Friday, February 20, 2009

Duha takes helm at Michigan Shakespeare Festival posted by Tom Hunter

Robert Duha, the Michigan Shakespeare Festival ’s new managing director, was Oberon’s special guest at our January 22 meeting.  It didn’t take long for Rob to make it clear that he wants Michigan’s festival to take its rightful place among the national festivals centering on Shakespeare’s work.  “I want to start a war with Stratford,” he declared.  Oberon can only hope that we can be there to pass along some friendly ammunition.

Rob became the MSF’s leader only last summer, but he has already formulated specific plans for the Festival.  Near term, he plans to catch up with opportunities which need following up, such as building contact and support groups around the state.

His long range plans involve bringing Shakespeare back outdoors again. The Festival originally appeared in an outdoors venue, then moved into the theater at Jackson Community College.  Rob would like to see the Festival performed once again outdoors but this time in a “weather friendly” theater in which the play goes on even in inclement weather. 

Rob also wants to tour the currently Jackson based Festival throughout the state, thereby extending its season and making it a truly statewide event, including areas such as Grand Rapids, Traverse City, and Detroit.  Finally, he wishes to establish a strong educational outreach component to its activities.

Also on the table are online ticketing, a newsletter, a new web site and an advertising campaign to get people to the web site.     

To do all this, the Festival needs volunteers to do research and in other ways to support its ambitious agenda.  For example, the Festival holds a monologue contest for high school students around the state and needs help in the Detroit area.

This summer, the Festival will be performing As You Like It and The Tempest by Shakespeare as well as the popular musical Side by Side by Sondheim.  MSF productions have invariably been of high quality and most enjoyable.  Festival artistic director John Neville-Andrews, for example, last year mounted the seldom produced All’s Well That Ends Well so successfully that we left wondering why the play so seldom sees the stage.

Indeed, one of Rob Duha’s biggest challenges might be filling the seats in Jackson Community College’s theater which is not only a most comfortable venue but is also very appropriate for Shakespeare productions.  To me, every seat that is not filled is an opportunity someone—a student, a senior, or anyone who likes a good play--has missed for an evening of certainly good if not great theater.

It is also a concern of Rob Duha’s and another one of his priorities.  He shared with Oberon last month that he is reading Michael M. Kaiser’s The Art of the Turnaround: Creating and Maintaining Healthy Arts Organizations.  It is our hope that Rob finds some answers in the book which will build MSF to health and strength.

It is my expectation that answers must also be found among willing Michiganders who find in Shakespeare, as so many other states of done, the bulwark on which to build their own cultural programs.  What if, for example, the Michigan Shakespeare Festival could become a center for inquiry into the authorship issue?  Not academics, but actors and directors like Mark Rylance, Orson Welles, Derek Jacobi, Jeremy Irons, Laurence Harvey and others have led this inquiry because the sublimity of the man’s work does not match the mundane details of the sordid life of William Shakspere of Stratford, to whom the work has so long been attributed. 

Oberon is excited at the prospect of presenting the author Shakespeare for who he was and to partner with the Michigan Shakespeare Festival to connect the plays to the man.

Now that would be a way to start a war with Stratford.
R. Thomas Hunter, PhD
Oberon Chair

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