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Shakespearefest keeps the Bard alive in the 209

Around Merced Heike Hambley is known as the 'Shakespeare Lady' and for good cause. She is the founder of the Merced Shakespearefest and is responsible for bringing the Bard’s tales to the 209 area for 13 years.

“Shakespeare wrote wonderful words that captured the human experience and I love that they still stand up 400 years later,” said Hambley.

The Merced Shakespearefest grew out of a desire to bring the classic tales to life in setting that would be open to all who wanted to experience Shakespeare’s words. In August of 2002 the newly formed troupe performed “Much Ado About Nothing” at Applegate Park and a tradition was born.

“It was important for us to keep classic theater alive and to offer it for free or at least very cheap so everybody could partake in it,” Hambley said.

What started as a one weekend a year show that passed around a hat for donations, has grown into a theatrical non-profit that stages multiple shows each season at various venues. For the first time, this season will feature three productions, Hambley said.

“We have a reputation for staging some fine shows and people expect more and more good things from us and we want to meet those expectations,” she said. “His works are among the greatest and most delightful of humanity’s cultural expressions, yet have the reputation to be difficult to understand. We are proud that our productions bridge the gap, and often have I heard from an audience member after a performance, ‘I understand Shakespeare now.’”

It is truly a community experience with the actors coming from various parts of the 209 and the shows traveling to smaller communities like Firebaugh or Mariposa.

This season will start with a production of “Henry V” on Sept. 12, 13, 16, 17, 19 and 20. All shows except those on Sept. 16 and 17 will be at Applegate Park at 1025 W. 22nd St. in Merced. Saturday shows are at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. and Sunday shows are at 5 p.m. The shows on Sept. 16 and 17 will be in the UC Merced Amphitheater at 5200 Lake Road in Merced. Shows will be at 7 p.m.
The Merced Shakespearefest will follow “Henry V” with an all-female version of “Julius Caesar” in January. The show will be done in partnership with Merced College and will be staged at the college.

The final show of the season has yet to be determined, but Hambley said she is leaning towards “Othello” or “Macbeth.” The shows will be staged in February or March at a venue to be announced later.