By Lynn Hausman, Junior Copywriter, Palio
Saratoga Shakespeare Company (SSC) is driven by passions – a passion for The Bard, and an even greater passion for sharing the charm of his masterpieces with others. For more than a decade, a core group of extraordinary individuals has made an incredible impact on the cultural scene of Saratoga. Saratoga has always offered an attractive array of summer activities, but nothing quite like this. Each SSC performance is inherently impressive, but when we turn our attention to the effort, time, and dedication SSC puts forth to produce them, impressive doesn’t even begin to describe it.
SSC believes Shakespeare is for everyone. And for the past 12 years this group has worked to fulfill this belief by bringing Shakespeare to life, and has, in the process, established an irreplaceable tradition. Saratoga summers wouldn’t be the same without Shakespeare in Congress Park.
The Company was created to serve the need for free, professional outdoor Shakespeare. Shining light on this need was just step one; fulfilling it soon became an ongoing journey. Each year, SSC takes on the challenges of fundraising with fearless commitment and an unbreakable focus on its original vision – a professional production that brings together people of all ages and levels of exposure to theater, with no limitations to the economically disadvantaged or physically challenged. It’s a vision of producing the best plays ever written for audiences who love to see them. And, for the audience, at no cost.
“At no cost”… the detail that presents the company with its greatest challenge. Artistic Director Bill Finlay recognizes the challenge, “Like most non-profit organizations, our biggest challenge is funding. We maintain our commitment to not charging audience members for our shows, and mounting a professional production is becoming more and more expensive.” Fundraising has not gotten easier over the years. The recession has been a difficult time for the arts, and SSC recognizes it has been a hard time for its audiences as well. Yet, SSC never hesitates to pursue the necessary initiatives to preserve the tradition.
SSC is a professional equity company. They provide the only free, professional, live productions of Shakespeare in the Capital Region. Since the Company receives no ticket revenue to offset expenses, SSC works to inspire and motivate others to help them move their vision forward, depending on businesses and individual sponsors in the community. SSC Board President Jay Rogoff says, “Except for 2009, when we took a year’s sabbatical because of the recession, we have succeeded in mounting a production every year since 2000. And with the community’s help, we hope to continue to do so.”
Among the help are Saratoga Arts, the city of Saratoga, The Saratogian, Alfred Z. Solomon Charitable Trust, community members, and more. As more organizations, companies, and individuals lend their aid, more eyes are opened to the importance of this cultural tradition. Literature and communication has come a long way, but its roots remain strong. SSC breathes life into these roots, and reminds us how the power of a true classic can, as expressed by Rogoff, “unite an audience in pleasure and wonder.”
Saratoga Shakespeare is also resolute in introducing the younger generations to Shakespeare. The organization is thrilled to watch its youth audience continue to grow; a significant percentage of its audience consists of children (25% the past two years), and members look forward to watching that percentage increase. Also, SSC has an intensive intern program. About 15 interns get the opportunity to learn all the onstage and backstage aspects of producing theater, working alongside professional actors and designers. Some interns have even gone on to professional theater careers. Exposing young talent to Shakespearian acting techniques enhances the SSC mission.
Nostalgia will fill the air this summer as Twelfth Night takes the Alfred Z. Solomon stage. Twelfth Night was the Company’s debut production in 2000. Rogoff says, “We thought revisiting Twelfth Night would be an exciting way to celebrate our twelfth anniversary…12 performances of Twelfth Night for our twelfth production in 2012.”
For the 2000 production, Director Finlay took a very traditional and a bit conservative approach, not knowing how the community would receive a professional production of Shakespeare. Today, Finlay’s knowledge that a bit of creative license will be not only accepted, but also enjoyed and appreciated, has led him to a new approach. With a multi-cultural cast including actors coming in from Chicago, New York City, and Miami, he decided to stray from the traditional setting of the ancient kingdom of Illyria, setting it instead in the South Beach section of Miami. This year’s performance of Twelfth Night will have distinctly Latino overtones in both look and sound. “It hopefully will be very different in all aspects except the text itself,” says Finlay.
Twelfth Night is a classic Shakespeare comedy revolving around an amusing love triangle, involving a woman disguised as a man. This scenario leads to a plot filled with comical misunderstandings and mistaken identities, which Rogoff describes as “delightful confusion.” However, along with its humor, Shakespeare didn’t fail to lace some serious observations about love and gender throughout the story. “In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare takes the idea of love at first sight and runs with it. What happens when you suddenly fall in love with someone you don’t know…?” explains Rogoff. A perfect balance of light humor and enlightening views on life and love is achieved in this classic.
At Palio, we continue to be amazed by the dedication and passion and resiliency of this core group of individuals who in 2000 came together to build something good for all. And, we’ve been lucky to be a part of their inspiring ride from the beginning.
Twelfth Night begins tomorrow and runs from Tuesday through Saturday, July 17-21 and 24-28 at 6pm, and Sunday’s July 22 and29 at 3pm. For exceptional, timeless, and professional entertainment on a warm July night, it doesn’t get any better than free Shakespeare in the Park.
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