FlagShakes keeps Shakespeare alive

Illustration by Christian Ayala

Local theater company FlagShakes celebrates Shakespeare’s legacy each year with its renditions of his historical plays. After more than four years of coordinating outdoor Shakespeare festivals and performances, the group is getting ready to wrap up its 2019 season.

Executive director Dawn Tucker created the group to bring her love of Shakespeare to Flagstaff. Tucker has a bachelor’s degree in theater performance from the University of Wisconsin and a master’s degree in Shakespeare in performance from the American Shakespeare Center.

“I grew up in Flagstaff, but there was no place here to do professional theater,” Tucker said. “Flagstaff is a lovely mountain town — great for outdoor productions — so it just made sense to start FlagShakes off with Shakespeare plays. Flagstaff is an artsy town, and I wanted to bring more of the arts to it.”

While working as an actor in Phoenix for a few years, Tucker decided to start her group with other actors she met there. Once she had formed the group, she took on the position of executive director. Tucker’s role places her in charge of programming and development within the group. She said she oversees the business side of theater production as well.

After establishing her group, Tucker posted auditions online to expand the number of actors in FlagShakes.

“We began posting auditions and found a lot of people around the nation wanting to audition for the group,” Tucker said. “People that want to join us are usually graduate students who find our group online and come audition to gain more experience as an actor.”

Some NAU students have also become involved in FlagShakes. FlagShakes company manager Alex Oliver graduated with a bachelor’s in theater from NAU.

“NAU was a great school for studying theater,” Oliver said. “The theater program here gave me a broad set of skills, like learning how to be an actor, a stage manager and a technician. It gave me what I needed to learn to be part of a company like FlagShakes.”

Although Oliver didn’t participate in the company while he was studying at NAU, he eventually came back to Flagstaff to be part of the group. Oliver was performing plays in Mesa with the Southwest Shakespeare Company. FlagShakes Artistic director Jesse Kamps was working on shows with Oliver for the company. Kamps informed Oliver that they needed a few actors to fill up spots for the FlagShakes production of “Twelfth Night.”

“I immediately said yes, and I kept coming back to be a part of the group,” Oliver said. “I participated in anything, like making sets and keeping an eye on all my fellow actors. I always helped out whenever I was needed, which led to me becoming company manager.”

Oliver said his position as company manager is to assist the actors and to help behind the scenes of the productions. His job includes making sure the actors have their contracts filled out, and making sure they’re healthy and taking care of themselves.

“An example of this is our dress rehearsal week,” Oliver said. “This week can be extremely hectic, which causes stress on our actors. I always try to make sure they’re feeling content and do what I can to make them feel comfortable. Even if I’m not acting, I do whatever I can to make sure our shows are great.”

Oliver said he hopes to act in the 2020 season. He acted in their production of “Much Ado About Nothing” this year but hasn’t acted in any of the other plays they performed in 2019. He said he’s excited to see where the company goes, and will always be there to help make the shows great and entertaining for the audience.

Although some NAU students find it difficult to be a part of the play, they may have time to attend the productions that FlagShakes performs. Sophomore Natalie Crepeau has attended a few FlagShakes productions since her freshman year.

“I’m really into theater, and I wanted to find some local productions when I got here last year,” Crepeau said. “I really liked watching their shows, because the audience can tell that they’re so proud of their acting and plays. I think it’s important to have organizations like FlagShakes so the public can become more educated about the arts.”

Flagshakes will be wrapping up their 2019 season by performing Shakespeare’s “Winter’s Tale” and Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol.” The plays will be performed at the Museum of Northern Arizona and Ardrey Auditorium at NAU, respectively.