Where There’s a Will, There’s a Winery
By Jennifer Cossey
A woman in love with a man who rejects her affection. That same man yearns for a different young maiden who wants nothing to do with him. The sudden and tragic death of a cities-cherished daughter. A king, a ring, scandal, sex.
Stage left: Enter Helena, orphaned daughter. She looks wantonly at Bertram, the son of the countess who has taken her in. Yet he looks elsewhere. His gaze is drawn out the downstage window and onto the rolling hills. He looks lustfully at the glass of wine in your hand and stares longingly at the meat and cheese plate you brought in your picnic basket.
And so starts the third season of the Valley’s newest summer tradition, Willamette Shakespeare, with nine free performances on the stage, or the vineyards in this case, throughout the month of August. For this year’s performance, the cast weaves the tale of Helena and Bertram in “All’s Well That Ends Well.”
Daniel Somerfield, artistic director for the company since its 2009 début, has seen the attendance double from near 1,000 in the first year to well over 2,400 the next.
“We have a unique audience,” Somerfield said. “I believe many of our audience members are serious Shakespeare fans who have attended many productions. Others are new to Shakespeare, even to live theater. Our challenge is to create theater that appeals to both of those extremes and all points in between.”
The free performances, while obviously wonderful for the viewing public, present a set of challenges for the producers. Actors need to be paid, sets need to be built and costumes — well, it is Shakespeare — they’re a must. The production relies on individual donations and a small amount of grant money to see it through the season. Many volunteers donate their time to help make the performances a reality for the rest of us.
“Most support, to date, has come from people in the wine business,” Somerfield said. “They are often arts supporters and recognize that Willamette Shakespeare provides value both to those who live here and those who are visiting.”
Somerfield would like to see the event expand the length of its season, along with the total number of productions.
“Our board has a pretty grand vision of what Willamette Shakespeare could be,” he said. “Like me, they believe that we have hit on something, and that this is the start of something big. At the same time, we are in no hurry to force the growth of the organization. We are happy where we are right now. I believe that this combination of vision and patience will serve us well into the future.”
The inspiration for Willamette Shakespeare came from Somerfield’s Seattle days, when he acted during one summer with GreenStage.
“It was a wonderful experience,” he said. “When my wife, Sydney, and I moved here, we thought that the beautiful vineyards of the Willamette Valley would be a perfect setting for a similar organization. Since I was working in the wine business, I had the opportunity to talk to colleagues about whether they thought it would work. The answer was yes, so we did it.”
He says he spent a lot of time traipsing around vineyards looking for places that would work well for performances; and he still does. “It's a great excuse to go wine tasting!”
Bring your picnic basket, your blankets, your first date or your friends. Best yet, bring them all, but don’t bother bringing wine. It is available for sale at each of the locations.
For more details or to donate, visit www.willametteshakespeare.org.
“All’s Well That Ends Well”
Written by William Shakespeare | Produced by Willamette Shakespeare
Times: 7 p.m. (Fri./Sat.); 6 p.m. (Sun.)
August 5–7 at Reed College Amphitheater
3203 S.E. Woodstock Boulevard, Portland
August 12–14 at Stoller Vineyards
16161 N.E. McDougall Road, Dayton
August 19–21 at Montinore Estate
3663 S.W. Dilley Road, Forest Grove
Picnics welcome, but no outside alcohol.