Colorado Shakes pumping up the pulp this summer

2016 Colorado Shakespeare Festival

Selected production photos from the 2016 Colorado Shakespeare Festival. To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above. Photos by Jennifer M. Koskinen and Gabriel Koskinen.

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival is bringing a little pulp fiction (not the movie) and a lot of Mad Max (the movie) to Boulder this summer. You know: Love, laughs, guts and gore – only often in the very same plays.

In an era when many Shakespeare festival purveyors around the country are playing it safe by relying on an ever-dwindling list of about 10 sure-fire Bard box-office titles, Colorado Shakes is bucking the trend by offering up one of its most adventurous slates in years.  

“We don’t want a Top-10 list of plays to explore,” fourth-year artistic director Timothy Orr said. “We want a Top-37 list.”

2015 was the biggest-selling season in the CSF’s now 59-year history, thanks to reliable attractions including Othello, Much Ado About Nothing and Henry V. This year is considerably more risky with the mythic Cymbeline and a feral, fever-pitched (and almost never produced) Troilus and Cressida. Even its safest title, The Comedy of Errors, is being presented with a major, gender-bending twist: The two romantic couples have been cast by actors of the opposite gender.

Orr says the gamble is working. Nearing the halfway point of the season, he said, “This season could very well pass last year” in ticket revenue.

“The season is pretty risky, not only in the titles we chose, but in where we chose to stage them,” added Orr, whose outdoor slate includes Troilus and Cressida in the 1,000-seat Mary Rippon Amphitheatre – stories that are more challenging to market because they don’t fit neatly into the traditional Shakespeare categories of tragedy, comedy or history.


Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen. 

“There’s a little bit of everything in these plays,” Orr said. “No one does them anymore, but they are still highly entertaining and enlightening plays. They just need to be stirred back up to the top of the list.”

Take for example, Troilus and Cressida, which scholars describe as a definite problem play but Orr calls instead “a dark, funny and sexy satire” — with a Mad Max feel to it.

“There’s violence and comedy and a steamy love story,” Orr said. “But what makes it so entertaining is when you take all three of those things to their extremes, then it becomes almost like pulp fiction.”

Colorado Shakes actors with local ties

He means pulp fiction with the lower case, not the upper-case Tarantino film of “Royale with cheese” fame. The term refers to the fantastic, escapist fiction magazines of the 1930s and ’40s known for larger-than-life heroes, pretty girls, exotic locales and mysterious villains. You know — like Shakespeare.

a-csf-quote-geoffrey-kent-3“We would be laughing so hard in rehearsal — and then all of a sudden, these epic battles come out of nowhere that are really quite shocking,” Orr said. “It’s just as funny as The Comedy of Errors, but then you get intense violence, a love scene and a song right in a row. It’s a blast.”

Geoffrey Kent, who is directing The Comedy of Errors and Henry VI, Part 2, as well as portraying Achilles in a Troilus and Cressida that fully embraces his same-sex affair with Patroclus (Spencer Althoff), says he adores Shakespeare chestnuts like A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But  Colorado Shakes “is out to prove Shakespeare wrote more than 10 great plays,” he said. And for an actor, getting to work on a Shakespeare title for the first time is like working on a brand new play.

“It’s wonderfully challenging to work on a Shakespeare play you have never seen or performed,” said Kent, also the DCPA’s longtime Fight Director. “Troilus and Cressida was a new road for almost the entire cast, and it made for a pretty thrilling rehearsal process.”

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

At age 59, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival is targeting 2017 for a major milestone. When it stages Henry VI, Part 3 on the University of Colorado campus, the CSF will become the second American Shakespeare festival to have presented the Bard’s entire canon twice. (This year, the 81-year-old Oregon Shakespeare Festival is completing its fourth trip around the Shakespeare sun.)

“As part of a big research university, I feel it’s our mission to explore the whole canon,” Orr said. “And it’s a perfect way to celebrate our 60th season.”

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Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s ‘Troilus and Cressida.’ Photo by Gabriel Koskinen.

Timothy Orr on the 2016 plays:

The Comedy of Errors (outdoors)
Directed by Geoffrey Kent
The story*: Shakespeare’s purest comedy — with a twist. Set in jazzy, sexy 1930s Paris, this new production bends the classic adventure of mistaken identities in a different direction that puts the women in charge … and the men in their places.
Orr: “Since this play comes around at most Shakespeare festivals every five or six years, your core audience has seen it at least three or four times. But reversing genders makes it a whole new play. A lot of the jokes are funnier because the language is heightened in your ear when you hear it come out of the opposite gender’s mouth. And putting it in Paris makes it even more fun. It’s not some sort of bizarre, unknowable setting that you have to adjust to. You can walk right in the front door.”

Equivocation (indoors)
Written by Bill Cain
Directed by Wendy Franz

a-csf-equivocation-600The story: This year’s non-Shakespeare title is “Shakespeare enough.” Reluctant playwright and sleuth “Shag” — aka William Shakespeare — finds himself at the perilous crossroads between artistic integrity and survival when King James I commissions him to rewrite the history of England’s infamous Gunpowder Plot. Under the Orwellian gaze of a security state not far removed from today’s headlines, he must find a way to tell the truth without selling his soul. The cast features longtime DCPA Theatre Company favorite John Hutton
Orr: “We thought this is a play that really celebrates Shakespeare, the man. It takes such a warm and passionate look at what it means to be part of a theatre company.”

Troilus and Cressida (outdoors)
Directed by Carolyn Howarth
a-csf-troilus-600The story: God-like heroes, embattled kings, doomed love and a sinister, snarky clown mark Shakespeare’s dystopian epic of the Trojan War. Like grown-up versions of Romeo and Juliet all too familiar with life’s stark realities, the eponymous lovers face painful choices in this mythic mélange of drama, comedy and history, set in a world on the verge of apocalypse.
Orr: It’s set in a kind of ‘futuristic ancient’ Greece, as if these guys have been at war not for seven years — but for maybe 700,000 years. They just keep fighting and (having sex).”

Cymbeline (indoors)
Directed by Jim Helsinger
The story: Cymbeline is a vassal king of the mighty Roman Empire, but Britain herself remains a wild and untamed land in this mythic, idyllic romance. When the king banishes Posthumus — his beautiful daughter’s illicit, low-born husband — Imogen flees into a Welsh forest that still rings with Britain’s legendary past. By turns comic, heroic and harrowing, this tale of gods and villains, lovers and warriors, brings the entire CSF company together onstage.
Orr: “Like Troilus and Cressida, this is a kind of pulp-fiction experience where something bloody and violent is followed immediately with humor and jokes and a passionate love story. It is also wrapped in this incredible fairy tale.”

Henry VI, Part 2 (outdoors)
Directed by Geoffrey Kent
The story: CSF’s annual “Original Practices” presentation will be staged for one night only (July 31) and, for the first time, on the outdoor stage. Shakespeare’s exploration of England’s War of the Roses, which also inspired the hit cable series Game of Thrones, drives toward the conclusion of one of his greatest cycles. “Original Practices” productions replicate the practices of presenting theatre in Shakespeare’s time. Actors are not handed entire scripts. They work from “cue” scripts that are based on the First Folio printing of Shakespeare’s plays from 1623. That means they only know their own lines, as well as the cue lines that immediately precede theirs. There is minimal rehearsal time (15 hours in this case), as well as limited costumes, lighting and props. (Note: This performance is already sold out.)

*Play descriptions provided by Colorado Shakespeare Festival

Ticket information
The Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s 2016 season runs through Aug. 7 in Boulder on the campus of the University of Colorado. Tickets are available by calling 303-492-8008 or going to