The Kentucky Shakespeare Festival doesn’t look 60 years old.
It might be hard to believe, but that’s how many years Kentucky Shakespeare has been staging its free annual festival at the C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheater in Old Louisville’s Central Park.
The 2020 Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, which breaks down the barriers of a traditional stage performance, will feature 64 performances of seven productions over an extended 11-week season from May 27 to Aug. 9. It will include “Shakespeare in Love,” presented by Churchill Downs, followed by “Henry V” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor.”
“It’s a special milestone for us as we celebrate our 60th anniversary of free Shakespeare in Central Park. We honor and celebrate the past as we look forward to an exciting future,” Matt Wallace, producing artistic director for Kentucky Shakespeare, said. “Opening with the stage adaptation of the Oscar-winning ‘Shakespeare in Love’ is a fitting love letter to Shakespeare to kick off the season.”
Wallace said the inclusion of “Shakespeare in Love” in the 2020 season is something he’s been “circling around doing for a long time. It’s based on the Oscar-winning film, so it’s definitely not a traditional thing.”
The company toyed with the idea of doing the production indoors but realized taking it to the park — and changing some of the sexual innuendos in the production — would make it family-friendly and the perfect addition to the free outdoor festival.
“We were only able to do that because of our partnership with Churchill Downs,” Wallace said, something that is new for the festival in 2020. “We were able to purchase the right to the production and extend the life of the summer program by a week.”
Wallace said Churchill was excited to partner with Kentucky Shakespeare after the troupe performed there and Churchill awarded them a grant to help serve the immigrant and refugee community in Louisville through the arts.
The three productions in the 2020 season will feature 24 actors and 100 characters, plus one dog.
Kentucky Shakespeare will partner with the Kentucky Humane Society to hold dog auditions for the role of “Spot” in “Shakespeare in Love” on Saturday, March 21 beginning at 10 a.m. on the Central Park stage. You can find details at kyshakespeare.com/employment.
Another milestone in the 2020 season includes “Henry V,” the culmination of the Henriad series Kentucky Shakespeare has been staging over the past few years that has featured four of Shakespeare’s history plays, including “Richard II,” through “Henry IV, Parts I & II” and, finally, “Henry V” this year.
But don’t worry if you’ve missed any of the previous productions. Wallace said it “stands on its own, so you don’t have to know the backstory. It’s all recapped in this production.”
It’s only the third time in the company’s long history that they’ve presented these four shows in a row, he added. “It’s going to be a really fun celebratory culmination of years of hard work.”
The season of plays all set in England will close with the comedic “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” which Wallace said will be the cherry on top of a top-notch season. And if you’re a fan of Elizabethan costumes, this season will not disappoint.
“We’re really leaning into the traditional look for these shows for this season,” Wallace said. Think ruffles, collars, doublets, coats and more. It will be a treat for all the senses.
In addition to the three main stage productions, Kentucky Shakespeare will also stage the Globe Players student troupe’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” plus productions from the Louisville Ballet, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company and the Louisville Improvisors.
“It’s the Louisville Ballet’s fifth anniversary with us presenting free Louisville Ballet in the park,” Wallace said. Patrons should look for a re-staging of its production of “William’s Folly,” first presented by the ballet in 2016, and a new dance adaptation of “Macbeth.”
Wallace likes to say that if you haven’t been to the free Kentucky Shakespeare Festival in a while, “you haven’t been.” And that’s because the company has worked hard to make it so much more about the experience of experiencing art than just art itself.
The free festival features a rotating group of 28 food trucks from the Louisville Food Truck Association, plus Will’s Tavern and Will’s Gift Shop.
The Kids’ Globe tent, which launched in 2019, will also return and will open an hour before every performance with interactive arts-based activities tied to the production, which Wallace said might include anything from making a puppet or learning a dance that will be featured in the show later that evening.
“It’s a really fun interactive free thing for kids to do before the show,” he said.
For adults looking for a little interaction of their own, Kentucky Shakespeare has also partnered with Louisville’s nonprofit literary press Saraband Books, who will have strolling buskers at the performances creating interactive poetry for guests.
“They are going to be able to write sonnets in iambic pentameter and giving it to guests free of charge,” he said.
For Wallace, and the rest of the Kentucky Shakespeare company, the festival is more than just “work.” It’s about the community.
