As William Shakespeare wrote, “all the world’s a stage,” so the great playwright probably would approve of Shakespeare in the Cannery’s open-air summer productions of his plays in the cannery ruins near Third Street in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square.
Recognizing the site’s two crumbling brick walls as a ready-made amphitheater, longtime local theater director David Lear opened the first Shakespeare in the Cannery season in 2014, and since then the annual program has grown to draw roughly 2,000 fans every summer.
“It’s a perfect venue to have an outdoor theater, with the brick walls and the Santa Rosa Creek down below,” Lear said. “It’s fantastical in the sense that when you bring in a group of people to perform and you the have lights on and you have music, it just comes alive.”
This summer, the nearby 6th Street Playhouse has teamed up with the cannery theater company for a two-show fourth season, featuring two of the Bard’s classics, each with a fresh twist.
“In the Mood,” a musical adaptation of “Much Ado About Nothing,” directed by Lear, runs July 13 through Aug. 5. “Fairyworlds,” directed and adapted from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Jared Sakren, executive director at 6th Street Playhouse, runs Aug. 10 through Sept. 2.
“I think it’s a great idea to pair these two shows,” Sakren said.
“It’s a Shakespearean summer of fun,” Lear added.
While the trappings may change, with “In the Mood” set in a USO (United Service Organizations) soldiers’ social center in Italy in the 1940s, and the landscape of “Fairyworlds” looking a bit like ancient Greece, the immortal words of Shakespeare remain.
Both shows have a musical side. “In the Mood” features a live nine-piece band playing hits from the 1940s, and “Fairyworlds” is set to an original score which has been recorded in advance.
“‘In the Mood’ has a lot of singing and a lot of dancing,” Lear said. “I have a three-woman trio that’s fantastic.”
While ‘In the Mood” has a nostalgic appeal, “Fairyworlds” aims for an other-worldly atmosphere.
“‘Fairyworlds’ is my re-imagining of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’” said Sakren, who served as producing artistic director at the Southwest Shakespeare Company in Phoenix, Arizona, for 15 years before coming to the 6th Street Playhouse a year and a half ago.
“It’s a very visual show. The fairies’ wings light up,” he said. “It’s an immersion into the world of fairies. The audience will be surrounded by the fairy world.”
The cast of 35 includes two dozen actors playing fairies. Because the show requires a night setting, performances will start at 8 p.m. and run 90 minutes without intermission, Sakren explained. “In the Mood” starts at 7 p.m. and includes one intermission.
The audience is encouraged to bring a pre-show picnic, chairs or blankets and warm clothing for later in the evening. Beer and wine will be sold at the venue.
Sakren said he’s excited about the collaboration between Shakespeare in the Cannery and the 6th Street Playhouse, linking two popular theater programs both located in Railroad Square.
“Railroad Square is becoming a cultural center in Santa Rosa,” he said. “There’s a synergy with the restaurants you have there. You have hotels. You can walk from the restaurants to the theater venues.”