Matt Wallace leaps onto the Kentucky Shakespeare stage and lands on a patch of Astroturf. He gestures toward the tree line of Central Park.
“What we are looking at right now is the center tree of the Kentucky Shakespeare stage,” Wallace says. “We haven’t seen that unobstructed for 25-plus years. That was blocked by the previous stage house.”
He takes a few steps forward and widens his arms.
“So now we are standing here right in the middle of these three trees — we call them the three sisters.”
On Nov. 19, Kentucky Shakespeare made the decision to tear down the stage house that many audience members associate with their summers in the park. It was replaced with a new, streamlined set of ivy-covered walls created by the stage house’s original designer, Paul Owen. These block the backstage areas and accent the park’s natural assets.
“I just feel like the decision to showcase the beauty of nature in this park was a really, really wise choice,” says company member Neill Robertson. “I mean, the trees are just such majestic, huge figures in this park, and Matt always talks about how they have absorbed so much Shakespeare over the years.”
Wallace, the company’s artistic director, said he was nervous about the rebuild because a lot of people have “emotional feelings” about Kentucky Shakespeare.
“I’m one of them,” Wallace says. “We are standing a few feet from where I proposed to my wife. It’s a personal thing and so, as the audience has been so wonderful to trust me the past few years, I just hope they know that this thing had to come down.”
There were several reasons.
One, the old stage house, with its many rooms and cascading staircases, wasn’t really meant to last for decades. Wallace says it was falling apart by the time of demolition.
“Also, that stage house was designed at a time when we didn’t have body microphones,” he says. “So after a few years ago, adding body microphones, it allows us the opportunity to climb trees, to perform out in the audience, to perform out in the grass in the sides.”
This is especially true for their first show of the season, “Much Ado About Nothing,” which opens this week.
“The trees are going to play a starring role in this production,” Wallace says. “This is a play that has a lot of gossiping and overhearing things and hiding.”
Wallace says the biggest tree onstage is also “totally climbable.”
“Oh, it is — and you’ll see that in the show,” Wallace says. “So yes, we’ll be acting all over these trees.”