“It’s a safe, fun, shared experience. We’re trying to get people off the couch. I know Netflix is tempting, but there’s nothing that can replace seeing a production live,” he said. “And what better than when it’s also free and in the park?”
Here is the full schedule events for each night of the shows: food trucks open at 6:30 p.m., Will’s Tavern, Will’s Gift Shop, and Kids’ Globe open at 7 p.m., nightly community pre-show entertainment begins around 7:15 p.m. and productions start promptly at 8 p.m.
For more information on the free festival, visit kyshakespeare.com.
2020 Kentucky Shakespeare Festival
The 2020 Kentucky Shakespeare Festival takes place at the C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheater in Old Louisville’s Central Park, 1340 S Fourth St., from May 27 to Aug. 9. Each production in the 60th year of the free festival beings at 8 p.m.
‘Shakespeare in Love’
Presented by Churchill Downs. Based on the screenplay of the Oscar-winning film by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard. Adapted for the stage by Lee Hall, with music by Paddy Cunneen. Directed by Matt Wallace
WHAT: The 2020 season kicks off with this Louisville premiere adapted from the 1998 Oscar-winning film. Will Shakespeare has writer’s block, the deadline for his new play is fast approaching and he’s in desperate need of inspiration until he finds his muse.
WHEN: May 27-June 14; July 15, 18, 22, and 25
CAST: The production stars Jon Patrick O’Brien as Will Shakespeare and Angelica Santiago as Viola, with Braden McCampbell as Kit Marlowe, Gregory Maupin as Phillip Henslowe and Dathan Hooper as Richard Burbage.
By William Shakespeare. Directed by Amy Attaway
WHAT: The final installment in Kentucky Shakespeare’s four-year Game of King’s series, Shakespeare’s Henriad, Henry V is an epic history play — a classic tale of kingship and war that explores the making of a legend.
WHEN: June 18-28; July 14, 17, 23 and 26
CAST: Zachary Burrell plays the titular King, with Mollie Murk as Princess Katherine, Neill Robertson as the Dauphin, Kyle Ware as Pistol and Hallie Dizdarevic as the Chorus/Queen Isabel. The production will again feature original music from Wax Fang’s Scott Carney.
‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’
By William Shakespeare. Directed by Matt Wallace
WHAT: Last performed on the Kentucky Shakespeare stage 29 years ago, this riotous Elizabethan comedy is a story of marriage, wealth, jealousy and lies. Sir John Falstaff, played by J. Barrett Cooper, pursues two housewives, Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, played by Abigail Bailey Maupin and Jennifer Pennington. In this fast-moving comedy, the wives outwit the fat knight while many wooers pursue the lovely Anne Page.
WHEN: July 2-12, 16, 19, 21 and 24
CAST: Georgette Kleier returns to the festival to play Mistress Quickly, Jon Huffman plays Dr. Caius and Tyler Tate makes his Festival debut as Fenton.
Kentucky Shakespeare’s Globe Players High School Troupe: ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
Directed by Kyle Ware
WHAT: Kentucky Shakespeare’s Globe Players Professional Training Program for high school students will present the comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” directed by Kentucky Shakespeare’s director of education Kyle Ware. The cast is comprised of students from multiple area high schools, and the production is the culmination of a six-week training program.
WHEN: July 29 to Aug. 1
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company presents ‘Macbeth’
Directed by Darnell Benjamin
WHAT: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company returns to the stage with its touring production of Shakespeare’s heart-pounding thrill ride “Macbeth,” a harrowing exploration of ambition, morality, tyranny and corruption.
WHEN: Aug. 2 and 4
Louisville Improvisors present ‘Late Night Shakes’
WHAT: The Louisville Improvisors return for the sixth year with Late Night Shakes on select Saturdays, bringing late-night improvised Shakespeare plays created from audience suggestions.
WHEN: June 6 and 20; July 11 and 25 at 10:30 p.m.
Louisville Ballet presents ‘Shakespeare in Dance’
Created by Roger Creel and Scott Moore
WHAT: Rounding out the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival season, Louisville Ballet returns to the stage for a fifth season to present “Shakespeare in Dance.”. The evening will feature a re-staging of its production of “Willam’s Folly,” first presented by Louisville Ballet on the Kentucky Shakespeare stage in 2016, and a new dance adaptation of Macbeth.
WHEN: Aug. 5-9