A Nashville Theater Tribute: GIVING THANKS FOR DENICE

As The Longtime Artistic Director of Nashville Shakespeare Festival Plans To Step Down, Her Peers Give Thanks for Denice Hicks

By: Nov. 20, 2023
A Nashville Theater Tribute: GIVING THANKS FOR DENICE

Known far and wide – we daresay, “the world over” – as the face of Nashville Shakespeare Festival, Nashville theater as a whole and perhaps the city of Nashville itself – Denice Hicks is beloved. Perhaps best described as “a Nashville treasure,” if not a national treasure, she has called Music City home for decades and the news that she will be stepping down as artistic director of Nashville Shakespeare Festival in 2024 came as a surprise to many in the theater community who consider her our most valued champion, our most trusted leader and our most visible ambassador to the world at-large.

A Nashville Theater Tribute: GIVING THANKS FOR DENICE And since Nashville Shakespeare Festival issued the announcement on November 8, that she will be “transitioning” from her current position to freelance artist next September, friends, family, supporters, fans, admirers and people all around the world have considered her impact on our community, the importance of her career and the place she holds in our collective heart.

“It has been such a privilege to serve in this capacity, and after seeing the astounding growth we've experienced over the past several years, I have decided that it’s a good year for me to step down as the artistic leader of the company and turn my attention back to my own creative path,” she said in a prepared statement. 

“I am grateful for the years I was entrusted with the Festival’s mission and will continue to support the company in any way I can. I will always believe in the relevance of Shakespeare through the ages and the power of theatre to change lives and look forward to participating in and attending future Festival events."

With the season of Thanksgiving at hand, we celebrate Denice Hicks with A Nashville Theater Tribute: Giving Thanks for Denice, a multi-part retrospective of some of our favorite stories and interviews with her from over the years. We begin our special season of giving thanks for her theatrical legacy, abiding love and continuing presence in our lives with some thoughts from some of her closest friends and artistic collaborators…

A Nashville Theater Tribute: GIVING THANKS FOR DENICE
Denice Hicks and Brian Russell

Brian Russell, actor: Why am I grateful for Denice Hicks? Good god man, let me count the ways – Personally, I'll be eternally grateful that she's always had an unwavering belief in me and my abilities on the wicked, wicked stage, casting me in things that maybe I shouldn't have been in while all the time trusting in my talent to persevere and soar. And even then, she'll call me out, noting when I'm reaching into my "bag o' tricks" for an easy pathway into a part and urging me (cajoling me/needling me) to dig deeper. For 40 years, I'm equally grateful that she's been an artistic colleague of the highest caliber. In that time, I've directed her, she's directed me; I've shared the stage with her on so many projects, including ones that we collaborated on. I've also heard her speak of the great highs and the unexpected and painful lows she's had being the head of a company like NSF. But primarily, I'm most grateful that she's one of those beautiful souls that's as close to me as family without actually attaching the name Russell to her. I'll always be thankful for a 40-year friendship that has always extended above and beyond the usual and expected boundaries of “friend.” Oh, and for that impish laugh…

Phil Perry, actor: Denice, I am most thankful for your dedication and love for all things Shakespearean! And of course the wonderful friendship we’ve had throughout the years – you are a miracle!

Beki Baker, actor, director, producer and educator: What I love most about Denice Hicks is her unwavering energy for Nashville theatre. She directs, performs, and has led NSF with great passion and she also sees so many other company's productions! She cheers on and advocates for her fellow artists in the city and literally shows up for their work. This is a woman who loves theatre, loves Nashville, and loves other artists. 

Geoff Davin, actor, writer, producer: I am grateful to Denice for making me audition for Nashville Shakes. I was scared to do it. But she finally convinced me. And then ended up performing in the production of Midsummer Night’s Dream with me. Which ended up being a truly magical experience. And I 100% would never have had that opportunity had it not been for her gentle but persistent nudging to leave my comfort zone and audition. I will be forever grateful to her for that.

A Nashville Theater Tribute: GIVING THANKS FOR DENICE
Nashville Shakespeare Festival's
2023 Much Ado About Nothing

Micah-Shane Brewer, artistic director, Nashville Repertory Theatre: In the short time I've known Denice since coming to Nashville in 2021, I've quickly grown to respect, admire and love her! Denice has such tremendous talents, but most importantly, she has a large heart for the work she does and the people she works with. Currently, I'm lucky enough to spend each day with Denice as we rehearse A Christmas Carol, and I'm thankful for the joy she brings to her work and shares with others. I'm also thankful for the work she has done to cultivate the professional theatre community in Nashville, and I'm personally grateful for her encouragement and support. 

