Amid Delays, the Curtain Closes, for Now, On Princeton Rep Shakespeare Festival
After hitting a scheduling crossroads with little chance of resolution in sight, the Princeton Rep Shakespeare Festival has decided to lower the lights on a season that never actually got off the ground.
Held at the Pettoranello Gardens Amphitheatre at Community Park North, the annual summer festival that has received acclaim since 2000, cited difficulty in coordinating a performance schedule with the Princeton Recreation Department. In a recent letter to the editor, festival Artistic Director Victoria Liberatori cited "a key crucial issue" that had yet to be resolved.
But on Monday, the decision was made to forego this season, according to Recreation Department Director Jack Roberts.
This season was the first season that the amphitheater played host to other performances outside of the festival, Mr. Roberts said, and the two parties could not arrive at a consensus on scheduling. He added that the festival had wanted to put on two productions throughout the summer. However, since the Pettoranello Gardens are playing host this year to performances by the New Jersey Opera Theater (NJOT) and a film festival, it made it difficult to meet Princeton Rep's desires.
Ms. Liberatori said the cancellation was due to a matter of "instability."
"We had put into that space, at the very least, a half million dollars of productions, advertising, marketing, signage, and certainly the incalculable aspects of goodwill, space, and visibility," Mr. Liberatori said Tuesday.
But she said the 2005 season began to dissolve when the Recreation Department expressed plans to turn the amphitheater into a "mini performing arts center." The festival director said Shakespeare Rep is accustomed to putting on two full productions throughout the summer, but when scheduling would not allow equal time to two productions, the festival balked.
"We have no problem working on a schedule where other arts organizations use the space," she said, but added that other outside performances fell during dates reserved for Shakespeare Rep in previous summers.
Mr. Roberts said the Recreation board offered three scenarios to the festival in an attempt to factor in the scheduling of all the events at the gardens.
"We thought we were being as accommodating as we could be. "We were a little surprised that they felt compelled to say that none of the alternatives that we offered worked," Mr. Roberts added.
At issue was the sharing of the stage with NJOT, Mr. Roberts said.
The August 5 and August 6 dates of an NJOT production would have fallen in a hiatus between Shakespeare Rep's two productions, scheduled to be The Tempest and Twelfth Night. However, the issue of sharing lighting and equipment with NJOT created an impasse.
"How else could NJOT do it if they don't share the stage?," Mr. Roberts said. Under the latest schedule, which would have started July 15, the first play would have run for three weeks, with a week off for opera. An additional four weeks would have followed.
With only a handful of free, professional Shakespeare festivals remaining, the program was exceedingly popular in Princeton. So much so, in fact, that the 2001 season was shut down due to overcrowding and other safety concerns at the amphitheater. Both Mr. Roberts and Ms. Liberatori expressed a desire to resolve the issues that have curtailed this year's productions. Roberts said he "hoped" Pettoranello Gardens would continue to be home to the festival.
"I would love to return there," Ms. Liberatori said. "We don't expect to be treated like royalty, but we don't expect to be treated like second-class citizens either."