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Idaho Shakespeare Festival expands its scope and deepens its roots

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By Dana Oland, Treasure Magazine-

Published 8/13/10

A hot breeze wafts through as trees rustle and flowers sway. Eagles soar overhead; the river hurries past. This is not your typical night at the theater.

You’re at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, where the fare on stage this season includes Shakespearean comedy and tragedy, a batty rock-musical and a spine-tingling thriller, and is served up in the fun, casual atmosphere of a family picnic.

From its inspired origins in Downtown Boise in the 1970s to today’s state-of-the-art amphitheater, it is as much a part of Boise’s summer culture as floating the Boise River and mountain biking the Boise Foothills.

“I’ve lived away from Boise for six years now,” says Kelly Bell, 29, who recently moved back to Boise after living in Boston.

“When I came back in the summers, I (would) run the river and go to the Shakespeare festival,” Bell says. “That’s my Boise agenda.”

Shakespeare might seem an unlikely Idaho denizen, but his spirit and work have been alive and well in Boise for 34 years.

The Idaho Shakespeare Festival has survived changing venues and artistic leadership, rocky creative spurts and occasional financial woes.Today, it flourishes under producing artistic director Charles Fee and managing director Mark Hofflund and is one of the state’s most high-profile arts organizations. Through innovative strategic alliances, it now puts its actors and artists on three stages nationally, while never forgetting its Idaho roots. ISF has expanded its reach, and it also has deepened its Boise roots.

“People in the other cities all think of it as a Boise company,” Fee says.

In publications such as The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, the festival receives national notice for the caliber of its productions and for its innovative eight-year partnership with Cleveland’s Great Lakes Theater Festival.

Now Fee has added the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival to the mix, where his “Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” is in production through Aug. 22. The show was built in Cleveland and rehearsed in Boise.

“Who could have foreseen this stuff?” Fee asks. A tall man with expressive gestures, he relaxes in his office swivel chair between meetings, while answering e-mails from Cleveland. This actor and director turned impresario now casts, plans and raises funds for a theatrical trio.


The Great Lakes Theater Festival board approached Fee in 2001 to take on the financially struggling now 40-year-old Cleveland company, which at the time had a budget nearly double that of ISF.

Immediately, Fee saw the opportunity. Read more