BWW Previews: Kentucky Shakespeare - Knocking it Out of the Park
Matt Wallace has a midsummer night's dream. And it is big.
In his first season as Producing Artistic Director of Kentucky Shakespeare, Wallace and his team are doing possibly the biggest Summer season in the organization's history.
For the first time in over 25 years, Kentucky Shakespeare will do three of Shakespeare's plays - a comedy, a history and a tragedy - in a single season. The three plays - "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (comedy), "Henry V" (history) and "Hamlet" (tragedy) - are all first choices for the biggest and best Shakespearean stage and screen productions.
But the three mainstage productions are just the beginning. The company's high school troupe, the Globe Players, will perform the comedy "Love's Labours Lost," and four local community partner companies will mount productions from their repertoires.
Local actors. Local designers. Local directors. Local Shakespeare for local audiences. That's Wallace's dream - one he brought to the table right away, even coming into his position amid the management scandals that beset the company under the prior artistic director's tenure last Summer.
"Coming in in the situation I did, and having the history with the company and knowing what I always wanted to do, I could say 'If I ever was in charge, here's what I want to do!'" Wallace said. Wallace formerly worked as an artistic associate with Kentucky Shakespeare from 2001-2010. He previously interviewed for the lead position after longtime artistic director Curt Tofteland stepped down.
"I interviewed in 2008 and presented a schedule of how we can do three shows in the same amount of time with less money or the same amount of money," Wallace said. "I guess originally it was wanting to do a big season, but wanting to do the kind of season I've always dreamed of doing. It didn't feel to me like a big thing. It just felt like the natural thing to do. But knowing the situation the company was in at that time, I knew I wanted this company to come back in a big way and not just warm into coming back, saying 'Let's just do one or two shows.'"
Wallace will direct "Midsummer" and "Hamlet" and Amy Attaway, former associate director of the apprentice company at Actors Theatre and current co-artistic director of Theatre , will direct "Henry V." Attaway's body of work in recent years has mostly veered toward new plays, but for her, directing Shakespeare will be a welcome return to Central Park.
"I grew up with it, being from Louisville and going in the Summer. It was really important," she said. "During the past few years with out-of-town artists, it felt like it wasn't ours anymore. With all the drama last Summer, all of us in the local theater community were not happy with the drama, but we're hopeful with it back in the hands of a local director. The first couple of times (Wallace) talked about it, it seemed so right. His ideas feel so right. It feels like what I remember from high school. 'Your Kentucky Shakespeare' is the focus."
"We really respect her work," Wallace said of Attaway. "This season, we've been behaving like a not-for-profit, bringing in people who are used to doing good theater on a budget. You know, spending isn't the answer to everything. It's creativity. I knew Amy was the director who could take this grand 45-character play, do an adaptation and distill it in a very creative way to tell that story, and that's exactly what she's doing."
Wallace and Attaway have filled all three shows with their 17-actor ensemble, embracing the spirit of a true repertory company.
"We have a 17-member ensemble, and what actor wouldn't love to do three shows?" Wallace said. "What audience wouldn't enjoy seeing these actors be stretched, seeing different sides of those actors? So I love the rep model, I love the ensemble model and I really love the idea of using the majority of the talented local community we have, and we've achieved that."
Kentucky Shakespeare's local talent pool goes beyond the onstage perfomers. The Summer staff includes legendary Actors Theatre scenic designer Paul Owen, who has extended the stage into the audience and built the stage house out around the three trees that anchor the playhouse. The Louisville Palace's Casey Clark will do lighting design. Both are Kentucky Shakespeare alumni.
"It felt like getting the band back together," Wallace said.
Wallace and company are incorporating other amenities to make for a bigger, better Kentucky Shakespeare experience. For the first time in 54 years, all actors will be wear body microphones, doing away with temperamental floor mics. Additionally, patrons can acquire a punch card that will earn them a free T-shirt for attending all eight plays.
"I can't wait to get my card punched," Attaway said. "Come out any night but Monday and see a full Shakespeare play. It will be amazing."