Manpower woes forces cancellation of 2013 Shakespeare Festival performance

By Travis Gulbrandson

Last summer, approximately 1,200 people attended the inaugural South Dakota Shakespeare Festival.

The same opportunity will not be available this year, because while the educational aspect of the festival will remain, the play itself has been put on hold until 2014 at least.

“We are definitely moving forward with planning for the project itself, coming up with a long-term perspective for what we would like to do with the organization and with the festival,” said Ted Cherry, CEO of Coyoteopoly, which oversees the festival along with the USD Beacom School of Business and the College of Fine Arts.

The festival is sponsored by the Rotary Club of Vermillion.

Dr. Mark Yockey, interim executive director of the business school, said one of the main reasons the play had to be cancelled involved student staffing.

“The (Coyoteopoly) project in the past has been part of a mandatory course that all the students took, and so all the students were involved,” Yockey said. “This year, we have moved to a different model, in which the course is a standalone course, and so students enroll in the course as an elective. That’s impacted the number of students we had involved considerably this year.”

The financial model has been impacted, as well.

“Those students in the past have been responsible for helping raise the funding for the project,” Yockey said. “With fewer students involved, that certainly had a tremendous impact on our financial model.”

The decision to cancel the play was made on Feb. 14 after months of work.

“We started the project in September of last year,” Yockey said. “At first we were proceeding with the normal plans for production and the regular full festival. As we got farther into that semester we realized that we didn’t have the number of students beginning at that semester that we had hoped for.

“When we did the enrollments for spring semester, that’s when we really started to recognize that we weren’t going to be able to build that student number up to a viable population,” he said.

The students will be working to solve this issue through the rest of the semester, Yockey said.

Despite the loss of student participation the program saw when it was no longer mandatory, Yockey said he does not think that particular policy will be reversed.

“The business school in general is looking for more experiential learning opportunities, and part of this is just advising students on the proper courses to take, and the ones that fit best in their overall college experience,” he said.

The first South Dakota Shakespeare Festival featured three performances of “As You Like It,” which were held in Prentis Park, along with a scholars’ roundtable and various youth theater workshops.

Yockey said that while the play itself won’t be held this summer, the educational component will remain.

“We will put together a summer program, so there will be some workshops for high school students and junior high-aged kids revolving around Shakespeare and the experience that comes with the acting side of things, as well as the writing and so forth,” he said.

Although the official announcement about the play’s cancellation was made this week, various local sponsors were notified beforehand.

Yockey said their reactions were “disappointed” but “understanding.”

“Everyone was looking forward to a play,” he said. “I think (they were) somewhat appreciative of the fact that we are really focused on the long-term, that we want to have this successful for many, many years to come.

“I think they understood that it would be better off for us to do some long-term planning than to rush forward with a production that wouldn’t meet the quality standards we had set for ourselves,” he said.

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