Misha Johnson has a midsummer night’s dream: a Shakespeare Festival in her hometown of Rochester.
“Practically every major city has a Shakespeare festival,” Johnson said.
And now, Rochester will have one, too. The first Rochester Shakespeare Festival, which Johnson is organizing through her Immersion Youth Repertory theater program, will be held June 15 on the Peace Plaza.
There will be stage performances of Shakespeare throughout the day, from Johnson’s Youth Immersion pupils, as well as from Mayo and John Marshall high schools, St. Francis School, In Heart Theatre, Squirrel Association, Upstage Theatre, and other schools and organizations. Among early vendors to commit, Bleu Duck restaurant will offer turkey legs. Winona’s professional Great River Shakespeare Festival will also be involved in some way.
“We will turn the Peace Plaza into a mini Renaissance festival,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who grew up hanging around Rochester Civic Theatre, where her parents were volunteers, was active in drama and music at Mayo High School. She became a professional actor in Colorado, where she also developed curriculum for children’s theater programs.
She returned to Rochester a few years ago, has directed shows on local stages and co-founded Immersion Youth Rep with New York-based actor Lindsey Blackhurst.
The idea of a Rochester Shakespeare Festival, Johnson said, came in conversation with another Denver actor/educator Tim Grant. “We’ve done Shakespeare camps over the years,” she said. “We said, ‘We should bring this to Rochester.’”
A grant from the Rochester Downtown Alliance will help fund the project.
“This is the perfect opportunity to make this happen where it can be a communitywide event,” Johnson said. “The Peace Plaza is the perfect place for it.”
Johnson’s Immersion Youth pupils will perform “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the festival. They will learn the play during a one-week camp.
“Kids can pick up pretty much anything, and it’s written so lyrically, as soon as they understand that rhythm, they lean right into it,” she said.
“At first it may sound scary,” she said of Shakespeare’s language. “But they have so much fun when they get into it.”
At the start of the camp, Grant will present each actor’s lines to them on a scroll — just as in Shakespeare’s time. “That’s where ‘role’ originally came from,” Johnson said.
Immersion Youth students will also be busy this summer presenting “Les Miserables” with the SEMYO orchestra in late July at Mayo Civic Center. One of the instructors for that group will be Victoria Sawchuck, an Immersion Youth alum now majoring in theater at Roosevelt University in Chicago.
Since returning to Rochester, Johnson said, she has been impressed with the interest in youth theater in the community.
“The talent pool is enormous in Rochester,” she said.