Audrey Stanley and Karen Sinsheimer: The Readiness is All

by Don Rothman

Posted in: Mentored by Shakespeare

Audrey Stanley and Karen Sinsheimer: The Readiness is All

By Don Rothman

If we’re lucky, when we look back three decades, we see not only our immature selves. We also catch a glimpse of our future and find inspiration to achieve it. Shakespeare’s most famous university student may have been thinking about this. “If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to
come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come—the 
readiness is all” (Hamlet).


In 1975, when UCSC was just ten years old, Dean of Humanities and Arts C.L. Barber greatly admired Audrey Stanley’s Ashland production of The Winter’s Tale, a play that explores the role of art in achieving moral redemption. He asked Stanley to explore producing a Shakespeare Festival on this innovative campus. Barber’s untimely death in 1980 prompted an inspired campus sociologist, Dane Archer, to propose that a Town/Gown Santa Cruz Shakespeare Festival be created in his memory, an idea that captured the imaginations of a wide range of people on and off campus. Fortunately, Audrey Stanley was named founding artistic director.

Since she was in the midst of directing A Midsummer Night’s Dream and planning to take it on tour to various campuses, and also beginning her work on The Tempest for the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival (later California Shakespeare), she welcomed Chancellor Sinsheimer’s $10,000 allocation for SSC’s 1980-81 preparatory year, which brought Kristen Balder-Froid on board as Festival Coordinator.

Stanley was extraordinarily well prepared to take on the challenge of creating UCSC’s Shakespeare Festival. She organized her first theater group at the age of eight; was one of the first six students to study Drama in a British university; became President of the University of Bristol Dramatic Society (1949-1950); took acting classes with the Bristol Old Vic Theater School and became Founder and Artistic Director of the University of Bristol Summer Touring Company. Moreover, she was the first Ph.D. in Dramatic Art at UC Berkeley (1970) where she was assigned a research project on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and given directions to this mysterious Northwest Territory. In 1975 she became the first woman to direct Shakespeare at OSF.  She went on to direct As You Like It in Ashland, and at UCSC Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (which toured 16 colleges and universities), and Romeo and Juliet, as well as directing Henry IV Part I for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. But launching a new festival also entailed other kinds of readiness, on and off campus.

In the fall of 1980 Stanley organized a return visit of five Royal Shakespeare Company actors, including Tony Church, for what was called a “Shakespeare Triumph,” a fund-raiser at Bargetto’s Winery. Amidst oak wine barrels, they read sonnets and talked about the plays. Stanley recalls, “It was at this event that I asked Tony Church, who had been a founding actor for the inauguration of the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-on-Avon in 1960, what role he would like to play in our inaugural first season in 1982. He replied, ‘King Lear.’”

Stanley continues, “To test the waters of likely audience participation the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum of L.A. was brought in during the Spring of 1981. They performed a very modern-day version of The Taming of the Shrew outdoors in the Quarry Theater. The audiences appeared to relish the truck on stage, the chains and the leather jackets!” Santa Cruz was ready.

In 1982, Stanley hired George Kovach to direct A Midsummer Night’s Dream with one of her ex-students, Bonnie Showers, who became co-director. Together with Norvid Roos, Festival Designer, they all claim credit for discovering the spectacular Glen. Tony Church starred in King Lear, directed by Stanley, using the complete First Folio edition that Literature Professor Michael Warren, whom Stanley calls “the keeper of the text,” later published with the Quarto version. As Stanley puts it, “Our festival should link the very latest in scholarship with the best and adventurous theater practitioners we could assemble.” She recalls that in SSC’s first season “the Royal Shakespeare Company actors only had two weeks of rehearsal before performing for only two weeks and were replaced by two local actors. So as a director, I had to use great ingenuity and flexibility. But having actors like Tony Church and Julian Curry really lifted the whole level of performance in our first season.”

She notes also “From the very first year we had scholarly discussion of the plays with actors, faculty and teachers from the community. These evolved into the very successful ‘Weekend with Shakespeare.’ Teachers requested that we send actors into the schools, which has now become Shakespeare To Go, a very successful collaboration among SSC, Theater Arts, and the Community.”

Each year since 1982 audiences have marveled at how SSC’s productions help us to see and feel the world more vividly and with greater compassion. SSC has “woven itself into the community fabric as well as that of the university, while achieving national stature,” Karen Sinsheimer, Stanley’s early collaborator, tells us. Both Stanley and Sinsheimer’s readiness has made these 30 years possible.

It takes visionaries to see the future in 400-year-old plays. Sinsheimer arrived in Santa Cruz in 1981 having begun a love affair with Shakespeare in college. Describing Audrey Stanley as “ever-persuasive and cunning…a force majeure” behind the Festival, Sinsheimer was asked to put a Board together. “How does one say no to what seemed a small request to help launch a summer of Shakespeare?” Describing Stanley, she says, “She thought globally from the beginning, as she engaged Tony Church, Julian Curry, Patrick Stewart, and Paul Whitworth—all from the Royal Shakespeare Company in London—to be part of the Festival in those early years.”

