In 2014, after an extended and eventually successful effort to gain a permit from the city of Santa Rosa, Shakespeare in the Cannery was created to present live theatrical performances in the ruins of a 19th-century cannery near Railroad Square.
Since then, some 4,000 people have to come to sit outside in the ready-made amphitheater created by the site’s two crumbling brick walls and watch live productions of the Bard’s greatest hits.
But the fifth season, opening tonight with “Shakespeare in Love,” closely following the screenplay that playwright Tom Stoppard and film writer Marc Norman created for the 1998 movie, will be the last.
Prompted by the probable sale of the property and notified months ago by owner John Stewart to vacate the site by October, Shakespeare in the Cannery organizers drawing the final curtain on Shakespeare in the Cannery.
“My intention early on was to do ‘Othello,’ dated in 1967 in Detroit. I had a very strong vision for this show, with the riots and sculptures of knocked-out buildings, but I decided that would be inappropriate for this time,” director David Lear said.
“I decided to go out with a romp and homage to William Shakespeare. That’s just what I did, because I have a show that’s fun and enjoyable,” Lear said. “I watched the movie again, and I thought, ‘This is the way we want to go out.’”
“Shakespeare in Love” will run on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings through Aug. 5, followed by a production of “Comedy of Errors” in the cannery ruins Aug. 10 through Sept. 2, presented by the nearby 6th Street Playhouse and directed by Jared Sakren, executive director of the 6th Street Playhouse.
“We rented the venue to 6th Street Playhouse. Last year, we were partners but this year we’re not,” Lear said.
Last season, Lear opened the Shakespeare in the Cannery season with “Much Ado About Nothing,” followed by “Fairyworlds,” directed and adapted from “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” directed by Sakren.
During the run of “Shakespeare in Love” this summer there will be a 15-minute pre-show performance by The Alchemia Choir at 6:30 p.m. every Friday.
Overall, Lear considers his experiment of bringing live Shakespeare to the cannery site a success.
“I am very happy and very pleased that I could bring Shakespeare to Santa Rosa,” he said. “The reception by the community of Santa Rosa has just been overwhelming. In fact, I’ve been getting emails saying ‘Please don’t stop.’”
Lear, 71, has directed shows at most of Sonoma County’s live stage companies over the past 20 years, and he has no attention walking away from the local theater scene. He also has put together half a dozen local productions and that he took to San Francisco.
“My home is Main Stage West in Sebastopol,” he said. “That’s where I really like to do my work. It’s intimate. They have a really collective of artists there.”
The last play Lear directed at Main Stage West was “Blackbird,” by David Harrower, which opened in March and closed in April. Next season, he is scheduled to direct “The Night Alive” in October and “Lungs” in June 2019.
Shakespeare in the Cannery has been presented in collaboration with the Arlene Francis Center in Railroad Square, and local attorney Chris Costin worked closely with Lear to get the project up and running and keep it going.