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A Shakespeare expert comes to Richmond just as the Richmond Shakespeare Festival announces it's moving. 

Here, There, Now Where?

I've been an itinerant person my whole life, a vagabond in some ways," says actor/director Michael Tolaydo. Born in Kenya, schooled in England, a traveler to a dozen countries and all 50 states, Tolaydo's wandering ways have given him a broad worldview. But with constant movement come challenges. "I've been a foreigner wherever I've been," he observes.

Tolaydo's travels bring him to Richmond this month to direct "Twelfth Night" for the Encore! Theatre Company in the first offering of this year's Richmond Shakespeare Festival. He directed a student production of the same play while he was a visiting professor at the University of Richmond more than a dozen years ago. One of the players in that production was Encore's Artistic Director Grant Mudge. "Michael was a very influential professor for me, and he is now one of the upper echelon in the Shakespeare world," Mudge says. "I'm really pleased that he could find a place in his schedule to come down here."

Tolaydo is squeezing his stint at RSF in between the conclusion of his classes at St. Mary's College in Maryland, where he is a professor of theater, and a busy summer that will include acting in "A Life in the Theater" by David Mamet at the Source Theatre in Washington. This fall, he will tackle the role of Macbeth at the Folger Theatre in D.C. In his spare time, Tolaydo is the performance editor for Shakespeare Magazine.

The ever-moving Tolaydo arrives here just as RSF announces that it will be moving from its stately Agecroft Hall setting. Last summer's well-received two-show slate was so popular that it caused problems for the festival, both with its Windsor Farms neighbors and local authorities.

Cited by a fire marshal for a lack of a building permit for its temporary stage, RSF had to move its production of "Hamlet" just seven performances before the end of the 2000 season. Neighbors complained about the traffic. These problems set the stage for more wrangling this year. Though Mudge says he never received any complaints directly, he has announced that the second show in this summer's festival will open in a different location in deference to the concerns that have been raised.

"From the beginning, we've really wanted to take care of the neighbors," says Mudge, who has presided over RSF since its inception 1998. And most of the neighbors responded positively. Mudge says that a prominent family that lives across the street from Agecroft wrote a letter saying they liked the excitement the festival generated. "Many people recognize that this festival — performed in a house that was standing in Shakespeare's England — is unique in the world," Mudge asserts.

This won't be the first move for RSF; the festival began as a free event held in an open field at the Boulders. The move to Agecroft — a 15th-century Tudor mansion brought over from England in crates — seemed like the perfect fit, and several shows were staged in the Hall's outer courtyard. But the growing size of the audiences and other technical concerns prompted the Agecroft staff to approve the construction of a stage on the west lawn for the 2000 season. For "Twelfth Night," RSF will return to Agecroft's outer courtyard.

Regardless of the location troubles, Tolaydo says that Richmond should be happy to have its own Shakespearean celebration. He was once the artistic director for the Maryland Shakespeare Festival, which had to close down in the early 1990s due to cutbacks in government funding. He praises Mudge for his dedication. "I see a lot of talented young people with great ideas," says Tolaydo. "But what's fabulous about Grant is that he followed through on his ideas. He has the kind of dedication that can move mountains."

For his part, Tolaydo is concentrating on making his new "Twelfth Night" as intriguing and engaging as possible. The plot of the popular comedy has a pair of twins, Viola and Sebastian, getting shipwrecked and separated in a storm. Lost in a region that is totally unfamiliar to them, they soon become embroiled in the romantic entanglements of the upper crust in this strange and somewhat magical society. "On one level, the play deals with a sort of Utopian world," explains Tolaydo. "And the twins decide to invade it."

To project a magical world that contemporary audiences might relate to, the director is outfitting the show with the trapping of the 1930s. "When you think of the '30s, you think of Noel Coward … jazz singers and a very cliquish society that is in love with ideas," says Tolaydo. "Setting [the play] in that kind of era gives it a clever and not-quite-real radiance of artificiality."

Also adding an interesting element to this production is the fact that the actors playing the twins — Tiza Garland and Jerry Tan — look virtually identical. "For the audience, having Jerry and Tiza in the play together adds another level of delight because no one has to pretend [that they look alike]," says Tolaydo. "It adds a level of reality to that unreal world."

After "Twelfth Night" closes, RSF will stage "The Tempest," which also begins with a storm and a shipwreck. Though the location for that production has not been determined yet, Mudge says, "We are in conversations with owners and managers of several venues which may suit our very unique needs, and have several tentative options."

Mudge is confident that, by the time "The Tempest" begins, the squall that led to the festival's uprooting will have long blown
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