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UCI's drama department to present 'Shakespeare Under the Stars'

Productions of 'The Comedy of Errors' and 'The Merchant of Venice' will be staged in August at Gateway Commons.

July 06, 2012|By Heather Youmans
  • The New Swan Theatre, a mini-Elizabethan theater that can be dismantled and moved.
The New Swan Theatre, a mini-Elizabethan theater that… (Luke Cantarella )

UC Irvine's drama department will soon realize a 40-year-old dream, when its inaugural season of "Shakespeare Under the Stars" opens next month at an open-air theater, which production staff and technical theater students built by hand.

The festival will feature contemporary adaptations of Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors" and "The Merchant of Venice" presented in the New Swan Theatre, a mini-Elizabethan theater in the round that can be dismantled and moved.

Drama professor and department chair Eli Simon, is leading the effort on behalf of UCI's Claire Trevor School of the Arts.

"Most top drama programs in the country have a summer Shakespeare festival or a professional theater that is part and parcel of their operation," Simon said in an interview. "The drama department at UC Irvine is one of the top 10 drama programs in the country. We just haven't had that."

"The idea of the festival is that it would serve as a training program by providing opportunities for professional alumni and students that are coming in to become professional."

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This year, the department received funding for the first festival from The Focused Research Program in Medieval Studies and UCI.

"It looked to me, as chair of the department, that it was going to be now or never," Simon said. "We certainly had to jump a lot of hurdles and dive through a lot of hoops, but it looked like this was the year."

Finding the ideal venue for the festival was one of the most arduous tasks.

"We could have started a Shakespeare festival in any one of our indoor theaters," Simon said. "We didn't want to do that. We really wanted to create a special space for Shakespeare under the stars."

So, last fall, the UCI production staff set out to build the New Swan Theatre, the centerpiece of the festival, by hand. The project's material costs amounted to about $35,000 and the building supplies were mostly recycled materials.

Claire Trevor School of the Arts' production budget, private donations, and donations fromMicrosemi Corp.funded the eco-friendly construction.

After 10 weeks of welding the structure together, the team was left with 14 puzzle-like sections, each weighing a ton. According to Simon, it will only take a couple days to move the theater to Gateway Commons and bolt it together.

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