The abrupt cancellation of the remainder of Kentucky Shakespeare’s production of “Twelfth Night” in Central Park has raised questions about the company’s ability to deal with departing cast members. The company announced yesterday that after an unnamed cast member resigned, the production, directed by producing artistic director Brantley Dunaway, would not move forward.
Dunaway has not returned requests for an interview.
Board chair Allen Harris says after Tuesday evening’s performance was canceled (“I imagine that was Brantley’s decision”), Dunaway and the board’s executive committee made a joint decision to cancel the remainder of the performances, which they announced yesterday. The show was scheduled to run through Sunday.
The decision was made, Harris says, because the unnamed actor’s departure was “something we didn’t feel we could overcome.” He would not comment specifically on the situation or the actor in question.
“The actor’s situation severely disrupted the cast and the organization, and that I don’t think put us in a place where we could reasonably carry out any options, even if I had known what they were, or if they had been suggested,” says Harris.
Harris says Kentucky Shakespeare had no contingency plan to deal with illness or emergency within the cast for the production’s four-week outdoor run.
“I’ve been on the board for six years, and we haven’t really had a problem with anything like that. I don’t know if maybe we had gotten complacent and it hadn’t occurred to us to do that. We’ll certainly revisit our practices going forward,” says Harris.
But local performers recall acting in a 2007 production of “Measure for Measure,” directed by former artistic director Curt Tofteland, and tell tales of a Lucio who walked off stage mid-line and the apprentice deputized on the spot to fill in the role so the performance could continue. Harris says he was unaware of that incident, which happened early in his tenure on the board.
Stories like that are not uncommon. Illnesses, emergencies and sudden resignations occur mid-production with enough frequency that nearly every theater professional has a story about a last-minute scramble to cover a role. Typically, the director will put on an intern who has been in rehearsals and is familiar with the show, or goes on herself with script in hand, or calls around to find another actor who knows the role—especially in classic productions like Shakespeare, where the likelihood of finding an actor who knows the role is high. But Harris stands by the company’s decision to pull the plug on the run.
“I’m sure there are other actors who could have done that,” says Harris. “Personally, I don’t know who they are. I don’t know if we could have done that in time. I couldn’t say we could or couldn’t. I really don’t know.”
Harris says a contingency plan will be put in place for future productions, and that he regrets not being able to finish the run of “Twelfth Night.” The canceled run comes on the heels of a financial ultimatum issued by the organization last year, when leadership announced they needed to raise about $300,000 in advance to fully fund the summer season at professional production levels or they would not move forward with Shakespeare in the Park. The organization received sizable donations from local philanthropists to meet their goal and opened “Twelfth Night” on June 18.
“We have spoken with donors and explained the situation in advance—well, not in advance of the situation, but shortly after the decision. We have their support, and they have assured us they’ll support us going forward,” says Harris.
“I’m not at all proud that we’ve been put in this situation. I’m incredibly disheartened that we had to cancel the run,” he says. “So we want to make sure we’re not in this position again.”
Update 4:30 p.m. Thursday: Kentucky Shakespeare Cancellation Followed Actress’ Accusations of Domestic Abuse Against Director