By Scott MacClelland
Karen Sinsheimer came to UC Santa Cruz fresh from Los Angeles in 1982 as the new bride of then-chancellor Robert Sinsheimer. She remembers that Audrey Stanley “caught me in my first four and half minutes on campus.”
Professor Emerita Stanley, who officially retired in 1991 after 22 years on the UCSC faculty, was already on a mission. In 1976 she had been asked by the dean of Humanities and Arts, C.L. Barber, to “set up” a Shakespeare festival. For a variety of legitimate reasons the Theater Arts department was unable to make it happen. Then, in 1980, Barber died and a sociology faculty member, Dane Archer, sent a letter to the chancellor proposing a “town and gown” coalition in honor of Barber, with Stanley as point-person.
So anointed, Stanley worked the grandiose vision with a combination of guile, ingratiation, charm and persistence. “She made me feel like it was no big deal,” says Karen Sinsheimer, now curator of photography at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. “She downplayed her real ambition.”
In the fall of 1980, leveraging her theater connections with ACTER at UC Santa Barbara (based in part on her reputation as a director at the Ashland Festival and Berkeley Shakespeare) Stanley “staged” a poetry reading by Patrick Stewart (Sir Patrick to you) and (the late) Tony Church—both then with the Royal Shakespeare Company—at the Bargetto Winery tasting room in Soquel. Subsequently, Church told Stanley he would be interested in performing here. “I asked in what role,” she recalls. “Lear,” he declared.
In short order, Stanley directed Church in Shakespeare’s great “Greek” tragedy, on the Mainstage at UCSC. A first outdoor production, Taming of the Shrew, was staged in the Quarry Theater on campus. Meanwhile, Stanley organized several community meetings to arouse support for C.L. Barber’s vision of a sustaining Shakespeare festival. What is now called the Sinsheimer Stanley Festival Glen was a “discovered” space, says Stanley. “In 1982 I sent a designer and director to take a look,” she recalls. “Later they, and the assistant director, all claimed to have discovered it,” she adds with a laugh. Then Karen Sinsheimer arrived and, no retiring violet, energetically asserted herself on behalf of all the arts at the university. “Bob struggled with all the hard (administrative) stuff,” she says of her husband, “and I had all the fun.” As momentum grew, Stanley asked Sinsheimer to form a board of directors for the budding festival. “We were a great team,” Sinsheimer remembers. “She had the theatrical skills and contacts and I had the community ties. I could take this on and run with it.” Stanley recalls, “Bob” also donated $10,000 to engage a “general coordinator.”
Audrey Stanley’s Shakespeare Santa Cruz ran with great success and widespread acclaim from 1981 to 2013, until UCSC could no longer support its budget sufficiently for it to continue. Its demise shocked the theater community which quickly rallied in search of a way to revive it. Stanley however was not as shocked. “A budget would be put out and exceeded each year,” she says. “It carried a deficit.” Shakespeare Play On was formed, favors were called in, prominent actors—including Patrick Stewart and Olympia Dukakis—lent their names and local philanthropists joined an advisory board. The vision now was in the hands of long-time SSC actor Mike Ryan, former artistic director Marco Barricelli, and prominent local corporate attorney Bill Richter, an SSC board member from 2005 to 2013.
Early this year, Santa Cruz Shakespeare was announced, its new board of directors headed up by Richter. Its website carries this explanation: “SPO launched a campaign to resurrect the festival with the goal to give the community a chance to speak for themselves concerning the fate of the organization. Their voice was loud and clear: Santa Cruz wants a professional Shakespeare Festival. The fund raising campaign was a resounding success, resulting in the forward-funding of the 2014 season.” This summer, in the Festival Glen at UCSC, Santa Cruz Shakespeare will mount two productions, As You Like It and The Merry Wives of Windsor.
How did Shakespeare Play On and the new Santa Cruz Shakespeare get such strong support so fast? In addition to the above named, many in the community rallied to put new wind under this phoenix’s wings. But the real charge was led by the few. “Six of us, the new board and Mike Ryan, worked very hard,” says Stanley. “The separation from UCSC came out to be profitable for both the university and Shakespeare in Santa Cruz.”
Audrey Stanley photo by Jim Mackenzie