Like many students, Jan Powell got her first exposure to Shakespeare as a teenager in an English class. It was not love at first sight.
“I read Julius Caesar as a sophomore, and it was about men and politics and war, and had footnotes and words I didn’t understand, and I didn’t see why I needed to spend time with this.”
Then Powell put down the book and visited the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where she saw the plays done live, on stage.
“And it was so subtle, so nuanced, so charming, so eloquent, and I felt that I could understand every single word. And it was a transcendent experience.”
That experience led to a 25 year career directing Shakespeare, as well as musicals, and now the job with the Tahoe festival. Over the winter, Powell personally selected her company of actors. She traveled to Los Angeles and New York, evaluating over 2,000 performers.
“I needed actors that had solid Shakespeare experience, a lot of ease with the verse, some interesting creative physicality. And I like an actor with a little danger in the eye. I like to not know exactly what’s going to happen with them.”
Powell is also picking some different plays, and taking some chances. Her first production is one of Shakespeare’s history plays, “Richard III,” which hasn’t been done at Tahoe for ages.
“Well, I’m nothing if not a risk taker. I am a huge fan of the histories. I think they have more drive, more passion, and more singularity of plot than a lot of the comedies. And I think for general audiences, they’re more appealing.”
As for her new workplace, Powell is struck by the festival’s dramatic setting – a natural, sandy, beachside amphitheater on the Nevada shore, with a smashing view over the lake’s blue waters.
“The environment is so magnificent. And now we’re going to add to that shows that are deeper, and more exciting.”
The festival continues at Sand Harbor through August 17.