At the first-ever Illinois Shakespeare Festival -- back when it wasn't even called that yet -- the plays were staged on the tennis courts at Ewing Manor in Bloomington. Forty years later and the acclaimed festival has its own spiffy theater at Ewing and a great reputation as a local cultural gem.
Kevin Rich, Artistic Director for the ISF, explained that the festival has not only endured for forty years, it's thrived and grown. And that success, Rich said, can be attributed to the support of the community and from Illinois State University.
"I'm just really proud that we're still standing. These days it's tough to run a theater company, and I think all the artistic directors and all the managing directors in the history of the festival have known this -- that it's not enough to say we're important, we have to be important. So if we are creating theater that impacts our community in meaningful ways, they'll keep us around."
Rich said the staff and company want to make the 40th season extra special. "I just wanted the season to be a joy bomb, to be a celebration."
There's the romantic comedy A Midsummer's Night Dream, which follows four young lovers into an enchanted forest for a journey of laughter, trickery and ultimately -- love! This production features original music by Jordan Coughtry, who is playing the irrepressible Puck.
Also this season is a six-actor version of Cymbeline. Directed by Andy Park, the show has been adapted by Chris Coleman and features a brilliant princess, an evil queen and more magical romance. "There's really brilliant doubling and tripling of roles in this play which really fits the story, " said Rich. "And in this adaptation, there's a musical narrator. There's a piano playing narrator who also jumps into the action of the play. It's the sense that he's opening a giant book and telling us a story."
This season, the festival welcomes the Q Brothers Collective with their adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. I Heart Juliet is a hip hop version of the tragic romance, which Rich promises is full of energy and humor. And heads up -- it's already very nearly sold out!
Back by popular demand, it's the Improvised Shakespeare Company, performing Tuesday nights during the Festival. And the Theater For Young Audiences brings Sleeping Beauty to life.
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