Last year’s Kentucky Shakespeare in the Park festival featured only one professional production, the Celtic-themed “Twelfth Night.” This year, in honor of the Bard’s 450th birthday, the professional company will stage a comedy, a history, and a tragedy on the C. Douglas Ramey Amphiteatre stage in Old Louisville’s Central Park. Here’s the full schedule.
The bucolic setting will be integrated into Paul Owen’s set design, said artistic director Matt Wallace in a recent interview, with an extended stage that wraps around three large trees that flank the stage. The company has a new wireless microphone system that will help amplify the actors throughout the park no matter where they are – on stage, sitting in a tree or running up and down the aisle.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” directed by Wallace, opens first. The romantic comedy about mischievous fairies who meddle in the love lives of a group of mortals is set in Greece, but once again, Old Louisville plays a role – the architecture surrounding the park had a significant influence on Wallace’s Victorian-styled production.
“All of these characters, so morally rigid, so laced-up, so repressed, and what happens when all of that unravels and we become like animals?” Wallace said, comparing the Victorians to the straight-laced Elizabethans Shakespeare wrote for and about.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” opens Thursday, and it’s the first full-length production Wallace has directed for the company since he returned to lead the company last year after former artistic director Brantley Dunaway stepped down. Wallace, a Bowling Green native, returned to Kentucky in 2001 to take an acting job with Kentucky Shakespeare, and he stayed on as a director, performer and educator until he left the company to spin off the successful Shakespeare Behind Bars program four years ago.
“I knew I wanted to start with [‘Midsummer’],” he said. “It was the first play I did with Kentucky Shakespeare back in 2001. That was the last time the company has done this show.”
Pre-show entertainment starts at 7:15 p.m. nightly, with performances at 8. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” runs through June 22.
Then the history, “Henry V,” directed by Amy Attaway, runs June 27-July 6. “Hamlet,” the tragedy directed by Wallace, runs briefly July 10-13 (it’s the expanded version of the shorter tour production that’s been performing in area parks throughout the spring). But then all three productions will run in rotating repertory July 15-27, offering the opportunity to see all three in a manner of days – or even one day (July 26). The festival continues after that with the Globe Players, the company’s high school troupe, who will stage “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” directed by Brian Hinds, July 30-August 3.
Then four area companies bring their own Shakespeare productions to the Central Park stage to round out the summer’s festivities – Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble’s “As You Like It,” Walden Theatre’s “Pericles,” Savage Rose Theatre Company’s “King Lear” and Shoestring Productions’ “Women of Will,” a collection of scenes and monologues.
Wallace promises food trucks and local pre-show performing talent before every performance, too, for a full festival experience. Unlike previous years, no VIP seats will be sold. Instead, the staff will scatter the Adirondack chairs throughout the amphitheatre seating area, and all seats, bleacher or otherwise, are free and available on a first-come basis.