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Kentucky Shakespeare Opens This Week With 'The Tempest'

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Coming to Louisville's Central Park over the next few months: a shipwrecked sorcerer, a feuding married couple, and a fatefully ambitious nobleman.

Kentucky Shakespeare's 2015 season opens this week with "The Tempest," directed by Matt Wallace, the producing artistic director of the company.

"The Tempest" is one of his favorite Shakespeare plays, and he said it should be fun for audiences who enjoyed last year’s  "A Midsummer Night’s Dream."

“I love the magic; I love the theme of forgiveness and mercy," Wallace said. "I love the characters—it’s got some of Shakespeare’s great characters. Our audience last year really responded to the magic and the fairy world in 'Midsummer,' and I think this is going to be a great follow-up to that."

Also on the bill this summer is "Taming of the Shrew," the tale of a husband and wife at war with each other for dominance. This play can seem awfully sexist to modern sensibilities, but Wallace said director Amy Attaway will give audiences a new take on the classic.

There’s a third mainstage play, often known as "the Scottish play" due to superstition about saying its name in the theater.

"We’re gonna do the Scottish version of 'Macbeth,' which traditionally took place in 1057, 200 years before 'Braveheart,' so it’s going to be a very primitive, rustic production," Wallace said. "We’re going to have a bagpiper in the show, lots of battles, lots of surprises.”

The same company of actors performs in all three shows, and on July 25, they’ll attempt the Bard-a-thon: all three plays on one day. Last year’s Bard-a-thon was partially rained out.

Kentucky Shakespeare has also invited other local theatre companies to present Shakespeare-related work on the amphitheatre stage, including Theatre 502, the Bard’s Town Theatre, and the Louisville Improvisers, for a total of 59 performances in Central Park this summer—all of them free to attend.

A number of improvements have been made since last year to the C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheatre, including a new truss, the metal scaffolding above the stage that supports the lighting.

The new truss will also allow for actors to “fly” above the stage using a special harness, an effect that will be used in "The Tempest." And the rickety old wooden benches that were audience seating for over 25 years are gone, replaced by 135 new PVC-coated steel benches. But Wallace said the “bring your own chair” festival vibe is still part of the experience.

"You can still bring pillows, blankets—and we’re also leaving the first two rows open and the last six rows open, so people who like to bring their own chairs can do that," Wallace said.

For people who think that Shakespeare is too complex, too elevated, or too hard to understand, Matt Wallace has an invitation.

"I hope to get them there for the festival experience and I hope they stay for the Shakespeare. An accessible production that’s not dumbed down, but it’s accessible and it’s fun and it’s clear, and it’s a couple of hours, it’s not a huge commitment."

The 2015 Kentucky Shakespeare Festival officially opens Thursday night with "The Tempest," with a preview night on Wednesday.