The 34th season of the Texas Shakespeare Festival has drawn to a close and company members are embarking on the final task of the summer: striking the sets and storing items away for next year.
"Striking" is the term used for the process of taking down and putting away set pieces after a theatrical production finishes its run.
Stratford Room Manager Brazie Adamez was helping others put away merchandise Monday morning after wrapping up her third season with TSF. The Stratford Room serves as the festival’s store, selling merchandise and souvenirs to patrons.
“Some of us in here and the carpentry crew started last night immediately after the final show,” Adamez said as Stratford Room crew members carried out boxes of items.
“We pack it away and the furniture goes downstairs and all of the merchandise and everything goes into a closet in the Festival Center. It’s probably going to take us the 9 to 5 today and then half the day tomorrow. We have to count the merchandise, pack it up and then we have a trailer that’s probably going to take a few loads.”
Adamez said it had been a good season from the perspective of the Stratford Room.
“I think it went really well. We made more money than we made last year. We got even better feedback on the things that we had in the store: the shirts and different novelty items.”
She added, after a summer of hard work, many in the company were glad to have finished the season.
“At this point, we’re all tired. It’s a relief.”
Adamez is an eighth-grade computer literacy instructor at Kilgore Middle School and will return to that job next week. Many others in the company will do the same, she said.
“Everybody is already started moving on to the next thing.”
Kilgore College theater instructor and TSF Technical Director Meghan Potter was supervising the removal of set pieces and the cleanup effort in the Van Cliburn Auditorium Monday.
The crew had been hard at work since the previous night, shortly after the final performance of “Into The Woods” Sunday evening.
“We usually do a pre-strike so the crews will work from about 10:30 at night until about one in the morning, just getting things prepped and cleaned, getting tool batteries charged,” Potter said.
The length of time the strike process takes can vary year to year.
“It depends on the season. Usually, maximum it’s two days, from 9 to 5. In the past seasons, we’ve been able to wrap it up by the second morning. We’re estimating we’ll probably be done by 12 o’clock, 2 o’clock (Tuesday).”
She said the strike process had been similar to previous years but the crew had been helped a lot because the college’s theater department is taking the “Othello” set for its own use. It’s one less set to take down and put away.
“It saves us a lot of time,” Potter said.
By this point in the festival, she said, most of the technical crew is happy to be done with their summer of work and is relieved to be taking sets down after weeks of set construction and changeovers.
TSF Founder and Artistic Director Raymond Caldwell reflected on the 34th season, pointing to many signs that the season was a successful one.
“We did well, considering the fact that we did not have a fifth production upstairs for additional revenue… the reason we didn't schedule the UpStairs show is that we did not trust the Festival Center elevator to be totally reliable, and we certainly didn't want patrons to get stuck between floors for any reason. We hope to get the electronic controls replaced before next summer so that we can resume productions up there. Of course, after taking that precaution, the elevator worked perfectly all summer!” Caldwell wrote in an email.
Caldwell said attendance was slightly down this year but, overall, tickets had sold well.
“Overall, we sold 88% of available seats, so that is nothing to regret. Whenever we produce plays with which our regular patrons are unfamiliar, attendance drops a bit. This year, Into the Woods and Born Yesterday were both shows somewhat unfamiliar to our traditional audience, so the slight drop in attendance reflected that. Also, and this may be more important, whenever the 4th of July falls on a Thursday, it hurts attendance because people often leave town or plan other activities nor only for Thursday, but also for the entire weekend -- Friday, Saturday, and even Sunday afternoon. In spite of that fact, however, almost every performance had a good house, at least 2/3 full.”
It’s still a bit early to report on the Festival’s revenues for the season, as year-end financial reports are still being finalized, but Caldwell said it appears TSF exceeded last year’s total income. Raffle tickets sold for a trip to Italy sold out, bringing in an additional $5,000. Additionally, attendance at the Talent Showcase was up, bringing in more revenue, as was attendance at Chinese Theater Night.
Caldwell said some plays this year presented a particular challenge, as “As You Like It” and “Into The Woods” required the construction of three-dimensional trees and the set for “Born Yesterday” was detailed, intricate and possibly the largest ever built for a TSF show.
“It was a physically difficult season, but I think our people did a thoroughly professional job, and I am very grateful to each of them,” Caldwell said.
“I am continually amazed and grateful that the Festival has survived for 34 seasons and continues to expand and grow. Its potential is almost limitless,” he said, pointing out TSF includes the Educational Roadshow, workshops for students and teachers, the cultural exchange program with Chinese students and teachers and the possibility of creating a Performing Arts Conservatory with TSF as part of its curriculum.
If such an organization were to be created, “it would be the only such organization between California and New York, and only the second such program located on the campus of a two-year college,” Caldwell said.