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Shakespeare Festival: To Be or Not to Be? : Entertainment: Producers have the blessings of the county and Altadena Town Council, but funding remains elusive.


Will free Shakespeare in the park play in Altadena, or are Frederick Hoffman and Mike Robelo just having a midsummer night's dream?

Hoffman and Robelo's Charmed Life Productions, a nonprofit, professional classical theater corporation based in West Hollywood, wants to present Shakespearean plays this summer at Farnsworth Park on East Mt. Curve Avenue.

They already have obtained the co-sponsorship of the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation and the moral support of the Altadena Town Council.

But the cost of the endeavor may prove to be the rub. The cost of staging a single performance with professional actors is more than $5,000, and 12 performances in July and August--of "Romeo and Juliet," "As You Like It," "The Tempest" or "King Lear"--are targeted.

The county is not contributing money directly but has waived the cost of insurance and other usual fees. In an added show of support, the county plans to put on a Renaissance fair to coincide with the final performances, expected to take place Aug. 3 and 4.

Still, Hoffman said, only about $18,000 has been raised from individuals, businesses and corporations. The producers are making the rounds of businesses, clubs and governmental bodies to obtain the rest of the $64,000 they estimate will be needed to kick off the debut season of their proposed Hillside Shakespeare Festival.

Hoffman and Robelo hope that, with financial, technical and volunteer help from the community, Farnsworth Park's 600-seat amphitheater will be a permanent home for classical theater in the San Gabriel Valley.

"If it were up to me, there would be serious theater--a place of ideas--in every community," Robelo said.

Hoffman and Robelo particularly want to attract the young and underprivileged. Admission will be free, with a requested donation of canned or other imperishable food, which will be distributed to the homeless and needy along with matching grants from local markets.

Hoffman believes such a festival could offer alternatives to "trivial and debased" television and movie fare.

"What's unique about our work in classical theater is that we do it on a high level," he said. "Plays at this level remain relevant and meaningful to each new generation.

"The secret," he said, "lies in finding the correct metaphor to tell the audience what the issue is. It's not just a matter of people putting on swords and doing Shakespeare."

For example, Hoffman explained, the issue in "Hamlet" is the young prince's conflict between his private sense of morality and his public responsibility. "The ghost of Hamlet's father said, 'Murder most foul, as in the best it is,' yet he tells his son to do murder.

"That isn't all that different from the problem of the young man who finds himself going to Vietnam," Hoffman said. The issue, he added, can be made clear with editing, staging and direction, while keeping the bard's lines intact.

Charmed Life Productions, which includes audience discussions before or after performances, used this technique when it presented "Macbeth" in 1987 at the Globe Theater in West Hollywood.

Robelo acted the part of King Duncan in the play. Hoffman, 51, and Robelo, 62, have been involved in theater, TV and film for much of their lives. Hoffman, who was cast as a senator in the movie "War of the Roses," co-founded the Shakespeare-in-the-Park Festival in San Francisco in 1961.

Los Angeles County Recreation Services Supervisor Jolene LaMont said their proposed venture is "a wonderful opportunity for the community."

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