Long Beach Shakespeare Company rings in new year with new artistic director and programming
As 2023 begins, the Long Beach Shakespeare Company (LBSC)—housed in the Helen Borgers Theatre in Bixby Knolls—is poised to “Shake” things up under new Artistic Director Holly Leveque.
“I’m excited to bring the company into a new era, and raise the bar of the shows that we’re going to bring to the stage,” Leveque told LA Theatrix.
Leveque officially stepped into her new role this past November, taking the reins from former artistic director Brando Cutts, who had assumed the mantle after the passing of LBSC founder Helen Borgers in late 2017.
Leveque has also taken over as LBSC producer and theatre manager, filling the shoes of long-time volunteer Dana Leach.
“Working with Helen, Brando and Dana taught me so much,” Leveque said in a statement announcing her appointment.
No stranger to LBSC, Leveque began acting in the theatre in 2010, working with both Borgers and Cutts.
Last June, she directed LBSC’s production of Henrik Ibsen’s play “Peer Gynt,” incorporating relatively new staging devices for the theatre company, such as video projection and puppetry, to help engage the audience in conveying the far-reaching Norwegian tale.
“People really responded well to that,” she said of the production. “I really challenged [the actors] and they rose to the occasion.”
Leveque hopes to continue such theatrical innovation in this year’s slate of staged productions, beginning with William Shakespeare’s tragedy “King Lear” beginning Feb. 17, which she will direct.
“Even in classical work, you have these moments that can be different—whether it’s a monologue, a scene or a visual—in which we can put different tropes of theater together and see what happens,” Leveque said.
She will also rehearse with actors using techniques she learned during a study-abroad stint at the Moscow Arts Theatre while in college, Leveque said—including physical exercises involving silent movement, emotional expression and mirroring—designed to get cast members out of their own heads and listen and respond to each other more.
“It’s never just one person; it’s everyone working together,” Leveque explained. “We can feel very alone in this life and what’s beautiful about theatre […] is it brings people together while making it and while enjoying it.”
LBSC will also perform Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and “The Winter’s Tale,” which Leveque said reflect this year’s “Circle of Life” theme.
“So many of Shakespeare’s plays have family and lovers separated for years,” Leveque noted about the theme. “And so many in our midst have suffered and lost during these last years of the pandemic.”
In addition to Shakespeare, LBSC will stage Helen Borgers’s adaptation of the O. Henry story “The Gift of the Magi” in late November, which Leveque describes as “a poignant mix of love and sacrifice, perfect for the holidays.”
Leveque is also planning new programming for LBSC, including a “New Works Festival” in July—which she describes as “an opportunity to showcase new shorts, plays and musicals in various stages of development”—and a two-day “Poetry Series” in October, led by poet Linda Ravenswood and featuring local poets.
But LBSC also will continue its circa 1940s “old-time radio” shows in which actors broadcast from the KBRD radio station within the Helen Borgers Theatre.
The eight radio shows begin with “Alice in Wonderland” in January and include LBSC’s perennial radio-show offerings of a "Sherlock Holmes" mystery, a “Gunsmoke” episode, “The Wizard of Oz” in summer, Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds” in October and Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” in December.
Leveque came to LBSC with a degree in theatre arts and MFA in feature screenwriting from Loyola Marymount University—where she also served on the board of the university’s Del Rey Theatre for three years, helping to shape its seasons—after graduating from Culver City High School’s Academy of Visual and Performing Arts (AVPA).
Besides training in Moscow during college, Leveque also studied theatre in Germany and Greece—which she describes as the birthplace of theatre.
“It would be a missed opportunity for me not to use that experience and knowledge at the Long Beach Shakespeare Company,” she said.
Though her education and career trajectory has veered into writing and television producing, Leveque said she always returned to the theatre.
“It is truly what I think what I’m meant to be doing in this life,” she said, adding that she is especially excited “to make Helen proud” by helping to realize the late founder’s vision for LBSC.
Part of achieving that goal is connecting the theatre more to its community of Bixby Knolls and supporting other local businesses in the process, Leveque said.
“We’re all a community together,” she said. “I’m excited to see where that goes.”
The Long Beach Shakespeare Company is located at the Helen Borgers Theatre, 4250 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach. Call (562) 997-1494 or visit LBShakespeare.org for more information and to purchase tickets for the 2023 season.