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All Downtown's a Stage for Shakespeare Festival/LA

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Thursday, July 02, 2009, at 09:14AM
Shakespeare Festival/LA Performs at the Cathedral Craig Schwartz, Courtesy of SF/LA

Shakespeare Festival/LA's 2007 production of a "Midsummer Night's Dream" was set on 1930's Central Ave.

For its 24th summer lineup, Shakespeare Festival/LA will take an intermission from staging the Bard's works using Los Angeles environs as subtext by offering the U.S. debut of Aquila Theatre's "As You Like It." The play, which will run from July 11 through July 19, is set in revolutionary France.

The staging will mark the festival's fifth year on the Cathedral Plaza, making it just one of the numerous Downtown spots SF/LA has turned into a stage.

SF/LA had been at work on an in-house production of "Romeo and Juliet," but that play was pushed back to 2010. This spring the festival received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts that it plans to use to bring artists into schools and involve students in the production.

In the meantime, "As You Like It" will break from the tradition that saw "Midsummer Night's Dream" set in either jazz-era Central Avenue (2007) or post L.A. Riots (1992), or last year's “Taming of the Shrew” that opened with Angelenos maneuvering the plaza on bicycles. Earlier SF/LA staged productions included "As You Like It" at Union Station, "Julius Caesar" on the City Hall steps, and "The Tempest" in and around the California Plaza's Watercourt pools.

"As You Like It" will be held on the plaza at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, where SF/LA has been in residence since 2005 after having to vacate Pershing Square.

When Department of Recreation and Parks budget cuts forced SF/LA to find a new staging site post-haste, an invitation from the Los Angeles Archdiocese, additional funding sources from CRA secured by Councilwoman Jan Perry and partnerships with LADWP allowed SF/LA to continue their summer season series Downtown.

That years logistics problem were solved by SF/LA bringing in Aquila Theatre Company's "The Comedy of Errors," an apt title for the summer.

Still, it was Pershing Square that gave SF/LA another tradition that's worthy of a sonnet. In 1986, the park was the site for the first SF/LA production, the "Twelfth Night." During production, homeless and other park locals became involved, including later volunteering to pass out programs during the run.

They gathered enough cans and bottles to fill several trash bags, and offered them to SF/LA founder Ben Donenberg as a contribution––along with instructions how the donation can be cashed in at local recycling centers.

"A group of homeless men who attended our show in Pershing Square offered us two garbage bags filled with aluminum cans that they had collected and suggested we recycle at a nickel a piece," says Donenberg.

Rather than take the grassroots grant, Donenberg created the Food for Thought admission policy to allow audience members to use canned food as admission––rather than buying a ticket. That program has since generated more than $1.5 million in food donations to the Cathedral Outreach Center and the Food Bank of Southern California.

"I think it is still a meaningful program, our Food for Thought," adds Donenberg. "I've noticed that from time to time other arts organizations have replicated it."

SF/LA presents Aquila Theatre's "As You Like It" / July 11 - 19 (except July 13) / All performances begin at 8pm / 300 General Admission tickets are offered free of charge for every Cathedral show / Reserved seats are also available for $30 / Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (555 W. Temple) / Parking is $5 in the underground lot.

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