Cameron Crain, artistic managing director of the Nevada Shakespeare Company, blends activism with the Bard in his work.
Cameron Crain, artistic managing director of the Nevada Shakespeare Company, blends activism with the Bard in his work.

Cameron Crain gestures widely with his hands as he speaks—his wrists rotating to flip his hands over, fingers extended, eyes wide and expressive.

Those aren’t such crazy mannerisms for one who has spent much of his life on stage. When he’s not teaching English to seventh graders at St. Albert the Great School, Crain is busy as managing artistic director for the Nevada Shakespeare Company. He has written, managed, produced, directed and acted in many of the company’s plays along with his wife Jeanmarie Simpson, who founded the NSC in 1989 when it was called Daring Explorations Theater Company.

Crain, 36, is an accidental Renoite. The Idaho native expected to end up among the theater crowd in the Bay Area. But he fell in love with Simpson, a Reno girl. In 1995, two years after meeting her, he followed her.

Crain has played everyone from Andy Griffith-inspired hillbilly narrators to Hamlet. As Everyman in A Single Woman, he played 80 different characters ranging from John F. Kennedy to a little boy to a mother.

But of all his many roles on stage and off, the one connecting them all is that of the peace activist. “Every issue I care about centers on peace,” he says. He even ran against Sen. Bill Raggio for the Senate in 2004 as an underdog Democrat on a peace platform. He lost but came away with 30 percent of the vote.

Crain’s philosophies have also helped shape the NSC.

The company moved to Virginia City in 2000, where its production of The Music Man and other plays helped appeal to tourists there. A $75,000 production of Romeo and Juliet was slated to open Sept. 14, 2001, when two airplanes attacked the World Trade Center. “Tourism in Virginia City just stopped,” says Crain. NSC had to close the play early and go home. But the disruption allowed the company to take a hard look at itself. It didn’t like what it saw. “After September 11, we had a soul check,” says Crain. “We came back to Reno, and we regrouped.”

That’s when NSC took a more progressive turn. One such production, A Single Woman, debuted in 2004 and is based on the life and writings of pacifist and early feminist Jeannette Rankin. But did this mean Nevada Shakespeare Company was drifting from Shakespeare? Crain says to the contrary, it’s “deepening with Shakespeare and our world.” Nevertheless, the tonal shift lost some mainstream patrons, but it created a deep-rooted following of people looking for theater that makes a statement about something real.

In 2006, the NCS takes The Single Woman on national tour. On Track, a play Simpson is currently writing, may be scheduled for a public reading this fall. By the end of 2006, NCS expects to have brought Shakespeare to schools in every county of Nevada. Since it began in 2001, Shakespeare in Schools has familiarized 80,000 Nevadan children with the Bard.

With home entertainment options at an all-time high and TV screens covering entire walls, people now seem less disposed to leave the house to go to the theater and share airspace with strangers. Crain says that’s exactly why they should come.

“We’ve become too spread out,” he says. “I think if we continue on that path, civilization will collapse. Theater helps you connect. Now, more than ever, we need theater to, as Shakespeare said, ‘hold the mirror up to nature.’”

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