Moss Landing is a busy fisherman's harbor and community tucked into the southern half of California's Monterey Bay. It's an overflow of sea-battered fishing boats, voracious sea birds and mammals, ancient cemetery on a hill, raffish seafood restaurants, modern major marine research centers and a once flourishing but now dwindling row of antique shops – and just to the east is Elkhorn Slough, its fertile waters and bracing air ringed by slow-rising bronze hills.
All is loomed over by a pair of 500-foot Moss Landing Power Plant stacks, which can be seen for miles up and down the coast. Water from the bay and the slough is used to cool the power-generating process, recycling into one of the richest and most researched bays in the world.
Add, unlikely as it seems, the Shakespeare Society of America, uprooted from Los Angeles and now perched in what had once been an antique shop on Moss Landing Road. The SSA was founded in the late 1960s by Robert Thad Taylor, found a home eventually in West Hollywood, and twice produced Shakespeare's 37-play cycle, many of the productions in its Globe Theater.
The 99-seat Globe was built on one-half the scale of Shakespeare's Globe Theater in London. Early SSA membership included Edward G. Robinson, Robert Ryan, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, and Laurence Olivier, not to mention Steve Allen, John Houseman and, later, Talia Shire and Ed Harris.
Taylor eventually ran out of money and ceased production, leasing his theater space to other groups. The Globe is now the home of the Macha (Mujeres (Women) Advancing Culture History & Art) Theatre.
Taylor died in 2006, earning a lengthy obituary in the LA Times, and SSA has been searching for a home ever since, especially for its extensive museum collection of Shakespeare related objects, from rare books and artwork, including portraits and engravings, to coins, medals and theater props. There's even a chair made from a front row pew in Trinity Church, the Stratford church Shakespeare and his family attended. And wouldn't they have sat in the first row?
Last year Taylor's nephew, Terry Taylor, SSA's president, and his wife, Shiela, decided on Moss Landing as a new headquarters for SSA. Terry had grown up nearby; storage was found for much of the collection, the rest is on view in Moss Landing at 7981 Moss Landing Road.
Because Moss Landing is part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, SSA's new headquarters are called the New Shakespeare Sanctuary. Shakespeare probably said something about what's in a name – no kidding, Steve – and by any name the Sanctuary has the feeling, to a minor degree, of the antique shops it supplanted: dusty, interesting, historic.
But when you toss in Shakespeare, it becomes another story, almost surreal, frankly. And when you toss in the stories of Terry Taylor, who has probably inherited the exuberrance of his late visionary uncle, it becomes something again.
Not surprisingly, the New Shakespeare Sanctuary has become a popular destination of school field trips. Where else can a class studying Shakespeare come across a dozen portraits of The Bard, good and bad? Or beer steins with his face. Or beautiful old engravings. Or playbills and posters and props.
Terry Taylor's focus presently is educational outreach, and eventually he'd like to see the SSA return to having its own theater and museum. The museum might be re-established with a major Shakespeare festival that has shown interest, or something could happen in California, perhaps along the Monterey Bay.
"If an angel walked in the door and wanted to do something here, we'd certainly listen," said Terry.
Until then, he keeps the New Shakespeare Sanctuary humming by jotting a note to the Queen who, probably because she knew that Ronald Reagan was an SSA member, replied, and dispensing intriguing information, such as Shakespeare having recently bumped Buckingham Palace from the top rung as England's most important cultural asset. Though how a building could have ever topped Shakespeare is anyone's guess. Of course, now the Bard has those two 500-foot towers to contend with.
This rather startling world of Shakespeare can be found in unlikely Moss Landing. Call ahead (831 633-2989) because, while Terry said he is there most days 10 to five, it's never a sure thing. The SSA website is www.ShakespeareSocietyofAmerica.org.
Incidentally, the story of Captain John Smith and Pocahontas and Jamestown had a lot to do with Robert Thad Taylor founding SSA those many decades ago. But that's for another blog. Or ask Terry Taylor.
Causes Steve Hauk Supports
City of Pacific Grove Public Library, Pacific Grove, California; Animal Friends Rescue Project, Pacific Grove; Animal Welfare Information and Assistance,...