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Kentucky Shakespeare's Matt Wallace On Acting And Keeping The Bard Relevant

Kentucky Shakespeare

On Jan. 3, Kentucky Shakespeare will present the Tom Stoppard tragicomedy “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead.” 

Their production is different than the company’s “summer in the park” series for a couple reasons.

One -- Matt Wallace, producing artistic director, is returning to the Kentucky Shakespeare stage for the first time in 10 years as an actor. He’s playing... well, “The Player,” who is the leader of the group of actors that make an appearance in “Hamlet.”

Two -- this performance is indoors and ticketed. Wallace believes it’s important to provide different theater experiences to stay relevant and sustainable. He says free theater is a difficult, though worthwhile, business.

I spoke with Wallace about the play, how it feels to be back onstage as an actor again, and his plans for keeping Shakespeare relevant in the city for years to come. Listen to our conversation in the audio player above.

On why the names Rosencrantz and Guildenstern may sound familiar to casual Shakespeare fans:

"You might have heard of this play, “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead.” It was actually a Tony award-winning play. This is the 50th anniversary of the first professional production. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are these two minor characters in the play “Hamlet.” Well, this is a sort of flipped view of that where we take these two minor characters and we see behind the scenes what happens between all of those scenes as they’re sort of thrust into this crazy, backwards view of “Hamlet.”

On what it’s like being back onstage as an actor for this production:

"It’s been 10 years since I was in a Kentucky Shakespeare mainstage show. I was Orlando in 'As You Like It' in 2006. It’s been so fun to come back in and to play this role of the Player. Every time I say my lines, it’s a lot of fun. There’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek things in this character. You know, he’s sort of a producer, the head of the players, and he is shopping out his actors to do anything they can for a buck. That is like me! But it’s funny."

On how the Kentucky Shakespeare mission lends itself to productions other than the summer in central park series:

"You know when I got the job three or four years ago, it was one of my goals to remain relevant in this community and this doesn’t just mean in the summer months. So as we started to think about how we can serve people in new and different ways, the “Shakespeare in the Parks” program was born and the “Shakespeare in the Libraries.” And these opportunities for us to serve audiences with ticketed productions in the off-season was part of our goal. It’s a difficult business model to give away theater for free all summer -- and particularly this upcoming summer, with 11 weeks and 66 performances and eight productions.

"And we are giving away this product, and that’s never going to change in the summer and that’s so important to us -- but we are also looking for these ways that we can bring in earned income during the year to support those programs."

More information about "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead" is available here.  It will be performed at the Kentucky Center's Bomhard Theater Jan. 3 through 8.