The New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane celebrates its 25th season this year, and current festival artistic director Marty Sachs has been involved in almost every one.
Sachs came aboard in the festival’s early days, joining the staff as a lighting designer and technical director. When then-artistic director Ron Gural retired from the position in 2012, Sachs, who also chairs Tulane University’s Department of Theatre and Dance, took the job.
The festival has evolved significantly since its inception in 1994 (then called the Tulane Summer Shakespeare Festival), and Sachs hopes the festival will continue to grow in the years to come.
This year, festival offerings include two full productions — “All’s Well That Ends Well” and “Macbeth” — along with a slate of additional entertainments.
“We’re trying to give our audience a variety of things to come see,” explained Sachs. “It’s nice to be able to offer more than just a couple of Shakespeare’s plays. One of the things that I wanted to see is more of a festival in that sense.”
“All’s Well That Ends Well” kicks off this year’s festivities, running June 1-17. Directed by Amy Holtcamp, the dark comedy is about a guileful young woman (Julia DeLois) who resorts to trickery and deceit in her pursuit of a womanizing count (Alex Ates). The production marks the first appearance of this play at the festival.
In July, “Macbeth” returns to Tulane, a festival favorite last staged in 2010. Directed by Jessica Podewell, John Neisler will play the title role, while Mel. Cook plays the infamous Lady Macbeth. After she convinces her husband to kill the reigning king of Scotland and grab the throne, the violent act ultimately torments both husband and wife, driving them to despair.
The festival also includes a staged reading of “King Lear” (July 11); cabaret act “The Food of Love” (June 14), starring Leslie Castay and featuring songs from musicals and other works inspired by Shakespeare; and NOLA Project’s improv comedy show “By Any Scenes Necessary” (July 18), which takes on “Julius Caesar” for this year’s attempt at Shakespeare without a script.
While the annual festival continues to put Shakespeare in the spotlight every summer, Sachs points out that the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane is a nearly year-round affair, due in part to their robust education initiatives. In January, the festival will remount this year’s productions for a two-week run specifically aimed at students. In recent years, the shows have brought in thousands of students from over 70 schools, including both local schools and those who make the trip from as far away as Shreveport and Pensacola.
“It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, because the kids get so into it,” said Sachs. “At the beginning, they’re expecting to be bored, but by the end — when we did ‘Hamlet,’ they’re yelling at Gertrude, ‘Don’t drink that, it’s got poison in it!’ It’s amazing to see that.”
The festival also oversees a “Shakespeare on the Road” program, collaborating with Tulane’s theater students to create an original show composed of scenes from Shakespeare’s plays that combines action, humor and even some stage combat, performed for local students at their schools.
Asked about the next 25 years, Sachs cheerfully acknowledged that what he’d most like to see is “a nice big endowment.” He’s quick to credit the generosity of the festival’s board and is grateful for the festival’s stable financial footing. With more resources, he said, shows could have larger casts and more elaborate costumes and scenery. And maybe one day a new theater space with more seats and updated technical capabilities. He’d also love to see the casts and crews get bigger paychecks.
If it’s true, as Shakespeare once wrote, that “no profit grows where is no pleasure taken,” then the future of the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane should be just fine.
“We do this out of love and dedication for our craft,” said Sachs. “We just hope people can take away some of that when they come to the show.”
WHAT: "All’s Well That Ends Well"
WHEN: June 1-17
WHERE: Lupin Theater, Tulane University, 16 Newcomb Blvd.
INFO: For a full schedule of events, visit New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane online at neworleansshakespeare.org