As the bard claims, all the world’s a stage. But on June 15 from noon to 6 p.m., Peace Plaza will be our theatrical focal point, and Rochesterites will have the chance to be the players that strut for an hour, or several, on our very own stage.
You won’t be required to wear tights and a codpiece to attend the city’s first Shakespeare fest, but if dressing up is your thing, the opening ceremony at noon will include a costume contest. Vendors and volunteers will be attired in 16th-century style. If Renaissance fashion isn’t enough to entice, juggling, minstrel music, face-painting, henna, puppet-making, flower crown-creating, and pop-up Shakespeare performances will all be part of the family-friendly festival.
Artists including a wood turner (Wood & Knots), wool spinner (Amarama Art), and stained-glass maker (Rochester Stained Glass) will also be on hand. The Collective, a Rochester-based nonprofit dedicated to the advancement of underrepresented performance artists, will present a musical parade opening the fest at noon, along with pop-up minstrel performances throughout the event. The Minneapolis-based Celestial Circus will be part of the street theater and juggling entertainment during the day.
If Renaissance fare gets your tummy rumbling, never fear because the Bleu Duck will provide turkey legs while Café Steam, Grand Rounds, and Rosemary Bakery will all offer eats and treats as well.
The Immersion Youth Repertory received a start-up grant from the Rochester Downtown Alliance to help host the festival, and students from the troupe’s summer intensive Shakespeare camp will be performing abbreviated versions of both Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Spectators, who can sit in bleachers or bring their own folding chairs, will also be offered 15 to 30-minute performances from other plays such as King Lear and Cymbeline.
One of the driving forces behind the festival is Misha Johnson, the executive director of the Immersion Youth Repertory. She gained a love for the bard’s flowery language as she performed roles such as Viola in Twelfth Night when she earned her BFA at the University of Colorado in Boulder. For eight years, Johnson taught and directed students for Denver’s Shakespeare Fest. Now in its 35th year, that festival is the longest-running student Shakespeare fest in the country. Johnson hopes that the inaugural Rochester Shakespeare Festival might bring the concept to our city, and part of the festival’s goal is to help initiate an annual experience that engages students from elementary to high school as well as their families.
Johnson envisions the festival as a collision between Shakespeare and the Renaissance Festival. “It is important for our community to collaborate and gather together in support of the arts, culture and creative expression,” she says. “A city burgeoning with different types of festivals like the Rochester Shakespeare Festival, will only help Rochester’s identity in hopes to become known as a destination for arts and culture in Minnesota.”
Shakespeare’s themes are timeless, says Johnson, and his plots, filled with love, betrayal, jealousy, and good jokes are as relevant today as they were in Elizabethan England. Johnson’s favorite Shakespearean line is from Twelfth Night: “If music be the food of love, play on.” She’s hoping that Rochester will embrace food, music and play with this brand-new festival.
Shalt thou go? As Will might have penned in pentameter: Thou should’st not miss this downtown Shakespeare bliss –
the bard is here for us to reminisce.