By Scott MacClelland
Santa Cruz Shakespeare, the phoenix raised from the ashes of Shakespeare Santa Cruz, the UC Santa Cruz company founded by professor emerita Audrey Stanley, was born into an uneasy relationship with the university.
SSC’s artistic director for its last six years, Marco Barricelli, and longer-time leading actor Mike Ryan, successfully rounded up a new advisory board and the funds needed for SCS to mount a 2014 season of three productions. (The bard’s As You Like It opens this week.) But although SCS negotiated a contract to stage performances this season at the popular outdoor Sinsheimer-Stanley Glen, the university rejected its call to rent back to SCS the very sets and costumes that the company staff created for SSC.
I asked Barricelli if he knew why. “No,” he said, adding “we were told they have no one to organize it.” It appears the university’s slashed budget for SSC also cut deeply into its own resources management. “Now we are, in essence, a brand new company, a start-up, and it has to take a few steps back,” he said.
Meanwhile, Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s artistic directorship is divided between Barricelli and Ryan. For the 2014 season, they will share the two halves of the job—artistic and administrative—between them. As both men have other acting opportunities, primarily in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, this arrangement gives them increased flexibility. “It’s a big job, divided between artistic and business, negotiating contracts and so on. Some people are better at one, some at the other. We could both spell each other when we needed. It’s a very happy partnership.” He cites a remark made to him by Martin Benson of South Coast Repertory of Costa Mesa who said he didn’t see how any company could be successful without a similar arrangement.
Barricelli studied theater arts at Cal State Fullerton, UC Riverside and the Juilliard School in New York. He succeeded Paul Whitworth as artistic director at Shakespeare Santa Cruz. A source of pride for both Ryan and Barricelli is the company’s adherence to an artist-centric philosophy and engaging top talent, including many equity artists. (In an aside, he heaped praise on Jackson Davis, a classmate in Southern California, who just completed a run of Evie’s Waltz at PacRep in Carmel.) However, managing SSC “was always a blood, sweat and tears struggle,” he says. “But the people I’ve worked with here are fantastic.”
After the current season, Barricelli will head south. “I’ve been an actor, director and artistic director. Now I’m negotiating in Southern California.” I asked if he takes as much pleasure today as an actor. “No,” he said. “I prefer to be producer or director, to be at the back of the house watching the audience watching the play.” When they lean forward in their seats he gets his rush. “There’s no higher high than that.” He says he still likes acting (see him as Cyrano, left) but is more choosey “at what I do.”
Barricelli’s obvious—if as yet undisclosed—options include an academic position and an independent theater company. “An academic position comes with big benefits,” he says. “It allows you summers to do research and other things. But it depends on where it is; and if the students are already well into it.” He would be drawn to a “healthy” theater company. “But I’m not eager to get into another company with a $2 million deficit.” Instead, he adds with a laugh, “I’ll build my own.”
For the inaugural season of SCS, Barricelli described the tricky business of deciding which Shakespeare stage-works to put on. “Many factors came into play. To repeat a Shakespeare play you have to wait nine years. The comedies sell tickets, but you can’t do Midsummer Night’s Dream without a lengthy break, even though the UCSC glen is the perfect setting. As You Like It is also set in a forest and doesn’t require much added scenery.” Director Mark Rucker was a “permanent associate director, every summer for a decade.”
Kirsten Brandt, on the UCSC faculty and a director with San Jose Rep, directs Merry Wives of Windsor, for which Barricelli is returning Richard Viman, a fellow student at Juilliard, who has played Falstaff in the other Shakespearean roles for SSC. Barricelli also cites the comedy’s “many strong roles for women.”
Steve Boyle, director for The Fringe Show: The Beard of Avon, served as an assistant director “for a couple of summers here,” says Barricelli. This LOL farce takes on the endless debate over who actually wrote Shakespeare’s plays. It was written by Amy Freed, who teaches at Stanford. “Will Shakspere” is the indispensible protagonist.