Garris Wimmer, actor: What am I most thankful for regarding Denice? We call each other “soul siblings” – she is a member of my family and I hers so personally I am thankful for that kinship. As an actor in Nashville, I am thankful for the immeasurable amounts of work she has generated for the community (often at great personal expense). As a citizen of Nashville, I’m dumbfounded, eternally grateful and enormously proud for what she has accomplished with the Shakespeare Festival. She created an event that has become an annual “must-do” that thousands of people have attended over its 30+ year history. I always marveled at the variety of people, most of whom had no real knowledge of Shakespeare or how to experience it, who came out to the park every year. When we first met in January of 1980 (literally, on the first day) she told me about her passion for Shakespeare and that her dream was to share that and teach people to love it too. Then she adopted Nashville as her home city and she GAVE us that in spades. What a gift that is.

Brenda Sparks, actor, director: In addition to her enduring friendship, I am most thankful to Denice Hicks for shaping my heart as an artist and teaching me the true meaning of service and ensemble. My first show with The Nashville Shakespeare Festival was Julius Caesar in 1996. I was also deeply involved in the early days of Mockingbird Public Theatre, and eventually People’s Branch Theatre. Dee and I spent many seasons as artistic collaborators with those companies.

A Nashville Theater Tribute: GIVING THANKS FOR DENICE
Denice Hicks

We have directed each other, we’ve acted together, she’s been my artistic director, and I’ve been her stage manager. In a business with a soul-crushing lack of opportunities, it’s understandable how some in artistic leadership lose hope, and sometimes their way. Not Denice. It anguished her every audition season that she didn’t have more roles to offer, but she forged ahead with her heart set on service.

That made an impression on me as a young working professional. Her desire to serve her community, her city, and humanity as a whole outweighed her personal ambition by many miles. This sense of service also makes Denice a passionate and selfless ensemble player and director of ensemble pieces. Denice is all about the collaborative nature of our art. She truly honors everyone’s voice and contribution.

From each volunteer and apprentice company member, to every designer, performer and technician. Denice simply believes in the beauty and importance of everyone’s unique voice. I could go on about her considerable talent, my favorite productions and performances of hers, and the many qualities that make her one of the most admirable humans I know. But her servant’s heart and ensemble mindset were two of my greatest take aways from her as an artist.

From Nashville Theatre 101 on December 1, 2014:

Denice Hicks is often referred to as "a Nashville treasure" and is the artistic director for the world-renowned Nashville Shakespeare Festival who has been onstage for virtually every local theater company, including NSF, Nashville Rep, Blackbird Theatre and Actors Bridge Ensemble: I do theater because my mother instilled a love of the art in me when I was very young. She loved it and I caught the bug. I have continued to do it because I believe that this very personal art form can help us retain our humanity. I believe that gathering people together to share in meaningful and stimulating experiences is what this life is all about. Being a part of an ensemble that collaborates creatively to create a new world into which audience members are invited to play an essential role is the most exciting way to live.

A Nashville Theater Tribute: GIVING THANKS FOR DENICE I fell in love with Nashville when I moved here in 1980, and have grown ever deeper in love with each passing year. I've considered leaving and flirted with other places, but I love the people, the weather, the lay of the land and the history of this city and am excited to continue to create worthwhile art here. The Nashville theater community is rich with talent, and also some of the kindest and most generous people on the planet. It's a very special place to live, work and play.

I moved here as an actor in 1980, but didn't really consider what I was doing "art" until later. When I was a young actor, I felt like part of someone else's art. The older I got, the more I began to understand and respect the art of acting, and now as a director consider it to be the most phenomenal of skills. I started directing in 1992, and I love watching actors make creative choices as they breathe life into plays. Rehearsal is really some of the best theatre, and I'm always sorry that the majority of people don't get to see that part of the process.

A Nashville Theater Tribute: GIVING THANKS FOR DENICE
Jef Ellis and Denice Hicks

From Where Are They Now: Mark Delbarre, December 3, 2014:

Who were some of the people in Nashville/Tennessee who had a lasting impact on your and/or your career? Denice Hicks, who I loved and still love, who also made up stuff for me to do. She would call and I would say "yes" before saying hello. She is so distractingly beautiful on stage in anything she does. I was always so grateful to be working with her.

From Where Are They Now: Jason Glick, April 26, 2017:

Who are some of the Nashville people who had a lasting impact on you as a man and, of course, on your career? I learned tons from the brilliant Denice Hicks. Her power and presence as an artist and human being was so affecting, so profound. I loved doing Shakespeare in the Park and a couple different touring productions with Nashville Shakespeare Festival, but my most cherished times with Denice were walks we took at Radnor Lake, discussing and exploring art and life. She is one of the most enlightened souls I've encountered.

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