Arts and Culture

After delaying the opening several times, Kentucky Shakespeare leadership announced Tuesday that the company would not present in-person performances in Louisville’s Central Park this summer. 

Producing artistic director Matt Wallace had held out hope that he could salvage Kentucky Shakespeare Festival’s 60th summer season and provide work for his artists and crew members. He said they “continued to prepare,” but they never reached “the point where we felt we would be safe to rehearse and perform.”

“We started at ‘Plan B’ and we got all the way to our final ‘Plan T’ with so many different versions and lots of hours of preparation,” Wallace told WFPL. “We knew the cases needed to go down to move forward, and we couldn’t ask our team to take that risk.”

He added that even if they had figured out a way to keep cast and crew healthy and safe, measures like reduced audience size, restrictions at the park and setting up a system for pre-registration for the shows “doesn’t align with our mission of access and inclusion.”

The company’s 60th festival season would have opened in May in Central Park with “Shakespeare in Love,” a stage adaptation of the 1999 Oscar-winning film. Also on the mainstage lineup was “Henry V” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” Wallace said those works have been rescheduled for the 2021 Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, slated for May 26 – Aug. 8, 2021. A production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Kentucky Shakespeare’s Globe Players professional training program for teens and guest performances from the Louisville Ballet and Louisville Improvisers have also been pushed to next summer.   

Kentucky Shakespeare has also been streaming previous festival productions on its Facebook page, as well as other virtual offerings, since pandemic-related shutdowns began in March.  

Wallace said it was heartbreaking to have to share news of the cancellation with cast and crew members. 

“Carrying this weight, this responsibility to provide them with this promise of work, and our industry and artists have already been pummeled — a lot of them already in a financially fragile position — I didn’t want to let them down,” Wallace said. “We’re nothing without our artists and staff.”

Everyone has been supportive of the decision, Wallace said, and he’s happy that they can offer summer hires employment for the 2021 summer season. 

“We are well into this process,” he said of the work on the plays intended for the 2020 season. “I wanted everyone to have the opportunity to share this work and art next summer. It was also important for us to follow through on our promise to this amazing team… if they want to join us [next summer]. It’s just a pause here.”

But all is not lost for Kentucky Shakespeare’s 60th season.

Wallace said they’ll present a video project in lieu of the in-person summer season. In August, the company will hire the summer cast and some of the crew to create a digital presentation filmed at Central Park’s amphitheater, celebrating the milestone for Kentucky Shakespeare. The artists and crew will rehearse via Zoom and socially distanced outdoor sessions, Wallace said.

He declined to go into specifics on the video project, slated for a mid-September release, as he didn’t want to spoil the “surprises we have in store.”

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts Reporter.