By Irene Middleman Thomas
For 56 years, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival has been performing the Bard’s masterpieces to delighted crowds under starlit summer skies at the Mary Rippon Theatre, an enchanting outdoor venue on the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus.
The festival is the second-oldest of its kind in the United States, having never missed a summer since its debut in 1958. The festival is the work of a professional theater company associated with the university that celebrates and explores Shakespeare through productions, education and community engagement.
Each year, 30,000 people attend the festival, served by 120 performing artists and a staff of 50 from across the United States and abroad. Many of the actors and the artistic team members return to Boulder for the festival each year.
The festival offers one comedy, one drama and one history from Shakespeare each summer on a rotating schedule, with another play or two added to the mix.
In the historic amphitheatre, a semicircle of 1,200 seats faces the stage. The audience sits on rows of native sandstone but with the benefits of new seat backs. The plays begin with the soft light of dusk and end under a night sky.
On a Saturday evening in July, we relaxed on the grassy lawn just outside the theatre and enjoyed a picnic dinner, along with many others. Rather reminiscent of a day from yesteryear, blankets were spread, wine bottles opened and quiet conversation emanated as the time grew near for our performance of “Macbeth” to begin.
We were ushered into the amphitheater by pleasant attendants and purchased coffees from the well-stocked concession stand and bar. The crowd settled into the seats, conversation hushed and within seconds, we were transported into a world of drama. We were glad we had read the synopsis of the play in the program – after all, Shakespeare does take a bit of focusing to fully enjoy and understand.