On July 31, 2013, Matt Wallace walked through an empty amphitheater in Central Park. It was his first day on the job as producing artistic director of the struggling Kentucky Shakespeare company, and he remembers vividly how it felt:
“Just totally overwhelmed and wondering how we were going to do this and what we were going to do,” Wallace says. “So today, it is nice to take a second just to be happy and proud.”
And Wallace has every reason to feel happy and proud.
As WFPL reported earlier this year, during the past four years attendance for the annual free summer-in-the-park series has skyrocketed, and this year, the company posted record-breaking numbers.
Up until 2014, the largest summer audience recorded was about 12,000. Then the company hovered between 25,000–27,000. This year?
“It’s really blown me away, some of these numbers we’ve seen.” Wallace says. “‘Much Ado About Nothing’ has now become the most-attended show in history and this season we just hit 30,000 audience members with two weeks left still to go.”
Additionally, the company has now served over 100,000 individuals total this season when you include the headcount from their educational programs — which visit 80 counties, 200 schools and 23 libraries — and indoor performances.
So what does this mean for the company’s future?
Well, Wallace says it gives him the confidence to continue taking risks with Kentucky Shakespeare’s selections. For example, this year, they opted to produce the lesser-performed history “Richard II,” which proved to be pretty popular.
“It’s been really cool to see the number of new people, too, the number of people who raise their hands when I ask who is seeing the shows for the first time,” says Wallace.
And, Wallace says, it might give them the opportunity to hire a few more people to keep up with the crowds.