'Shakespeare' stays by the sea

“The little foolery that wise men have makes a great show.”

“As You Like It”

Despite the slings and arrows of an outrageous economy, Shakespeare by the Sea is returning for its 10th season of performances in Newport Beach this weekend, presenting two different comedies two nights in a row.

“Love’s Labour’s Lost,” to be performed Saturday, is thought of as one of Shakespeare’s more highbrow comedies. It tells the tale of the King of Navarre and his male friends, who precipitately decide to forego the company of women for three years — just prior to the arrival of the Princess of France and her ladies.

In “As You Like It,” slated for Sunday evening, a nobleman and his family are banished to the Forest of Arden in France, quickly followed by other family members, a clown named Touchstone and others seeking refuge.

There are several romantic relationships established in this topsy-turvy land, where “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

Seating at the Bonita Canyon Sports Park shows is on a first-come, first-served basis. Blankets or low chairs are recommended, as is a picnic dinner.

Each show is about two hours, including a short intermission in the middle of the play.

“I chose two comedies this season because of the economic downturn,” the company’s artistic director, Lisa Coffi, said. “Who’s not tired of the doom and gloom in the news, on the radio, et cetera? I figured we could all use a good laugh, so [I] chose two shows that were sure to be crowd-pleasers.”

Earlier this year, the city of Rancho Palos Verdes had to pull all of its arts funding, including funds earmarked for its annual Shakespeare by the Sea performance.

The show was saved by Malaga Bank, which gave enough funds to keep the play.

However, the recession also has seen the city of Irvine having to cancel its planned Shakespeare by the Sea performances, meaning increased crowds are expected at Shakespeare by the Sea’s other Orange County engagements.

“The recession has had a huge impact on our organization. It’s quite depressing,” Coffi said.

Corporate giving is down one-third from last year, Coffi said, and individual gifts also are on the decline.

She cut more than $100,000 from this year’s budget immediately after returning from a conference in January where theaters on a fiscal-year cycle told of their woes.

“Even with that cut, I’ve had to cut more,” Coffi said. “I’ve had to cut staff, cut set and costume budgets, cut marketing, cut any and all bells and whistles, and focus on recycling (as we always do), and on how to not spend. If something breaks beyond repair, we try to do without.”

She and her organization’s development director, Suzanne Dean, have taken on the workload of those they’ve had to cut, and are barely able to keep their two-person summer staff, Coffi said.

The actors at the summer shows are paid $20 a show, with money raised by Coffi and Dean.

“If we don’t raise it, it comes out of our own meager paychecks, which means we end up volunteering the last six months out of the year,” Coffi said. “Which gets old quickly.”

Shakespeare by the Sea was established in 1998, with nine free performances in San Pedro that more than 3,000 people attended.

Since then, the nonprofit has branched out to work with about 15 cities each summer, continuing to offer free shows to audiences from northern Los Angeles County to Laguna Niguel.

Crowds have swelled in recent years, due to families seeking free or low-priced entertainment options in times of economic decline.

The nonprofit held a benefit event earlier this year to raise funds. For the benefit, Shakespearean acting and directing legend Kenneth Branagh sent the nonprofit one of two film rolls in existence of his rarely seen “As You Like It,” which originally aired on HBO.

Actor David Oyelowo, who played Orlando in Branagh’s film, introduced it at a special screening.

The organization has no investors or rainy-day fund, Coffi said.

It uses funds raised through sponsorships, grants, personal donations and stipends from the cities it tours in to operate.

Currently, the company is $50,000 short, with the season set to end Aug. 8.

“Any amount — no matter how large or small — will help,” Coffi said.

Baskets are passed around at each show’s intermission.

If You Go

WHAT: Shakespeare by the Sea

WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday (“Love’s Labour’s Lost”); 7 p.m. Sunday (“As You Like It”)

WHERE: Bonita Canyon Sports Park, Bonita Canyon Road at Mesa View Drive, Newport Beach

COST: Free

INFORMATION: (949) 644-3211, ext. 2155 or shakespearebythesea.org

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