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Something is rotten in the state of L.A. Shakespeare

August 6, 2011 |  8:30 am

Ben donenberg

Twenty five years ago this week, Ben Donenberg launched a free, outdoor Shakespeare festival in Pershing Square.  The Times critic that weekend was suitably impressed, and wrote “this isn’t a one-time fling in the park.”  True enough. 

Donenberg’s company is still around today (under the name Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles) but its mission has changed, and this year despite its quarter-of-a-century birthday, it's not presenting a summer production.

In this Sunday’s Arts & Books section, I look at the past, present and future of outdoor Shakespeare in Southern California.  In researching the piece, I asked a number of actors and artistic directors what it would take to give L.A. a world-class summer Shakespeare operation. 

Dakin Matthews, who has acted in or helped run most of California’s major Shakespeare festivals, gave the sharpest, fullest answer: “The most important thing is the company of artists that you assemble and the second most important thing is the venue — if you can find a venue that is accessible, large, beautiful to be in and capable of the technical demands of a major Shakespeare play… you have to make the experience so attractive, that people want to watch it and actors want to be in it. Then find a group of passionate group of passionate actors, directors, musicians that are willing to do it, and then don’t put them at the bottom of the budget, really form a company -– that’s how Shakespeare’s own company worked, it really was a company.”

On the state of summer Shakespeare in SoCal

-- James C. Taylor

Photo: Ben Donenberg, founder and artistic director of the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles. Credit:  Anne Cusack /Los Angeles Times