Helen Borgers Theatre
4250 Atlantic Ave.
Long Beach 90807
The mission of The Long Beach Shakespeare Company is to promote literacy by entertaining and inspiring its audiences with the power of the classics.
Our traditionally-designed productions of stage, literary, and radio classics offer visually compelling sets and costumes, live music and sound effects, and dynamic performances.
Our actors, musicians, directors, choreographers and designers include both union and non-union professionals. We have worked under the Equity 99-seat theatre plan, casting actors from AEA, SAG and AFTRA. We also provide a training ground for young actors from local middle and high schools and colleges and universities, who benefit from working side-by-side with seasoned professionals.
THE LONG BEACH SHAKESPEARE COMPANY STORY
The Long Beach Shakespeare Company was established in 1990 as the non-profit [501 (c)(3)] theatre arts organization, "The-Bard-In-The-Yard." Its goal was to make Shakespeare’s works available to the greater Long Beach community, particularly underprivileged audiences, with free summertime productions in Long Beach parks.
In 1997, under the artistic direction of Helen Borgers, the Company grew to a year-round operation, performing in southern and central California, in schools, churches, museums, Renaissance faires, Girl Scout Camps, Boy Scout meetings, the Challengers Boys and Girls Club, and the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, as well as in the parks of Long Beach. The Company began a three-year association with the Long Beach Public Corporation for the Arts in their Passport to the Arts program in the Long Beach Unified School District. The Company also expanded its repertoire to include classics ranging from the Greeks to early 20th century American authors and playwrights.
The Company changed its name to the Long Beach Shakespeare Company (LBSC) in 1999 and began producing an annual free summer festival in the parks of Long Beach, producing two plays in repertory on its own portable two-level Elizabethan stage.
In 2000, LBSC began a two-year partnership with the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, creating and touring Shakespeare workshops for Cerritos and surrounding school districts. The Company also developed instructional workshops for the Cerritos Arts Center and offered a three-year residency at Cabrillo High School in Long Beach.
LBSC opened its own resident theatre in 2002. The Black Box Theatre in Bixby Knolls launched on Halloween night with Helen Borgers’s own adaptation of H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds. The production became an instant tradition, and for the next five years LBSC produced a variety of its own adaptations each October. In 2008, the Company elected to produce Howard Koch's radio adaptation, written for Orson Welles. The old-style radio play proved so popular, the Company continues to produce it each Halloween season.
LBSC continued to tour schools in the greater Long Beach area, but also began providing performances for middle and high school classes in the Black Box Theatre.
In 2004, LBSC moved its summer Shakespeare festival to the front lawn of the Aquarium of the Pacific in downtown Long Beach, and expanded the schedule of performances from six to eight weekends. LBSC initiated a New Writers program in 2005, producing original plays with classical themes by local playwrights.
On February 10th, 2006, LBSC changed the name of its resident Black Box Theatre to the Richard Goad Theatre, named after a generous contributor. In 2007, LBSC's 9th annual summer festival joined the Long Beach Sea Festival, drawing crowds from Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside counties. In addition, LBSC partnered with the American Ballet Theatre, Bixby Knolls First Fridays, Barnes & Noble, and Gladstone's Long Beach for promotions, performances and fundraising.
In 2008 LBSC was honored to be granted the first ever rights to adapt Dashiell Hammett’s gritty masterpiece The Maltese Falcon for the stage. LBSC’s adaptation has since been licensed, in cooperation with the Hammett literary estate and agents, for performances by community and school theatre groups around the country.
A host of innovations followed. In May of 2008, LBSC departed from traditional staging and brought Euripides’s great tragedy, The Bacchae, to life as a rock opera, with music by Edmund Velasco. In 2009, LBSC added a summer day camp to its educational programs. Also in 2009, the Company began live webcasts from the Goad Theatre, including productions of Golden Age radio serials. 2010 saw the first of what has become an annual LBSC tradition, “A Celebration of Shakespeare,” during the whole month of April, the Bard’s birthday month. Programming includes radio plays, sonnet readings, themed events, and more, celebrating the influence of the Bard on popular culture. During the summers of 2009 and 2010, LBSC, teamed with local resident Claudia Schou, to stage children’s theatre programs in the newly renovated bandshell at Long Beach’s Bixby Park. “It takes a village to pull this together,” said Schou, “I think it speaks volumes about people’s passion for theater and their commitment to the community and sense of civic pride.”
Also in 2010, in conjunction with the annual LBSC presentation of Orson Welles’s radio version of H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, LBSC partnered with the Planetary Society, bringing in Mat Kaplan, host of Planetary Radio, to provide a half-hour introduction to the radio play, featuring both popular culture references and up-to-the-minute reports on the Red Planet. Mat and The Planetary Society have partnered with the Company each year since, updating audiences on the latest information direct from Mars!
In 2012, LBSC's 14th Annual Long Beach Shakespeare Festival added a new feature, a pre-show presentation by The Young Actors Theatre Workshop from Cubberley School, under the artistic direction of Marie Contreras Romero, Suzette Picazo and Patricia Gagna.
