Shakespeare Under the Stars

Actors in Island Stage Left during a fight scene in their upcoming production Cymbeline

A spoonful of Macbeth, a sprinkling of Twelfth Night, a dash of Midsummer Night Dream, and you have a taste of Cymbeline being performed this summer in Shakespeare Under the Stars by Island Stage Left.

“Shakespeare has all of his main elements in this one. It’s got an evil stepmother, sleeping princess, you know it really reads like a fairy tale. It’s got tragedy and comedy and everything in between,” said Helen Machin-Smith, one of the founders of Island Stage Left. “Shakespeare, in his later days, his wisdom about the world was enormous. So his later plays were about family and reconciliation and forgiveness.”

Now in its 17th year, the seasonal program is put on by Island Stage Left, a non-profit group of professional actors from all over the U.S. as well as local islanders, Daniel Mayes, a founder of Stage Left, Anna Cozzalio and Mark Mazzarella performing this season and extras Beatrice Grauman and Dorian Oliver.

According to Machin-Smith, this year’s production was a challenge specifically because of the fight scenes, for which they imported a choreographer from Seattle to help. A hallmark of the organization is its approach to simplicity in production and execution, relying on the cast’s talent as the focal point of the play instead of over-the-top set designs.

“I love that you can do Shakespeare without anything but the actors,” Machin-Smith said. “I adore how his language carries the play, his knowledge of human nature is so universal and you can take it anywhere in the world.”

And if diversity of roles is any sign of acting skill, the actors in this season’s production of Cymbeline certainly stand out; 8 actors will be playing 23 different characters, sometimes with simply the change of a hat.

Island Stage Left began preparation for the season in January, had a cast by the end of February, and then began twice-a-day rehearsal for four weeks before the first show. According to Machin-Smith, each performance has very different audiences depending on where they perform. Wold Road is where many locals watch the production, while Roche Harbor draws in tourists who are “pleasantly surprised,” she said. The Waldron Island audience is well-read and are often familiar with the plays already, and the Lopez vineyard location has a fairly even mix of locals, tourists, and San Juan Island visitors.

“My favorite part is when children see Shakespeare for the first time and they get it,” Machin-Smith added. “They don’t get hung up on the fact that they can’t understand every word, and instead go with the flow and enjoy it. And really, any one who has never seen Shakespeare before they see our production is a high point for me.”

For those who aren’t familiar with Cymbeline and Island Stage Left, as well as for those who are, the free production will be going on all summer long at 8 p.m. in five different locations on four islands, some running multiple nights. For more information on locations go to