Much Ado About Nothing at Veterans Memorial Park

Budget cuts at Napa Valley College threaten this summer's free Shakespeare at Napa's Veterans Memorial Park. In last summer's production of "Much Ado About Nothing," Dodds Delzell, far left, plays Dogberry. Register file photo

Jorgen Gulliksen

Shakespeare Napa Valley, which has drawn thousands to its free performances in Napa’s Veterans Memorial Park for the past two summers, may go on hiatus this year unless $20,000 can be found to make up for budget cuts at Napa Valley College.

Lissa Gibbs, executive director of the Napa Valley College Foundation, is leading the charge to come up with the money to continue producing what she said promised to become a Napa tradition.

“I think many people didn’t know Shakespeare Napa Valley is part of the college,” Gibbs said. When the college eliminated a theater workshop class this summer, that undercut financing for Shakespeare in the park, she said.

Students at Napa Valley College were polled to find out which summer classes they considered essential, Gibbs said. As result, the college has decided to only offer summer classes that are part of year-round programs, like the police academy and the emergency medical technician training program, along with classes that students need to graduate or transfer to a four-year college.

The theater workshop class, which produced the Shakespeare plays, did not make the cut, Gibbs said. When it was a class, the production could receive financial support from the college’s general education fund, she explained. No class means no money from the school for Shakespeare.

“We do have a grant from the Destination Council,” said Gibbs, who added that the College Foundation has also supplemented the production and will do so again this year. Altogether, there is about $22,000 available, or half of what is needed to stage the free production in Veterans Memorial Park.

Gibbs has set a deadline of April 20 to see if the foundation can raise an additional $20,000 in donations from the community. “I am only taking pledges,” she said. “We’ll see if there is enough support to go ahead.”

The budget covers the fees for using the park, as well as the production costs, she said. She set the April 20 deadline so that the actors who have already auditioned and been cast in the 2012 production — which was to be Shakespeare’s comedy “Twelfth Night” — could be notified of the cancellation in time to line up other summer projects.

Shakespeare Napa Valley has been quietly growing since the demise of the privately produced Napa Valley Shakespeare Festival in 2005. Under the direction of Jennifer King, a drama professor at the Napa Valley College, the school began presenting free summer Shakespeare productions in the campus glade. When audiences began to overflow the space, King negotiated with the city of Napa to perform in Veterans Memorial Park on Main Street.

The first production in 2010 caught public attention when the set — a pirate ship — was erected in the park for the newly formed Napa Valley Shakespeare company’s performance of “The Taming of the Shrew.” More than 3,000 people — locals, visitors, families with picnics, children and dogs — filled the park for the weekend shows that year.

In 2011, Shakespeare Napa Valley staged two productions in downtown: “Much Ado About Nothing” and “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged.” These performances drew more than 10,000 viewers.

“I think people really, really enjoyed it,” Gibbs said. “It was right there, and free, so that anyone could attend, from people who love theater to people who thought they would never go to a Shakespeare play. They could try it. It was just a really fun event for everyone.”

Gibbs said organizers still hope they can continue to offer the free productions.

“If we can’t raise enough money for 2012,” she said, “it won’t be the end of Shakespeare Napa Valley. It will go on hiatus for one year, but we’ll be fundraising to be back in 2013.”

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