Kentucky Shakespeare Expands Spring/Summer Season in the Parks

When he sat down to plan Kentucky Shakespeare’s 2014 summer season, artistic director Matt Wallace knew he had to make a bold statement. The oldest free outdoor Shakespeare festival in the country was rocked by management scandal and an abruptly canceled show last summer, and as soon as Wallace accepted the job in July, he started working on repairing the company’s reputation and relationships within the community.

“I knew we had to come back big,” says Wallace. “Inclusivity is my theme for the season. This is our Kentucky Shakespeare. This is a Louisville tradition, and I want to embrace that.”

“I want everyone to feel welcome. Just as I’m coming back and feeling welcome again, I want everyone else to feel that,” he adds. “I want everyone to support us and believe in what we’re doing here.” 

Wallace lays out his vision in simple terms: multiple professional plays performed in rotating repertory and meaningful community participation. An expanded season of outdoor Shakespeare that spans May-August, all free. 

So for the first time in 25 years, Kentucky Shakespeare will produce three professional productions in Central Park. Wallace will direct “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Hamlet,” and Louisville-based director Amy Attaway will direct “Henry V.”

Yes, that’s a comedy, a tragedy and a history.

“For the first 27 years of Kentucky Shakespeare, dating back to the beginning, the company produced three professional productions every summer, with the exception of a few summers,” says Wallace. “We’re going to return to that model.”

The ten-week festival runs June 11 – August 17. It will also include a student production and guest Shakespeare productions by four local theater companies. 

Each of the professional shows will enjoy their own run (“Midsummer” runs June 11-22, “Henry V” plays June 25-July 6, and “Hamlet” July 10-13), then all three will run in rotating repertory for two weeks, through July 27.

Wallace is committed to producing the expanded summer festival for less than $250,000 – less than it cost the company last year to stage one pro and one student show. He’ll do it, he says, by marshaling local resources and talent – an all-star local design team (including Paul Owen, who designed the C. Douglas Ramey Amphithteater, on set design; costume designer Donna Lawrence-Downs and the Palace’s Casey Clark on lighting design) and one cast of actors on eleven-week contracts to staff all three professional productions.

The company will hold auditions for those three shows December 7 and 9, and they will only audition in Louisville at first, though the invitation to audition will be shared in surrounding cities as well. Ideally, Wallace says each actor would be cast in a large, medium and small role – one in each play. Wallace says the cast of the professional productions will be paid, but he doesn’t know how many actors will be hired under Actors Equity Association (the professional actors union) contract or special agreement. 

I just don’t know yet. If I’m able to cast it all non-Equity, I will,” he says. 

The Globe Players student conservatory program will stage “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (July 31-August 3), directed by Kentucky Shakespeare veteran and Youth Performing Arts School faculty member Brian Hinds. 

And the last two weeks of the festival will feature guest Shakespeare productions by local companies. Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble’s six-person Western-themed “As You Like It” (first staged in 2009 at the Rudyard Kipling) will run in repertory with Walden Theatre’s “Pericles,” which the conservatory company will produce in May as part of their own Young American Shakespeare Festival. The following week, Savage Rose Classical Theatre will stage “King Lear” under the direction of J. Barrett Cooper, which will run in rep with Kathi E.B. Ellis’ Shoestring Productions’ “Women of Will,” a collection of Shakespeare scenes and monologues by women. 

Wallace says it was “a no-brainer” to invite guest companies to bring their own unique takes on Shakespeare to the festival. 

There are so many theater companies here in town that have deep roots with Kentucky Shakespeare,” he says. 

The company will soon begin programming pre-show entertainment for the 56 nights of Shakespeare in Central Park, and once again, Wallace has his eye on local talent. 

I’m going to open up the stage to our community,” he says.

So that covers June, July and August in Central Park. But Wallace says this is the year the company expands to Shakespeare in the Parks, too. Though he is still finalizing details, he says a scaled-down, eight-person version of “Hamlet,” the same production the company’s education program tours to schools, will perform in seven different Metro Parks throughout Jefferson County on weekends in April and May. 

“It’s my goal to reach out to some different communities, folks who maybe haven’t experienced Kentucky Shakespeare or been to Central Park,” he says.  

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