Keeping Shakespeare on a Budget

Santa Cruz, CA – The past few years have been all about choices for Shakespeare Santa Cruz the Professional Theater Company in residence at UC Santa Cruz. And all those choices revolve around how to make it work on a smaller budget. It all started after the 2008 season, when UCSC said it would no longer absorb the theater company's losses. The University gave Shakespeare Santa Cruz a week to raise $300,000. And it did. In fact, donors from around the world contributed more than $400,000 to keep the theater company alive. "That has really allowed us a cushion to give us the time to plan and try new things to figure out a financial model that's sustainable," said Managing Director Kyle Clausen. Clausen says at its height Shakespeare Santa Cruz had an annual budget of $2.2-million. Today it's $1.8-million. That means the summer season has three shows instead of the four it once had, and being conscious of every dollar spent. "A lot of credit goes to Marco and to our directors and designers who find a way to make a great piece of theater with the budget that they have," said Clausen.

For example, the set in the outdoor Festival Glen theater was designed to be reused. It's made up of wooden panels and pipes, similar to scaffolding, that can be reconfigured and repainted. Shakespeare Santa Cruz has used the set for the past three years. This year different versions of the set will be used in both "The Three Musketeers" and "Henry IV, Part One".

Then there are the costumes. Costume Designer B. Modern needs hundreds for this year's shows. "So you rent, you borrow, you beg. You don't steal, but you really, really try to economize," said Modern. She spends her summers with Shakespeare Santa Cruz, and the rest of the year she's designing for theaters all over the country. So she calls in favors to get good rental rates on costumes she's designed for other companies, and then she gets creative. "Taking apart old things, cutting off sleeves, using it for something else," said Modern. And it helps that Shakespeare Santa Cruz doesn't do expensive Elizabethan period costumes. "People are often intimidated by the language, but the stories are right here. So sometimes we do them in modern dress. Sometimes we do them in the 30s. Sometimes we do them in the 19th century. I mean basically it's sort of been all over the map," said Modern. Like this year, she says "Henry IV, Part One" is full of different influences.

"Henry IV" is one of Shakespeare history plays. And performing it is a sign to Artistic Director Marco Baricelli that through it all, the theater company has been able to grow. "I didn't want Shakespeare Santa Cruz to be a sort of greatest hits of Shakespeare festival. I wanted us to honor the entire cannon. So I'm really pleased that we are finally able to be at a point where I felt comfortable both fiscally and artistically to tackle these plays," said Baricelli. Shakespeare Santa Cruz is also working to grow its revenue and audience. This year it has partnered with the Montalvo Arts Center over the hill in Saratoga where it will perform Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors".