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Shakespeare in the Park returns to Riverbank for 6th year
The cast and producer of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew take a break for a photo. Photographed are Elda Coleman, Michelle Montgomery, Kenny Lindberg, Molly Veira, Casey Reid, Stan Wexler, Mike Welborn, James McIntyre, TJ Johnson, Mandy Kleinert, Ellie Oliveira, Mary Rosas, Syd Laurel, Brian Adams, Dan Bailey, David Kingston and Joey Huestis. (Not pictured Stacy Blevins, Gail Bailey, Susan Regnerus and Ric McGinnis) - photo by Photo Courtesy Rio Arts
Central Valley community members need not travel far to enjoy the words of Shakespeare as Rio Arts presents its sixth annual production of Shakespeare in the Park.
Free performances will be staged June 25 to June 27 at Jacob Myers Park in Riverbank. Performances are free and open to the public. Showtimes of this years production of “the Taming of the Shrew” are: Main Show June 25 to June 27 7 p.m. and June 28 at 4 p.m.; Youth Show June 27 at 2 pm. And 4 p.m. and a Fringe Show has been added on June 28 at Noon and 2 p.m. (see inside pages for information).
Finding free entertainment during tough economic times has become more of a challenge than it once was. Costs are high, funds are low and companies and individuals who were once generous with donations, now must reevaluate how they  ‘divide the wealth.’
‘Staycation’ has become an increasingly prevalent buzz word as individuals and families reevaluate what and where they will spend what little money they might have. Such hurdles have not stopped the members of Rio Arts in producing this annual event. Contrary to what has become the national standard, the group is looking forward to presenting Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” in its new Jacob Myers Park location.
This years performance will be staged at the base of the turn about on the recently added trail of the park. Tucked among the trees and steps away from the sound of the scenic Stanislaus River, this new location offers the perfect serene setting for such a production.
“I am excited this year, because I am going to sit and watch the show,” Rio Arts founding board member Stacy Blevins said of the upcoming production.
To date, Blevins reported she has ‘done it all.’ Serving as founder, producer/director in 2004, 2005 and 2007; actress in 2008 and dramaturg/co-director for the current season.
“I am really excited to watch the show.”
As Blevins travels down memory lane with friend and fellow founding board member Joey Huestis, the two recall how Blevins sitting in the audience is one step toward the ultimate goal.
Blevins, an Oakdale resident and teacher at Riverbank High School shared her initial thought of what fun it would be to do Shakespeare in the Park. A thought which quickly turned into a plan and in 2004 Jacob Myers Park became the summer time home to Shakespeare in the Park.
With the blessing and support of the City of Riverbank and Riverbank Parks and Recreation, the group was allowed to host a one night showing of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Encouraged by the turn out and the cooperation of the city, this group of thespians has returned, for what is now the sixth year and now offers four nights of shows. As the production and experienced cast has grown, so too has the event.
Offering its audience both an adult and youth productions. While Blevins and Huestis are quick to point out the language of the play remains in Elizabethean text, the production is set in a 1930s gangster motif.
“It’s a trend,” Blevins said. “That’s what modern directors like to do. It’s a way to show Shakespeare in a different light.”
The two women shared that offering the language of Shakespeare in different time periods and settings demonstrates the timelessness of Shakespeare’s words.
“I would love to do Romeo and Juliet in a Native American setting,” Huestis said.
What truly excites the two theatre buffs is the excitement of the youth, who voluntarily return to participate in the productions each summer.
Students from as near as Oakdale and as far as Elk Grove give up much of their time to rehearse and produce the youth show. The youth production is a100 percent youth production, from the actors to the director and producer, everyone is 18 or under.
Oakdale High School sophomore James McIntyre will direct this year youth production of “The Taming of the Shrew.”  He will also stand in, in a lead position for the adult production.
Huestis shared when the group learned there may be a sudden vacancy in the adult production, just weeks before showtime, they knew James would be up for the challenge. Just two years after joining the Rio Arts group, this young actor/ director has proved to be a great asset to the group.
Recent Riverbank High School graduate Ashley Edwards has also proved to be a large asset from the youth crowd.
“I started my sophomore year,” Edwards said of her partnership with the group. “This is my first time producing. Last year I directed.’
I love Shakespeare, he’s my favorite playwright,” she added.
“We are always looking for interns,” said Huestis, who has served as producer since 2006. “I knew I would have somebody to come in and intern for production.”
Blevins shared that it is the introduction and exposure to Shakespeare the group offers the community, which makes it worthwhile.
Sharing a story of a past student participant whom she over heard telling friends that the whole reason she loved Shakespeare was because of the whole experience (with the production).
With belts tightening and funds diminishing the group maintains their production will continue to be a free production.
“That goes against everything we ever wanted to do with this,” Blevins stated.
“As Stacy has always stated,” Huestis added, “Shakespeare is free to the world. It’s to keep it accessible to everybody.”
The words of Shakespeare are not the only things the group has made accessible to its audience. They also offer vendors opportunity to set up shop. While, they are not charged for space they are asked to make a donation to Rio Arts (a 501c non-profit organization). The integrity of what they offer the audience is also weighed and reviewed by the board.
This years Zavattero’s will offer gourmet box meals and gourmet coffee and tea beverages will be offered by Roasters Coffee.
“Families bring dinner…a bunch of food and blankets and just enjoy the show,” Huestis said of the typical crowd. “It’s a nice night out for the family.”
For additional information on Shakespeare in the Park or Rio Arts visit , e-mail or call 209-614-9135.

This will be the sixth year that this all volunteer troupe composed of members from as near as Oakdale and as far as Elk Grove, will display their talents during a four day free production of Shakespeare in the Park.