Ryan Chartrand

As you walk the obscure path toward the stage hosting the Central Coast Shakespeare Festival, you might take a second look to make sure you are in the right place.

An unlikely setting unravels as the lavish stage positioned in the middle of a field at Belleve Santa Fe Charter School in San Luis Obispo comes into view.

Once there, the delicious aroma of barbecue and wine will bring your attention to the audience resting on blankets and lawn chairs.

Then there is no mistaking that you are present at the set of “Richard III” and “The Taming of the Shrew,” the two Shakespeare plays showcased during this year’s festival.

Zoe Zaba is the artistic director of the company and acted with the Central Coast Shakespeare Festival (CCSF) from 1992 to 1996.

Zaba, the entire cast and everyone involved in the production process work on a volunteer basis for the festival.

“We are a nonprofit theater so everyone involved does their part toward creating the art,” Zaba said.

CCSF is a repertory company, meaning they rehearse two full-length plays at the same time with the same company of actors.

“Working in repertory is a joy all actors should experience at some point if they can,” said Alan Benson, who plays the lead role in “Richard III.”

“Rehearsing two separate shows helps keep me balanced. It keeps me from overly obsessing on how I’m doing in one show or the other.”

“Richard III” is filled with devious plans, murderous sin and unforgivable evil.

Benson, an actor and director with more than 20 of years experience in the business, captures the true essence of his character in such a way that he tricks viewers into despising him.

Benson will leave you craving more of the poisonous Richard.

The deformed “hunchbacked toad” known as Richard III is a ruthless schemer who knows exactly how to charm his way to what he wants. With no sense of remorse, Richard slays anyone who threatens his secret plan.

Richard has his eye on one thing only: becoming king.

Corrine Wieben is spending her third season with CCSF playing the part of Lady Anne in “Richard III” and can be seen as a part of the ensemble in “The Taming of the Shrew.”

Wieben debuted with the festival in 2004. “At the time, I just wanted the audition experience and didn’t really plan to perform so far away, but when they offered me Margaret in ‘Much Ado About Nothing,’ I couldn’t resist,” she said.

Now with her lead role in “Richard III,” Wieben has taken on a change in character. “I am used to playing strong characters, but Lady Anne is both vulnerable and na’ve,” she said.

“When we first see Lady Anne in the play … she has lost all of those dear to her and she is beyond repair. Richard, who has murdered Lady Anne’s husband, appears to her as both a nightmare and a life-preserver,” Wieben said.

If the dark side of Richard isn’t quite your cup of tea, “The Taming of the Shrew” offers Shakespeare’s comedic and romantic sides.

The audience must be prepared to put away their serious side and give in to the outrageous mockery and over-the-top plot filled with deception that makes up “The Taming of the Shrew.”

Set in the Old West, the play questions the meaning of love by focusing on Kate and Petruchio’s relationship.

The riveting scenes and turns of events take you through the journey of discovering if they come to love each other and why.

Perhaps to help transition from the murky feeling of “Richard III,” the cast for “The Taming of the Shrew” performs a ritual before going on stage.

“We gather in a circle and give ourselves a great big ‘Yee-haw!’ just before we start,” Benson said. “It’s just a fun moment of solidarity and helps to establish the Wild West theme.”

It is this solidarity and sense of camaraderie that keeps CCSF members coming back, Wieben said.

The quality of the acting is definitely the major element in these performances. The detailed costumes also brought the audience into the action by capturing the essence of the time period.

As for the fate of CCSF, Zaba expects bigger things to come.

“We have been producing classical theater in rep on the Central Coast for more than 15 years, and we hope to become a professional repertory company much like the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon,” she said.

For tickets and more information, visit www.ccshakes.org.

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