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Shakespeare Fest Seeking Sponsors
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The sluggish economy and soaring gas prices may have taken their toll on local donors, as coordinators for the annual Shakespeare In The Park say donations are down, but the show must go on - which means it's time to get creative if the pirate-version of 'Twelfth Night' is indeed going to go off as planned.

In response to lagging donations, Rio Arts held a one-day auction to benefit this year's free Shakespeare festival scheduled for June 18 through 22 at Jacob Myers Park but in spite of a successful event, the coffers are still short.

Rio Arts Artistic Director Joey Huestis, however, said they've hit upon a new way to encourage sponsorship by offering bite-sized portions rather than the entire pie.

"In today's economy it's easier for people to give smaller donations rather than large donations so we've come up with the Friends of the Shakespeare In The Park program," Huestis said.

For $100, donors can "befriend" the event, in which the donors will be recognized and applauded at the start of each performance as well as have their names printed in the program. The goal is to raise $5,000 and Huestis thinks it's possible.

"The original vision of the Shakespeare In The Park was to have a small, intimate gathering with wine and hors d'ouevres, and watch quality Shakespeare and make it available to the public for free. In order to do that we must rely on donations and grants," Huestis said.

Last year, Rio Arts managed to raise $4,000 for the event but spent every dime in putting on the weekend series of performances.

"We're anticipating an increase in costs so we figured $1,000 (more) would cover it," Huestis said.

Apparently, the Modesto Junior College costume department used to accommodate Rio Arts with a large portion of their costume needs for a rental fee of $25 but the costume shop is closed for construction and the nonprofit theater group is having to make from scratch or buy from other sources.

And they're not shopping at Nordstrom's.

"We do what's called Dumpster diving theater and we've been doing it for years. If we see something that we think might be put to good use, we pick it up. Right now, we've been going to a lot of thrift stores looking for costume ideas," Huestis said. "It's been very challenging. We've been talking with other nonprofits who are struggling, too."

But even if the economic climate has cooled, Huestis is certain there are still people out there who believe in the power of the arts to transform not only a single person but also a community.

"You can learn through the arts every aspect of life skills from budgeting to coordinating. I don't think a community can survive without the arts. A lot of the kids we work with are considered at-risk and when they come out and do Shakespeare In The Park they get a bit of an education," Huestis shared. "Arts make a community a better and more interesting place to live."

Featuring two shows per day, the youth show features children ranging in age from 7-18 and many of these fledgling thespians come from disadvantaged homes yet the theater gives them a healthy alternative to running on the streets or getting into gangs.

"We become their family," Huestis said.

Anyone interested in donating or becoming a Friend of the annual Shakespeare event can mail a check to Rio Arts, P.O. Box 1540, Riverbank, CA 95367 with SIP donation in the memo field or they can call Huestis at 614-9135.

"We want everyone to come and see the play whether or not they donate because everyone works so hard to put on this event," Huestis said.