Merriment at Shakespeare Festival
Starting next week, Ophelia’s Jump will present an event perfect for cool summer evenings: an outdoor Shakespeare festival. It’s a natural fit for a college town known for delighting in culture.
The nonprofit theater company will give alternating performances of the comedy “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and the tragedy “Macbeth” from July 17 through July 27. Shows will be performed in the round in Pomona College’s scenic Sontag Greek Theatre.
Guests are invited to bring a picnic to the shows, which beginning at 7:30 p.m. will be preceded by lighthearted entertainment such as Shakespearian improv and stage combat workshops. There will also be arts and crafts vendors on hand, selling Elizabethan-flavored wares as well as a photo booth and even a Shakespearean insult booth.
“We’re starting small this year,” said Ophelia’s Jump (OJ) co-founder and artistic director Beatrice Casagran. “But we hope it will grow and become an annual event, supporting by Claremont and by other surrounding communities.
Ms. Casagran, a 15-year Claremont resident who has a master’s degree in theater from Pitzer College, runs the theater department at Diamond Bar High School. She has directed and acted for years and fulfilled a longtime dream when she co-founded Ophelia’s Jump, now in its second season.
Ophelia’s Jump’s inception was a family affair. Ms. Casagrans co-founders include her husband, Randy Lopez—who takes care of all the marketing for the company—and her 27-year-old daughter Caitlin Lopez. Ms. Lopez, an alumna of Krista Elhai’s outstanding Claremont High School theater program, is a particularly talented comedic actress.
Making the theater company a reality, however, has extended far beyond the boundaries of the thespian-loving clan. Ophelia’s Jump has benefited from partnerships with the dA Center for the Arts in Pomona and with Pomona College.
The still-fledgling OJ is on a tight budget. Nevertheless, the company manages to provide some payment for its seven repertory members and some 18 additional performers commuting from as far as Los Angeles.
“Our performers have a lot of talent and a lot of energy,” Ms. Casagran said. “It’s important to acknowledge an actor’s education and professionalism. We eventually want to be an equity house, working under theater equity rules.”
It may like a far-reaching goal but, then again, ambition is what has fueled Ophelia’s Jump from the start.
“This is a community is educated and irreverent. It’s a group that support’s quality art,” Ms. Casagran said. “And there are a lot of wonderful artists and great community theater here,” Ms. Casagran said. “We wanted to bring in works people never get to see here. We felt the audience wanted more challenging work, more straight plays.”
As such, Ophelia’s Jump launched its first season with the Tony Award-winning, Pulitzer Prize-winning “August Osage County.”
“We’re doing plays you used to have to drive to Los Angeles or Orange County to see. And we find people respond to it,” Ms. Casagran said.
Unlike August Osage County, Shakespeare is anything but new. It is likely that many who attend the Shakespeare festival will have already seen “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and Macbeth. You’ve never seen the plays quite the way Ophelia’s Jump is presenting them, however.
Cyle Conley, an actor and fight choreographer from North Hollywood, is enjoying his time with Ophelia’s Jump. He is playing a role in each production and says it’s always a pleasure to sink his dramatic teeth into the Bard.
“I love the variety of human experiences explored through his work,” Mr. Conley said.
Whether a play is gunning for laughs or tears, audiences benefit immensely from theater, according to Ms. Casagran.
“I think we all want to feel something. It’s the whole reason we love theater,” she said. “It’s an adventure, and if it’s done well, the audiences take that trip with you.”
On Tuesday night, with the opening of the festival looming, OJ performers gathered at the Sontag Theater to practice both plays. As the cast wrapped up “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and prepared to tackle Macbeth, the temperature—which had earlier been in the 90s—cooled considerably. The theater, which was empty except for the cast and a couple of members of the press, is surrounded by mature live oaks, making for a bucolic setting.
“So far, the feedback has been that it’s great to see the Sontag Theater used, especially for Shakespeare,” Ms. Casagran said.
The only drawback to the venue is that it is tucked way back in Pomona College and the campus is currently bisected by a number of green fences due to construction. It is suggested that ticket-holders consult the theater company’s website (OpheliasJump.org) for directions and leave plenty of time to find their way to the show. Since the plays run more than two hours, Ms. Casagran also encourages guests to bring a cushion.
Ms. Casagran, who will take to the stage as Lady Macbeth, feels optimistic about the birth of a local Shakespeare festival.
“If it’s going to succeed anywhere, it will succeed here,” she said. “The community has a strong academic base, it’s educated and it loves to support the arts. People are going to areas far-flung to support Shakespeare. I think people will be excited to have it here.”
Performances of The Merry Wives of Winsor” will be held July 17, 19, 25 and 27, with the play starting at 8 p.m. “Macbeth will be performed July 18, 20, 24 and 26, also with an 8 p.m. curtain time. Admission is $25, $22 for seniors and students with ID.
For tickets and information, visit OpheliasJump.Org or call (909) 624-1464.