2020 Viola Award Finalist for Excellence in Performing Arts

In the Spring of 2019, Flagstaff Shakespeare Festival, “FlagShakes” performed Indecent, a new play by Paula Vogel. Vogel’s play tells the story of another play, God of Vengeance, written by the Yiddish playwright Sholom Asch in the early 1900’s. And when Broadway producers rewrote Asch’s Yiddish play to appeal to Broadway’s crowds in the 1930s, the authorities shut it down and arrested the actors, ostensibly for indecency.

FlagShakes’s production of this play was extraordinary. To increase the play’s authenticity, they performed in Flagstaff’s historic Riordan Mansion, spoke and sang lines in Yiddish, and brought the emotion of these struggling Yiddish writers and actors to life. There was no
one in the audience who wasn’t strongly moved by the performance. 

To expand on the play’s historical significance, the performances were done in conjunction with the Martin-Springer Institute at NAU. And for one of the performance weekends, MSI brought in a holocaust drama scholar, Dr. Robert Skloot. He spoke to the audience and actors about the Holocaust, Yiddish Theatre, and the history of God of Vengeance.

 So not only was it educational, but it’s faithfulness to setting, language, music, and the importance of theatre for oppressed cultures demonstrate the dedication of Co-directors Cameron Scully and Hannah Fontes.

And this quality reflects years of effort. In five years, the Flagstaff Shakespeare Festival has grown from producing one play in 2015 to becoming a full-fledged theater company with six outstanding productions in 2019: God of Vengeance, Indecent, Much Ado About Nothing, Duchess of Malfi, Winter’s Tale and AChristmas Carol. It is a welcome addition to the theatrical profile of Flagstaff, complementing Theatrikos and NAU by providing actor-driven plays and Shakespeare, featuring
many local actors and directors.

FlagShakes aspires to be more than merely a production company, however, and its goals are further-reaching. FlagShakes wants to “elevate empathy” by making each show accessible, unique, and a learning experience. They provide live music, universal lighting, direct audience address, outdoor theater and many other original staging practices of Shakespeare’s time. They also strive to put on the plays as Shakespeare intended it – for regular people in the community to enjoy.

Finally, it’s important to note that FlagShakes has made an impact on the community and collaborates to make the cultural community stronger. For example, they offer student matinees to give younger residents a chance to enjoy the shows at discounted prices. They have show “talkbacks” in which audiencemembers can talk with actors and share their experiences. This year, both Indecent and God of Vengeance dealt with issues of ethnicity, sexual orientation, and family. In addition, FlagShakes has worked with many other entities in the community, including Coconino Center for the Arts, Theatrikos, Flagstaff Foundry, Museum of Northern Arizona, Riordan Mansion, the Martin-Springer Institute at Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy, The Arboretum and more.