Elliott Jackson was a new Westcliff resident when she overheard a surprising conversation in a town bar.
At the Westcliff Center for the Performing Arts, the director spoke of Shakespeare as in King Lear. I said wait, what? Are you thinking of putting King Lear in this cow town? Jackson said. “I was vaguely aware of the theatre. I thought, how good can this be? Six months later, she landed a lead role at the tiny town’s annual Shakespeare at Sangra Festival 2016, performing her first Shakespearean roles: The Joke in the aforementioned King Lear and Jaquanetta in Love’s Labour’s Lost.
“We’re pretty damn good,” said Jackson, program manager for the Westcliffe Center for the Performing Arts. “And stupidly ambitious in a way.
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This summer, the non-profit theater company will once again offer a two-play outdoor Shakespeare Festival at the Silver West Feedstore amphitheater park, behind the historic Jones Theatre. It opens on Friday Twelfth Night and runs simultaneously with Molière’s The Misanthrope until 3 July. Seats are not provided. Participants are required to bring their own chairs and blankets. Food from outside is also not allowed, but you can buy it on the spot.
“Molière is the French Shakespeare,” Jackson said.
The local woman will also continue her career and star in both productions, including as Feste the jester in Twelfth Night, her favorite Shakespeare play.
“It has a girl who dresses up as a boy and his adventures,” she said. “There are shipwrecks, and unfortunate lovers, and duels, and idiots running around and causing people trouble. The jester (Feste) is one of Shakespeare’s coolest clown characters.”
In The Misanthrope, also a comedy, a nobleman, disgusted by the vanity of society, is attracted to a woman who embodies the traits he denounces.
“The play demonstrates that you may not like your social mores and laws,” Jackson said, “but if you don’t make an effort to fit in, you will find yourself isolated.”
Historic Jones Theatre, as the name suggests, has a rich history. It was originally a saloon and billiard room in the 1800s, but the building changed hands several times before it became a movie theater in the 1920s. In 1992, Ann Kimbell Relph, a 1950s Hollywood star who owned a cabin in Westcliff, bought the building and opened a community theater. Movies are still shown at the Jones Theater, but not now because of a broken projector, which Jackson hopes will be fixed by July.
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The Shakespeare Festival is part of a big theater season dedicated to laughter and includes John Van Druten’s comedy The Bell, the Book and the Candle in October. The need to keep production carefree is a response to their closure in 2020 due to the pandemic.
“It was a year of laughter, but in a way it was a year of resilience,” Jackson said.
“With actors getting COVID and all that. The old cliché that the show must go on is true for us.”
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