"Though this be madness, yet there is method in't."
Polonius could have been speaking of the bill for the 33rd annual Kern Shakespeare Festival, which opens Friday at Bakersfield College. For although the annual event has returned to a two-show format, one of those is not by the Bard himself.
BC theater instructor Brian Sivesind said that after two years of only being able to perform a single show for the event's run, they were determined to round out the festival.
"We decided last year come hell or high water we were going to do two shows this year. ... We worked out a structure by which we were able to do it."
Of course, Tom Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" is a natural companion to its festival mate, "Hamlet."
Arguably Shakespeare's greatest tragedy, "Hamlet" is the tale of the prince set on revenge against his uncle, Claudius, who killed his father, seized the throne and married his newly widowed mother, Gertrude. More of an absurd comedy, "Rosencrantz" uses the events of "Hamlet" as background, focusing on two minor characters from the original play, who are dispatched to bring about the prince's end when he is exiled to England. (Spoiler: Hamlet tricks them, leading to their demise, while returning to Denmark to meet his own tragic fate.)
"You can come see 'Hamlet' then you can be in on all the jokes (for 'Rosencrantz')," Sivesind said of the festival schedule allowing for more performance of the tragedy, which debuts before "Rosencrantz."
Although many characters are in both shows, those performing the roles vary to accommodate more actors in the festival.
"Conceptually we talked about having the characters (overlap) but we wanted to give more students an opportunity to be on stage."
Sivesind is directing "Hamlet" (and performing as Claudius) while adjunct professor Bob Kempf is directing "Rosencrantz" (and performing as Polonius in it).
Speaking of the king's chief counselor, Polonius in "Hamlet" is played by none other than festival founder Randy Messick, who came out of retirement to perform.
"Polonius is just a huge presence, just a windbag. He had never played him," Sivesind said of Messick.
But because Messick retired in 2015, he, like all outside actors, is not allowed to perform on campus without clearing some red tape. So Sivesind enrolled him, along with Amy Hall (who plays Gertrude) and others in the class so they could participate.
"I get to give the guy a grade. I’ve never directed him."
In "Hamlet," Ryan Lee plays the young Dane, Tevin Joslen is his friend Horatio, and Shelbe McClain is Ophelia. The "Rosencrantz" cast includes married BC staffers Kevin and Cody Ganger as the doomed duo, Brian Purcell as Hamlet, Carlos Vera as Claudius, DeCymbr Frank as Gertrude and Brittany Beaver is Ophelia.
The shows use the same staging with a backdrop of pages from "Hamlet" in a design by Kevin Ganger, who also designed the lighting with Sivesind. (Matthew Claypool handled sound.) Costume designer Leslie Aldridge opted for more Victorian costumes for "Hamlet" with a "'Penny Dreadful' feel" and went more traditional with an Elizabethan look for "Rosencrantz."
Sivesind is excited for audiences to check out the shows which alternate running through next Friday. And he's optimistic about the future.
"I'm hoping that we can build it back up. We need more support both financially and with the community. I think it's a great thing that Randy created and we need to get it back to its glory days.
"The effort is there — and the talent."