens a half-hour before the amphitheater.

Food: Bring your own picnic, wine or beer. Or grab a meal at Café Shakespeare. Pre-order online at IdahoShakespeare.org/cafe-shakespeare or by calling 947-2067. You can dine on the theater lawn, in seats or a four- or six-person box, and on the riverside patio.

Greenshow: The festival’s signature pre-play comedy show is produced, written and performed (with guest actors) by The Fool Squad, aka Tom Willmorth and Joe Golden. It starts at 7:30 p.m. on show days, except Sundays. There are no Greenshows in September.

Accessibility: The festival grounds are wheelchair accessible. You also can reserve an assistive-listening system. One performance for each play will be interpreted into American Sign Language. There are reserved sections for the sign-interpreted evenings and discounts by calling 336-9221. On June 11, you can attend a panel discussion about the festival’s accessibility program at 6:30 p.m. in the Cottonwood Dell.

Special nights: The opening Sunday is family night, when kids younger than 6 are encouraged to attend. Bier:Thirty Bottle & Bistro will offer beer tasting on five nights during the summer. The Festival’s fundraising gala is at 5:30 p.m. July 14, with a dinner, live and silent auction and special performances. Tickets are $150 each at IdahoShakespeare.org.

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WHAT TO BRING

A blanket or low-back chair: You can rent a chair on-site for two bucks. Or buy one of the new ISF logo chairs ($70).

Something to wrap up in: You’re near the Boise River, and once the sun drops, so do temperatures. You can also buy an ISF sweatshirt or blanket from the souvenir stand.

A good attitude: Because it’s Idaho, where rain and wind can come and go in a second, performances don’t get called off until the last minute. Actors will perform in a little drizzle - or even without costumes in rain. If things are torrential, the play will be called off. You’ll get a rain check but only if it’s called before intermission.

What else? Sunscreen, a hat and mosquito repellant are always good ideas.

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ON TAP THIS YEAR

“Deathtrap,” by Ira Levin, directed by Charlie Fee. May 30-July 25.

This murder mystery builds on the success of 2012’s production of “Mousetrap.” ”Deathtrap” turned out to be one of the most successful productions in Cleveland, Fee says. Written in 1978, it holds the record for the longest run for a mystery on Broadway. It’s a comedy inside a thriller that is wrapped in a mystery about how far a once-successful playwright will go to ensure his next hit. “It’s such an enjoyable piece of theater, and the cast is fantastic,” Charlie Fee says.

“As You Like It,” by William Shakespeare, directed by Edward Morgan in his ISF debut. June 6-27.

This romantic comedy features one of the best roles Shakespeare wrote, Fee says - Rosalind. She follows her wrongfully banished uncle into the forest and, dressed as a boy, teaches the man she loves how to woo her. Edward Morgan set it in turn-of-the-20th-century America and filled it with delightful barbershop quartets, vaudevillians, colorful fools and gender-bending fun.

“Les Misérables,” book by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg; music by Schönberg, lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, directed by Victoria Bussert. July 3-Aug. 31.

When the regional theater rights for “Les Misérables” came available, Music Theater International contacted Fee with the offer. “It was like, take them now or it would be five or 10 years before we’d get the chance,” Fee says. You might think you know this show, but with Victoria Bussert at the helm, expect surprises. She has a way of digging deep into the source material and coming up with something fresh.

“The Merry Wives of Windsor,” by William Shakespeare, directed by Tracy Young. Aug. 1-30.

The director who brought you the crazy 1980s-infused “The Taming of the Shrew” (2011) and super-wacky “The Imaginary Invalid” (2012) takes on one of Shakespeare’s most riotous comedies. Tracy Young always shakes things up with her adaptations and dynamic use of commedia dell’arte. Falstaff is one of Shakespeare’s perennial fools who appears in the Henry plays. But this comedy takes him to a new level of foolishness as the mistresses Page and Ford take matters into their own hands.

“Steel Magnolias,” by Robert Harling, directed by Sari Ketter. Sept. 5-28.

Director Sari Ketter returns to ISF to lead this Southern comedy that will wrap up the season in September. In it, you will meet the ladies of Chinquapin, Louisiana, regulars at Truvy’s beauty shop, where their lives, loves and losses intersect. When things get tough, they pull together and prove that friendship is the strongest element on Earth. It’s a story that’s as touching as it is hilarious.

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Information from: Idaho Statesman, http://www.idahostatesman.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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