LBSC engaged a new theatre manager in in 2012. Dana Leach, from the Lakewood Christian School, brought to the Company her many years of experience in professional and educational theatre, video and television production, and theatre management. She initiated new policies and revenue streams and introduced fresh creative and educational ideas.
In 2014, LBSC led the local celebration of William Shakespeare's 450th Birthday Anniversary, with a critically-acclaimed production of King Lear. We also inaugurated a Free Speaker Series with lectures from Lloyd Kermode, Co-director of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at CSULB, and Louis Fantasia, former Director of the Shakespeare Globe Centre's Teaching Shakespeare Through Performance Institute, and current Director of Shakespeare at the Huntington Library.
In November of 2017 LBSC lost its Artistic Director, Helen Borgers, who had led the Company since its inception in 1997. The theatre family she nurtured and inspired was determined to see LBSC survive and thrive despite her passing. Together they fulfilled Borgers’s plan for the 2018 Season of rarely done Shakespeare.
In July of 2018 the LBSC Board of Directors appointed Brandon “Brando” Cutts as Artistic Director. Cutts has been affiliated with LBSC since his drama-club days at Cabrillo High School—as student, actor, director, and collaborator with Helen Borgers. “She was my first mentor,” he explained, “we shared a love of language and spent many late nights pouring over literature, film, and theater.” Cutts has performed, designed, or directed for more than 60 LBSC productions. He earned his B.A. in Drama from U.C. Irvine in 2009 and lists credits with a variety of theatre companies from Los Angeles to New York. Cutts oversaw the completion of the 2018 season and set a “Season of Villains” as the theme for the 2019 season. “I wanted to give our audience members a sense of unity with one another by presenting characters they can all love to hate together,” he explained. “Directing our rancor at fictional scapegoats may help us be a little more patient and cooperative with one another in our daily lives.”
An innovative new series featuring literature and poetry expressed through American Sign Language was launched by LBSC in the fall of 2018, spearheaded by Maxwell Bradney, an ASL advocate, professional interpreter, and LBSC volunteer. At ASL Literature Slam, audience members—both Deaf and hearing—can witness signed performances of literature, poetry, and more. Attendees may also choose to take stage during an interactive, open-mic portion of the program. “I’m hoping that our ASL nights will expose more people to creative uses of ASL,” Bradney explains, “and in addition, we’ll raise awareness about LBSC and its continuing efforts to provide communication access to theater for the local Deaf community.” The free “First Friday” series has become a standout success, with full houses and enthusiastic audiences.
On October 27, 2018 LBSC hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark to the renaming of its Bixby Knolls playhouse as “The Helen Borgers Theatre.” New signage on Atlantic Avenue, funded by donations from theatre goers, was unveiled. “Halloween was Helen’s favorite holiday,” says theatre manager Dana Leach, “so it’s especially fitting to celebrate her contributions at her favorite time of year.” Dozens gathered to pay tribute to Borgers and celebrate the occasion. “Just as Shakespeare himself gave the groundlings a glimpse into the lives of royalty, great beauties, adventurers, and magical creatures,” remembered the new Artistic Director Brandon Cutts, “Helen Borgers brought the unobtainable to Long Beach through productions meant to be just as good and thorough as any in the Globe Theater.” Long Beach City Councilman Al Austin II presented a Certificate of Recognition to The Long Beach Shakespeare Company renaming its Bixby Knolls playhouse to “The Helen Borgers Theatre” for her dedication to theatre and literature, elevating the arts, the local community and the lives of the company members and patrons.
The winter of 2019-2020 brought changes to LBSC, as to the rest of the world. Covid-era safety protocols put a temporary hold on performances before live audiences. The Company pivoted, becoming one of the first groups in southern California to stream fully staged productions, in addition to its radio-style shows. Grants from the RuMBa Foundation of Long Beach provided an extra boost, underwriting production of new online arts education programming for students in the Long Beach Unified School District. With RuMBa grants and others, nimble planning, volunteers, and generous donations, LBSC weathered the pandemic, gradually—and gratefully—returning to live shows before live audiences.
The Long Beach Shakespeare Company welcomed new Artistic Director, Holly Leveque, in the fall of 2022. Leveque trained at the Academy of Visual and Performing Arts at Culver City High School and attended Loyola Marymount University, where she earned a BA in Theatre Arts and an MFA in Feature Screenwriting. She served on the board of directors of Loyola’s Del Rey Theater, studied abroad with the Moscow Art Theater, and has worked in comedies, dramas, and theaters across the Southland, including a season acting at LBSC under the direction of both Brando Cutts, outgoing Artistic Director, and Helen Borgers, the Company’s founder and guiding spirit. Her first season is “The Circle of Life.” “Change is inescapable,” says Leveque, “yet in life as in theatre, transitions can bring new energy, friendship, creativity, and love. That’s my hope for this Company and our community.”
The Long Beach Shakespeare Company remains dedicated to offering high-quality productions of classic theatre and literature, compelling and culturally relevant entertainment options, and a range of traditions—both old and new—to enlarge and invigorate the lives of its southern California community. Watch for more information on the upcoming 2023 theatre season!