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Merced Shakespearefest poised to celebrate 20 years

Local actors Dennis Brown as Kung Lear and Heike Hambley as Gloucester.
Local actors Dennis Brown as Kung Lear and Heike Hambley as Gloucester.

In this new year of 2021, the local Shakespeare Festival will be celebrating its 20th season!

Artistic Director and Founder Heike Hambley directed the first Shakespeare comedy for the young theater company, “Much Ado About Nothing,” in August of 2002!

The staging happened outdoors in Applegate Park, at the MOAT (Merced Open Air Theater), where now every year audiences from Merced and the wider Central Valley have enjoyed two weekends of FREE Shakespeare … well, except in 2020.

This last season has been as strange for Merced Shakes as for all theaters, big and small, all over the world.

With great pride, however, the company looks back to three full play productions, the tragedy King Lear on stage at the MAC in winter, the exciting, ground-breaking bilingual film episodes of Richard/Ricardo II, and the radio play of The Tempest.

They learned to rehearse online with Zoom, to film safely, to edit and to use virtual platforms to connect with audiences, all this on a shoestring budget!

In this 20th season, it is difficult to plan. Everybody hopes that the theater company can interact soon with more flexibility and closeness, but safety comes first.

Shawn Overton and Heike Hambley are already rehearsing a showcase for some excellent Shakespearian actors, a filmed collage of monologues and scenes with the title Passion for Shakespeare, to be released in February.

The next event, still online, is a streamed Anniversary Gala, planned for late spring. Then finally the audience can enjoy a physical stage production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This famous comedy is a celebration of love and community theater, and it is outrageously funny! The timeline for this play could be August, September, or even October, depending on the public health situation in Merced; it could be indoors, possibly at the Merced Theatre or the MAC, or outdoors at the familiar home stage in Applegate Park.

We all need to be flexible and the actors ask you to be flexible, and play with them again to enjoy fine local Shakespearian Theater in the future!

For more information call (209) 723-3265, go to the Merced Shakespearefest Page on Facebook or

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