The Bard's in the Bluegrass
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears
"ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE," and Shakespeare has been known to show up in parks, town squares´┐Żeven wineries´┐Żall over Kentucky. Not to mention in theaters, where the bard plays the boards like no other playwright before or since. After all, ´┐ŻWhat´┐Żs in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet´┐Ż´┐Żand that which we call Shakespeare would mean extraordinary storytelling that has kept audiences rapt for more than 400 years.
This is a guy who followed his own advice: ´┐ŻBe not afraid of greatness.´┐Ż
´┐ŻShakespeare remains relevant because his plays capture truths about human beings that haven´┐Żt changed for centuries´┐Żlove, passion, humor, greed, anger, deception, family, duty´┐Żand when performed today, the emotions remain,´┐Ż says Leslie Stamoolis, director of education at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company.
O, what men dare do!
Known as the Bard of Avon, Shakespeare wrote some of the most famous plays ever put to paper and upon the stage: Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, Comedy of Errors, All´┐Żs Well that Ends Well, and The Taming of the Shrew, not to mention his 10 history plays, including Henry VIII and Richard III. His famous 154 sonnets are the stuff of legend.
But what does a guy born in England in 1564 have to say to us today?
´┐ŻTimes have changed, but people really haven´┐Żt,´┐Ż says Ted Weil, artistic director at Falcon Theatre, the resident company at the edgy little Monmouth Theatre in Newport. ´┐ŻAnd above all, Shakespeare wrote about people.´┐Ż
´┐ŻKentucky is an incredibly artistic state,´┐Ż adds Jeanna Vella, director of marketing and development at Kentucky Shakespeare´┐Żor KY Shakes as it is more familiarly known. ´┐ŻThe words of Shakespeare speak to us because of our shared artistic passion. There has always been speculation about the Appalachian regions of Kentucky and their tie to Shakespeare because of their language´┐Żand the language of the King James Bible and Shakespeare frequently read there.
´┐ŻShakespeare remains relevant to Kentuckians because it remains relevant to the human experience. The emotions and passion that Shakespeare wrote about hundreds of years ago still exist because they are inherent to us as people.´┐Ż
Shakespeare returns to the Bluegrass in 2010 like a tempest. In fact, The Tempest, a comedy-romance, kicks off the season June 16 for Kentucky Shakespeare, the oldest free continuously and independently operating Shakespeare Festival in the nation celebrating its 50th anniversary. The 8 p.m. productions take place at the 1,000-seat amphitheater in Central Park (plus open lawn seating), atmospherically situated in the historic neighborhood of charming Old Louisville. Rounding out the season are the history play, Richard III; Twelfth Night, a special presentation for young audiences; and the comedic romp Much Ado About Nothing, an audience favorite that will be presented by the Globe Players.
As you like it
The Kentucky Repertory Theatre has a long history feting the bard: 30 productions have been staged in this theater located in the historic Horse Cave State Bank building in Hart County´┐Żeverything from The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, and Two Gentlemen of Verona to Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Julius Caesar, and many were part of the theater´┐Żs Young Performers Production program, initiated in 1999. In March, the KRT produced Much Ado About Nothing with the Young Performers, offering four morning performances for schools and four performances for the general public.
Robert Brock, artistic director at KRT, boasts that eight of the theater´┐Żs Young Performers have gone on to the Governor´┐Żs School of the Arts and many receive scholarships to theater programs at universities around the nation. For parents interested in exposing their children to Shakespeare, programs like these are a great place to start.
´┐ŻI think A Midsummer Night´┐Żs Dream and Comedy of Errors are the easiest approach for young people,´┐Ż he says. ´┐ŻFantasy, comedy, slapstick, magic´┐Żall that good stuff.´┐Ż
Shakespeare must bide his time at Falcon Theatre, alternating a turn on the stage with a classic production like To Kill a Mockingbird and Diary of Anne Frank. The pattern has proved successful for Falcon, and its artistic director intends to stick with it for the foreseeable future. Although the Shakespeare piece for Falcon´┐Żs 2011-2012 production has not yet been selected, Weil hinted that it may, perchance, be a comedy since last season´┐Żs was Hamlet´┐Ża play Weil says speaks directly to today´┐Żs teenagers.
´┐ŻThe ´┐Żto be or not to be´┐Ż speech is one of the most poetic and best-known speeches in all of literature,´┐Ż he says. ´┐ŻWhen it´┐Żs boiled down to its essence, it could be used by almost any teenager going through extreme difficulties. Hamlet is dealing with parents, a girlfriend, pressures of the kingdom, and court´┐Żwhich could just as easily be teachers and peers at school. These themes are universal.´┐Ż
The play´┐Żs the thing
For the past several years, Shakespeare has put in an appearance at Liberty Hall Historic Site. A restored treasure located in downtown Frankfort on the banks of the Kentucky River with lushly planted boxwood and perennial gardens, it is an idyll for Shakespeare productions.
Camp Shakespeare is a two-week workshop presented here by Kentucky Shakespeare each summer. Geared to children 8 to 12 years old, the camp culminates in a performance that is held in the gardens, weather permitting.
´┐ŻIt is wonderful for Liberty Hall Historic Site to be able to offer the chance to experience Shakespeare,´┐Ż says education and volunteer coordinator Jennifer L. Koach. ´┐ŻWatching the kids create their own costumes and sets, learn lines, and practice scenes shows the influence that great literature still has.´┐Ż
Last year´┐Żs production of Hamlet was a hit with campers. Admitting that the play is not a favorite of hers, Koach says participants ´┐Żgot a kick out of the madness, death, and betrayal of the whole thing,´┐Ż noting that one of the bard´┐Żs more romantic pieces would not have generated as much enthusiasm with the ´┐Żtween crowd.
´┐ŻBut Shakespeare always added a sword fight or something to keep every crowd happy. I´┐Żd love to see the kids do a comedy this year.´┐Ż
Why then tonight let us assay our plot
The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company presents Shakespeare in the Park every year and performances are always free to the public. CSC produces seven mainstage shows a year at its Race Street theater in downtown Cincinnati, plus a Summer Fling show in July and August, and a second-stage show at Halloween. Besides producing theater, CSC also has an extensive Education Program that visits schools within a two-hour radius of Cincinnati and has programs for youth and adults at the theater.
For its 2010 park outreach program, the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company offers theater-goers in Burlington A Midsummer Night´┐Żs Dream on August 14 at Boone Woods Park. In Edgewood, they´┐Żll witness the tragedy of the brooding Dane unfold in Hamlet on August 29 at Presidents Park.
About Shakespeare´┐Żs staying power, CSC´┐Żs Leslie Stamoolis notes: ´┐ŻIt helps that his plays are not married to his time period. Shakespeare himself set his plays in many settings, some real and some imagined, and in many time periods´┐Żfrom ancient Rome to the Middle Ages to contemporary (17th century) England.
´┐ŻAt CSC we do the same thing, believing that it´┐Żs the story and the language that matters.´┐Ż
Such stuff as dreams´┐Żand great theater´┐Żare made on´┐Ż KL
SHAKESPEARE SUMMER APPEARANCES
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company
Also appearing in Crittenden, Burlington, Edgewood
Monmouth Theatre, Newport
Kentucky Repertory Theatre
Kentucky Shakespeare Amphitheatre
Central Park, Old Louisville
Liberty Hall Historic Site