outgoing Santa Cruz Shakespeare artistic director Mike Ryan speaks to the audience
Outgoing Santa Cruz Shakespeare artistic director Mike Ryan speaks to the audience Monday night at DeLaveaga Park.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
City Life

Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s stunning ambition: Company goes big with five productions in 2024

“Hamlet” — which co-artistic director Charles Pasternak calls “the world’s most famous play” — headlines next year’s season, with an announcement made Monday at the company’s DeLaveaga Park home. But the big news: five productions — the most ever by a company that can claim four decades of performance — and only two of them are Shakespeare’s. The works of Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams and Charles Dickens complete the 2024 playbill.

Just as it seems as though much of the live-theater world is contracting, Santa Cruz Shakespeare is expanding.

In a stunning move, the acclaimed theater company announced that it would stage a record five productions for the 2024 season, including what artistic director Charles Pasternak called the “world’s most famous play,” Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

Also scheduled for next summer are Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” and Oscar Wilde’s witty “The Importance of Being Earnest.” For the first time, SCS will open a fourth production in September, the American classic “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams, all at the Audrey Stanley Grove at DeLaveaga Park. Then in November, the company marks a return of the holiday play with Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” featuring Mike Ryan, SCS founder and retiring artistic director, as Ebenezer Scrooge.

“This is a risk, a gamble,” acknowledged Pasternak before a crowd of staff and supporters at the Grove on Monday night. “Will the people come out? Will they return for one more show in the fall? I believe they will.”

Next year will mark Pasternak’s debut season as the company’s sole artistic director. This summer, he’s sharing the role with outgoing artistic director Ryan, with whom he is also sharing the stage in Lauren Gunderson’s “The Book of Will.” Pasternak and Ryan will again co-star next summer when Pasternak takes on the title role of “Hamlet” and Ryan returns as Hamlet’s uncle and antagonist Claudius.

incoming Santa Cruz Shakespeare artistic director Charles Pasternak
Charles Pasternak will take over as Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s solo artistic director after Mike Ryan’s retirement.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“When I was hired, the board made clear to me that year-round programming and fiscally responsible expansion was a priority to them,” said Pasternak. “I want to offer this community world-class theater year-round. This is a healthy step in that direction.”

Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s planned growth comes at the same time as the city’s longtime Jewel Theater plans to end its tenure on the local stage. While Jewel has struggled to attract audiences, SCS has hit record levels of attendance. On Monday, SCS board president Rick Wright called the current season “an epic year for us.” At the same time, Jewel’s closing parallels the struggle of theater companies across the country after the pandemic.

Ryan, who spearheaded the founding of Santa Cruz Shakespeare in 2013 after the demise of its predecessor company, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, also spoke before the crowd, movingly thanking them for their support. “It’s been the greatest honor of my life,” said Ryan, “to stand on the shoulders of giants and to experience with awe the weight of your trust.”

The newly announced holiday production will take place in an indoor space, yet to be finalized, according to Pasternak. It follows in the tradition of holiday-season productions held by Shakespeare Santa Cruz for years on the campus of UC Santa Cruz.

SCS also announced the establishment of a new SCS book club, an online program that will allow participants to take part in a table read of “Hamlet,” with Pasternak and the program’s director, Rebecca Haley Clark.

The 2023 season of Santa Cruz Shakespeare is headed for its final week, closing Sunday.

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