Known for bringing people around the Central Valley together with the great works of William Shakespeare, Merced Shakes is entering the 2019, and their 18th year, on a high note. During their last year, the group was able to bring a summer show to Mariposa, and received an invitation to bring their performance to Coulterville. In addition to expanding their show’s locations into the surrounding foothills, the group also broke new ground with their first Gala event in August. Held at Vista Ranch and Cellars on Highway 140, the event gave the organization a wonderful way to connect with the audiences that have learned The Bard’s works from their plays.
In an interview with Merced Shakes Heike Hambley, she noted that the cast and crew are hoping to carry that energy into 2019 and create more opportunities to bring Shakespeare to the masses. “This season is full of coproductions and collaborations” said Hambley. “Titus with Merced College, Othello with Playhouse Merced, and Comedy of Errors with the City and then some foothill communities. I hope for some artistic cross pollination!”
Currently, the group is working on the first title in that list, Titus Andronicus. staged in Fascist Italy of the 1930’s, Titus Andronicus tells a story of power, dominance, and political intrigue, and is filled with some of the most alluring and remarkable characters in any of The Bard’s plays. The performance will take place at the Merced College Theater, and shows will kick off on the 18th of January and continue through the 20th, with a second set of shows taking place the following week on the 24th of January until the 27th.
When asked for what Merced Shakes hopes to achieve throughout the 2019 year, Hambley recalled that she had a conversation where the two reflected on the importance of reaching out to the lesser known works. “We did all the popular plays, twice, so we try to find ways to make other Shakespeare plays accessible for audiences here” said Hambley. She went on to say that the group is also in the process of organizing acting workshops to further reach out to those in the community.
Looking back, Hambley noted that both she and the group have grown a lot, and plan to carry it all forward into their next year. “We have been doing this for 18 years now; we have learned a lot and put on classy, well-done shows” she explained. “In talking with adults, they’ve told me that they got inspired to learn about Shakespeare through seeing some of our plays in the park as children and this is awesome! We are also putting more and more of the plays in contemporary context, away from the 16th century. For example, Titus Andronicus being staged in Fascist Italy of the 1930’s.”
For more information about Merced Shakes and their upcoming performances, the group’s most up to date news can be found on their official Facebook page.