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Kentucky Shakespeare Festival Returns To Central Park

A scene from Kentucky Shakespeare's production of "Henry IV, Pt. 2."
Bill Brymer
A scene from Kentucky Shakespeare's production of "Henry IV, Pt. 2."

Kentucky Shakespeare Festival will be back in Central Park this summer after having to cancel its season there last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company announced its lineup of free, in-person shows Monday, and it will present two of the mainstage productions originally scheduled for the 2020 season. 

“Shakespeare in Love,” a stage adaptation of the Oscar-winning film, opens the 2021 Kentucky Shakespeare Festival in Central Park on June 16, and performances of “Henry V” begin July 8.

Typically there would be a third mainstage play, but producing artistic director Matt Wallace told WFPL they decided to “take that third show out of our mix.”

Due to COVID safety precautions, performances are limited to 60% full. 

Eliminating the third work would “help alleviate capacity issues,” Wallace said, because  extending the runs of the other two shows gives people more opportunities to see them.

Associate artistic director Amy Attaway said it was a no-brainer to go with “Henry V” this summer because it completes Kentucky Shakespeare’s “Henriad tetralogy,” the scholarly term used to reference a series of Shakespeare’s history plays about kings – Attaway is also directing this production of the Shakespeare play. 

“Then ‘Shakespeare in Love’ is something that we've been trying to do for a bunch of years, trying to get the permits and trying to find a place where we could afford to do it,” Attaway said. “So that's been in the works for so long, that it felt like we had to hang on to that one.”

Shakespeare works are in the public domain, whereas the company had to go through a lengthy process to acquire the rights to put on “Shakespeare in Love.”

Wallace said they sent their proposal for the season to Metro Government late Friday and, Monday morning, he received the signed permit allowing them to officially move forward in his email inbox. 

“We all sort of gave a big exhale at that point,” Attaway said.

In addition to reduced capacity, some seating will be blocked off to make social distancing possible, audience members will be encouraged to wear masks, a fence will limit the ways people can enter into the area around the C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheater in Old Louisville’s Central Park and increased front-of-house staff will help collect people’s information for contact tracing. 

But pre-registration or a RSVP won’t be required, which was a relief to Wallace, the producing artistic director.

“That's something that's very important to us with the accessibility and the inclusive nature of what we do,” he said. “So it will be first come, first serve.”

He hopes people will come early and come prepared with blankets or chairs to watch from the expanded grass area that they’ve opened up for these performances. 

“We hope that all of the new restrictions that we have to put in place to keep everyone safe will feel smooth and easy, so people can come in and enjoy Shakespeare under the stars like they always do every summer,” Attaway said.

The Central Park return is extra special because Kentucky Shakespeare has begun moving into its new home, which is less than a block from the park. 

“If we look out our window, we can almost see the park,” Wallace said. “It's that close. So to be settled into our new headquarters, to be starting rehearsals next week in those new headquarters, our costume shop is now open… it's an exciting feeling to know that we're coming out of this time with such hope and excitement.”

The Kentucky Shakespeare Festival will also present the Globe Players student troupe in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and performances by Louisville Ballet, including a dance interpretation of “Macbeth,” and Louisville Improvisors, which brings back “Late Night Shakes,” improvising off of the Bard’s work based on audience suggestions. 

You can find dates and details here

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