Christine Mosere knows that the name of her new theater company, the Endangered Species Theatre Project, can seem a little misleading.
After all, she’s staged readings of little-known plays like “The Ladies of the Corridor” by Dorothy Parker and ““Diana of Dobson’s” by Cicely Hamilton, plus largely ignored works from prominent playwrights like Tennessee Williams.
But at the root of company’s name is Mosere’s sincere desire to create more spaces for older women and minorities — the real “endangered species” of theater, she said. Then there’s the fact that Frederick — a hotbed for contemporary performances thanks to groups like the Maryland Ensemble Theatre and Free Range Humans — has been largely devoid of classical theater since the Maryland Shakespeare Festival left the city in 2012.
“After talking to the community, I pretty quickly learned that the festival was seen as a big loss for the local arts scene,” said Mosere, who moved to Frederick from Seattle three years ago.
Just a few months after the move, she met professor Aaron Angello through the Hood College theater program, and the two began envisioning ways to bring classical drama back to the city.
“We just kept coming back to the fact that there was no Shakespeare here,” Angello said. “And we thought maybe we could bring that back.”
The result of their motivation is the first-ever Frederick Shakespeare Festival, a series of performances from July 20 to Aug. 26. The core event is a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” an ebullient string of run-ins between 10 mortals and the king and queen of the fairies.
It’s one of the playwright’s most beloved comedies, but it wasn’t Mosere’s first instinct when she began planning the festival. Initially, she thought of “As You Like It,” or “The Merry Wives of Windsor” — two of Shakespeare’s lesser-known works — until Angello convinced her to consider the more popular play.
“I wanted to pick a show that had the most extensive reach because people already know and recognize and love it,” he said.
It also allowed the two co-producers to make some unusual theatrical choices. The fairies in the play will appear onstage as large puppets made from organic materials, and they made an effort to challenge gender conventions both on and off the set. The character of Bottom — traditionally played by a man — was cast with a female actor until an injury forced her to leave the production. A male actor is again playing the role, Mosere said, but the cast and crew are split 50-50 between men and women.
“Obviously, that would be unheard of in Shakespeare’s day,” she added. “And it’s still not very common.”
Women of all ages are the main focus in “Shakespeare’s Other Women,” another production being staged at the festival. The anthology, written by the playwright Scott Kaiser, is a series of imagined monologues from 36 female characters mentioned in Shakespeare’s other works. Titania, the queen of the fairies in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” gets a monologue, as does Hippolyta, the former queen of the Amazons whose marriage to the Duke of Athens is the premise for the play.
In the spirit of accessible theater, Mosere said, most of the festival’s productions are pay-what-you-can, including a reading of “Macbeth” that will most likely be staged at Guido’s in downtown Frederick.
“We borrowed the name ‘Shakespeare in a Saloon,’ but you could also call it ‘Drunk Shakespeare,’” she joked. “It’s going to be the most informal of all the performances.”
The one exception to the typical payment model is a teen production of “Shakespeare in Love,” scheduled for the Sky Stage from Aug. 24 to 26. The $15 tickets will help cover the cost of the costumes and rights to the script, Mosere said, which is specifically tailored for younger actors.
“The adult version takes place in a brothel, and this doesn’t take place in a brothel,” she said. “But otherwise, it’s pretty similar, which is why I liked it.”
Some of the cast members for “Shakespeare in Love” are also part of Riotous Youth, an acting company for young adults that originated with the Maryland Shakespeare Festival. Instructor Ryan Leach participated in the program for years before he left to study acting at West Virginia University, returning to teach stage fighting to a new generation of actors.
That legacy, he said, is one reason why the festival’s return to Frederick is so meaningful. The original program ran for nearly 13 years and included a professional acting company and year-round programming. Most of those productions were staged over the summer in Frederick County, including a popular Shakespeare in the Park series at the Baker Park Bandshell.
When festival founder Becky Kemper took a new job in San Francisco, the company gradually disbanded and moved to Goucher College, said Judith Rice, a former president of the festival’s board of trustees. Riotous Youth was able to continue as an independent nonprofit, but Leach said the festival had been equally important for adult actors and audience members.
“It gave people a way to explore these works that are still so relevant to our world today,” he said. “And express themselves in a really safe and nurturing setting.”
It was just as meaningful for Rice, whose move to Frederick was largely inspired by the Maryland Shakespeare Festival.
“My husband and I stumbled here accidentally and saw the signs for Shakespeare in the Park,” Rice added. “And I said, ‘That’s it. Any place with Shakespeare in the park is a place I want to be.’ It’s a sign of a vibrant arts community.”