An eager crowd of Bardophiles gathered at Garage Bar in NuLu on Monday to hear artistic director Matt Wallace announce the lineup for the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival‘s 56th season. While there is plenty of great news, the biggest single addition is a first-ever full-on production indoors this January at the Kentucky Center for the Arts. Appropriately timed, running Jan. 5-10 in the Bomhard Theater, Shakespeare’s beloved comedy “Twelfth Night” will literally be performed on the 12th night after Christmas.
“This is the first time we’ve had a season announcement that wasn’t just our summer season, so it’s been fun putting together the materials,” said Matt Wallace in an interview with Insider Louisville.
The summer season includes the previously announced “Romeo and Juliet,” as well as two plays long absent from the Douglas Ramsey Amphitheater in Central Park, a returning community ally, and Kentucky Shakespeare’s first musical theater partner.
Popular features from Wallace’s first two years will return, including food trucks, the bar, the Bard-a-thon, and rotating repertory from July 12-24. And he revealed that he’ll be staying with the organization at least through the summer 2018.
Let’s take a closer look at the news.
“Two Gentlemen of Verona”
“Two Gents,” last seen in 1996, will begin to bring more music into Wallace’s approach to the Bard.
‘”I’m going to be able to play with ‘Two Gents,’ do a musical take on that show. (I’m) looking at a pre-1920s WWI, with a lot of live music on stage,” said Wallace. He’ll be looking for actors with musical ability, and there will be songs in the show.
“The Winter’s Tale”
Wallace has said before that as he solidifies Kentucky Shakespeare’s position in the community, he’s interested in bringing lesser-known works to the stage. “The Winter’s Tale” is one of the lesser-known works in Shakespeare’s canon, due in part to the fact that it’s not a comedy or a tragedy in the strictest sense. It’s like the Bard changed his mind halfway through writing a tragedy and gave it a happier ending.
Returning guest artist Amy Attaway will direct this unusual work, which was last seen at the festival in the summer of ’89. Wallace praised Attaway, saying, “She’s just been great, and a great partner. I love the freshness she brings to the plays.”
“‘The Winter’s Tale’ is a magical enigma of a play, with jealousy, betrayal, forgiveness and one hungry bear,” said Attaway via email. “I look forward to our audiences’ reaction to this strange little gem.”
“Romeo and Juliet”
Returning to well-known works, the previously announced “Romeo and Juliet” still promises to be exciting. In addition to a full production in Central Park, “R&J” will tour a growing list of 21 local parks.
“We’re gonna tour that, then expand it in the summer and add about 10 actors to it,” said Wallace. “I’m still early in the concept stages, but it will explore race relations and conflict resolution.”
The touring production is made possible by a Shakespeare in Communities grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, with matching funds from the Gheens Foundation.
The famous star-crossed lovers will also visit all 18 of Louisville’s public libraries in a kid-friendly, two-person version of the show adapted by Kyle Ware.
The Louisville Improvisors will return to present their raunchy Shakespeare-based improv every Saturday in June, and the Globe Players will showcase their new Shakespeare skills in “As You Like It.”
John Leffert of Jewish Community Center’s CenterStage will bring more tragic lovers to the stage with “West Side Story,” arguably the single greatest adaptation of Shakespeare ever created. “West Side” will open a week after “R&J” closes, providing Louisville with a wonderful opportunity to see the two on the same stage nearly back to back.
A little more on “Twelfth Night” …
“I’m so excited we’re actually going to have this happen this year. This was a goal that was a little further out,” said Wallace.
After a reading at the Kentucky Center last winter, Wallace and company decided to forge ahead. “We had such a great time, we provided the show, they provided the space. And it was totally packed.”
Wallace knew he didn’t want to dive into a winter production without the right funding, which arrived in the form of a grant from the Burton D. Morgan Foundation and partnership from the Kentucky Center. “We’re able to do it and not put ourselves at risk,” said Wallace, who added, “We’re also able to do it with a 100 percent local team.”
Though eager to make some money off ticket sales, Wallace has no plans to charge admission to shows at the park. “I’m very opposed to charging anybody in the park in the summer,” he said. “That’s our free Shakespeare in Central Park, and it will always remain free.”
Wallace is hopeful the wintertime show will bring new audiences, but he’s still keeping it reasonable at $20 a ticket for adults and $15 for students. You also can expect a heavy musical element to “Twelfth Night,” with musical direction from University of Louisville’s Jack Ashworth.
Kentucky Shakespeare continues to prosper and expand under Wallace, and this reporter, for one, can’t wait to see what they do next.