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The California Shakespeare Festival's new artistic director is actor, director, producer, and carpenter Joe Vincent. It's more than a little fitting for a Renaissance man like Vincent to run a Shakespeare festival. He took time from his new duties to talk about the Bard, the company, and a little about himself. "The first play I ever did," he recalls, "when I was 14, was Twelfth Night." That suggests a neat circularity, because Vincent will be directing Shakespeare for the first time this season, and the play will be Twelfth Night. "I suppose to do it right, Twelfth Night should be the last play I ever do," he laughs, "but I'm not ready to think about that yet."

Haven't we seen enough Shakespeare? Vincent's answer is an emphatic "No!" He insists that "It's in the bylaws for being human that we must do Shakespeare. I'm always excited and regenerated by working on Shakespeare. I have an intense desire to revisit these scripts, to find new truths, new ways of looking at things. And I don't know of any actor, myself included, who ever feels that we've done it as well as it could be done."

With an actor's take on the plays, Vincent says that "Shakespeare allows experienced actors to become larger than life, to reach the greatest depths and heights. Actors could spend a lifetime doing Shakespeare and find something new every time." The newness Vincent describes does not necessarily mean a new-concept production. The actor's job, he maintains, "is to deliver the material, not to make a concept work."

Vincent worked on a production of Twelfth Night in Arizona in which "we were presented with the notion of giving the audience a gift of the ideas in the play. We knocked Tucson on its butt." Vincent wants to explore "the plays that have nothing to do with tradition. I wouldn't want the company to be too purist. I want to push the envelope." Vincent wants to bring the audience along as the company explores the plays.

Cal Shakes is more than its annual festival of four Shakespeare plays beginning June 13 at the outdoor amphitheater in Orinda. The company includes an apprenticeship for young actors. An important part of the program is mentoring by more experienced actors who provide information about the life of a working actor to the students. Add to that formal classes, scene work, and lots of rehearsal, and the result is rewarding for the students as well as the teachers. The students will have the opportunity to work on a wide range of Shakespearean drama in a season that, in addition to Twelfth Night, includes The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry V, and Measure for Measure. The actors and the audiences keep coming back, willing to brave the wilds of Orinda, proving that "the play's the thing" after all. Call (510) 548-9666.

By Deborah Peifer

 
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