The Bard opens Friday

Glendale News Press

The La Cañada Flintridge Shakespeare Festival will kick off its inaugural season Friday with a production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Byrnes Amphitheatre at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy.

The four-week series is the brain-child of actor and theater manager Sam Ross, who, with the help of his wife, Sacred Heart English teacher Elizabeth Ross, and co-artistic director Matthew Burgos, spent years courting the high school and raising money to bring it to fruition.

"We are trying to do high-level, quality theater that you can bring your family to, and that everyone can enjoy," Sam Ross said.

Despite the familial setting, the La Cañada Shakespeare Festival is by no means an amateur operation.

It is being produced under the umbrella of Ross' Vanguard Repertory Company, a 15-member troupe that includes several Ovation-nominated actors.

And it is contracted with the Actor's Equity Assn., making it one of a handful of Southern California theaters to run within the purview of the powerful labor union.

Further, the 90-minute adaptation of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" includes original music, and professional costuming and stage design.

"What's more fun on a summer's night to come out and have a glass of wine and see really interesting, physical theater?" Elizabeth Ross said.

One of the key missions of the Vanguard Repertory Company is to develop young talent, and the playbill for "A Midsummer Night's Dream" includes six students from FSHA, Loyola High School and Riverside Community College.

"One of the joys of this particular job is watching them develop and blossom," professional company member David Paterson said.

Recent Sacred Heart graduate Chelsea Taylor, 17, credits her work with Vanguard for inspiring her to pursue a career in acting. She was accepted to several elite theater programs, and will enroll at UCLA in the fall.

"Being in a professional setting really forces you to step up your game and match their level," Taylor said.

"I learned that your audition starts from the second you walk in It is all about your presence in that room."

The local Shakespeare Festival is an ambitious undertaking at a time when many small theaters are reeling from shrinking endowments and declining ticket sales, effects of the economic recession.

In February, the historic Pasadena Playhouse closed its doors, burdened by $2 million in debt.

But Ross hopes this production is just the beginning.

He aspires to grow into a full regional theater with performances six nights a week throughout the summer. And he wants to create fun, accessible theater.

"I just want people to come and enjoy it," Ross said.

"We will either survive on our artistic merit or we won't.

"I think we will."

Infobox WHAT: The La Cañada Shakespeare Festival WHEN: June 18 to July 11WHERE: Byrnes Amphitheatre, Flintridge Sacred Heart AcademyCOST: $10 to $36.

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