Stanley describes her collaboration with Sinsheimer as resembling horses pulling a chariot. Each had to be given her own head in order to work in tandem.  She tells us, “Working with Karen was a total delight. She brought a quality of invention and spunk and fun to all the tasks that the Board undertook to both publicize and fundraise. She has such style!”

To wit, Stanley describes what happened when she proposed that to publicize SSC’s first season “we should have Shakespeare (Rick Warren, a UCSC acting student) land at the Boardwalk from a boat. Karen persuaded Jack O’Neill to provide his two-masted schooner for the occasion. As Shakespeare was rowed ashore, he was promptly thrown upside down by the breakers—much to the delight of the press who gathered to record the event. The wet and shivering Shakespeare delighted everyone at the Boardwalk by his fast-witted repartee.” Someone was heard to say, “Why Shakespeare, he fits right in here!”

In 1982 Karen Sinsheimer wanted “to reach out to the community to forge town/gown links that superseded political agendas and other conflicts… It seemed that offering great theater in the summer, in a beautiful setting, was one way we could make the town a part of the city on the hill.”  She adds, “My feeling is that a university is a vital contributor to the intellectual and cultural, not to mention, economic richness of any community, and in that regard, SSC is a shining example.”

She has a unique perspective. “Having been a chancellor’s spouse, I was fully aware of the difficult budget choices a chancellor is forced to make, particularly when repeated and drastic cuts are pervasive. I can’t begin to tell you how deeply moved I was when, a few years ago, SSC supporters raised over $400,000 in about a week to secure SSC’s future as a professional theater. Each year will continue to bring challenges, but the community and university are in this together.”

In what, exactly?

She continues eloquently, “My feeling is that we are the keepers and preservers of culture, and we are part of a long continuum.  I think it is instructive that a few days after 9/11, when New York museums offered free admission to everyone, thousands of people flocked to the galleries to spend time in those spaces. People wanted the reassurance that beauty and humanity endure, even though there are destructive forces and frailties that operate in the world and in ourselves. Isn’t that what Shakespeare’s plays also tell us?”

Her insights remind me that The Winter’s Tale, the play that Audrey Stanley directed in Ashland and that first prompted the dean’s interest in a UCSC Shakespeare festival, does tell us precisely this. Standing in front of a stunning work of art, the statue of Hermione, his deceased wife, Leontes is told that he must awaken his sense of wonder, believe what his faithful servant says, and abandon his destructive paranoia and jealousy. It’s as though Shakespeare were asking: How can someone who has committed such atrocious offenses and abuses of power ever be welcomed back into society by those he’s harmed? Leontes’ transformation and Hermione’s “resurrection” offer us a renewed sense of hope despite great suffering and injustice in the world. As Harold Bloom writes, “Shakespeare contains us; he always gets there before us, and always waits for us, somewhere up ahead.”

Karen Sinsheimer agrees. “In my mind, the Bard’s plays still ask the enormous questions and challenge our beliefs. He remains ahead of us,” and with characteristic generosity she adds, “so I hope you’ll join me in continuing the journey.”

Happily, Audrey Stanley continues to be one of our guides who knows when to look back in order to shape the future. When asked whether, in times of economic crisis, Shakespeare Santa Cruz should survive, Stanley says, “YES!!!! My conviction stems from my experience of being brought up in the UK while we were at war with Germany and Japan.  I learnt or experienced an amazing lesson—which is when a country is really at its lowest ebb, it really seeks an out and cherishes the Arts. I was raised on seeing some of the most amazing theater in London. Actors of the brilliance of Alec Guinness, Ralph Richardson, Laurence Olivier, Donald Wolfit, Sybil Thorndike, Edith Evans, Flora Robson, Peggy Ashcroft, to name just a few, brought Shakespeare’s plays to an audience hungry for uplift and hope and the excitement of a language that went deep into our hearts. It was the beauty and wonder of that experience that has stayed with me and sustained me in the darkest days of trying to make SSC the deepest and most challenging Shakespeare company in the world.”

Audrey Stanley and Karen Sinsheimer’s willingness and readiness to build this local and national treasure ought to inspire us to act on what we know: live theater, and Shakespeare in particular, help us to name the world more accurately, and by doing so to act more humanely.


[Don Rothman taught writing at UCSC for 34 years before retiring in 2007, and he’s now Vice President of the Shakespeare Santa Cruz Board. He can be reached at]

Published in the 2011 Shakespeare Santa Cruz Playbill 30th Anniversary edition




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