"Midsummer" crowd at Central Park. Photo by Kyle Ware
“Midsummer” crowd at Central Park. Photo by Kyle Ware

It’s hard to describe what talking to Kentucky Shakespeare’s Artistic Director Matt Wallace is like. The man radiates joy without being goofy. He projects intelligence and ambition, but in a way that is full of love. He has to be one of the hardest working people in Louisville, but he doesn’t ever seem ruffled or weary. When I asked him if he ever gets a break he said, “When you do what you love, it doesn’t feel like work.”

And I get that.

On Saturday, Kentucky Shakespeare announced the details of the Summer 2015 Kentucky Shakespeare Festival at an event at Central Park. We’ll be seeing three professional productions: “The Tempest,” “MacBeth,” and “The Taming of the Shrew.” Amy Attaway will return to direct “The Taming of the Shrew”; Wallace will direct the other two. The Globe Players — the teen company — will perform “The Comedy of Errors.”

Once again, the Kentucky Shakespeare professional season will be followed by shows by community partners. Theatre [502] is commissioning a Shakespeare-themed new work. The Bard’s Town Theatre will present the also-Shakespeare themed “Chasing Ophelia,” written by Doug Schutte. The Louisville Improvisors will perform Shakespeare improv with three late night performances.

Last year’s festival broke every imaginable record for Kentucky Shakespeare. They netted $88,000 in donations and concession sales and cleared $71,000. They raised $44,000 just by “barreling” — their term for “passing the hat” at intermission.

Director Matt Wallace gives notes for actors and crew from stage. Photo by Kyle Ware
Director Matt Wallace gives notes for actors and crew from stage. Photo by Kyle Ware

Compare this to last year’s disastrous festival where they raised $17,000 but only cleared $5,000. The all-time record raised was $30,000 in 2008.

More than 27,000 people showed up to see the seven-show season (the previous record was 13,000). That means that “barreling” raised around $3.50 an attendee when the historical average was $1.50.

Shortly after the beginning of the season, they had to add bleachers and additional picnic tables to accommodate the crowd. It had been 25 years since Kentucky Shakespeare fielded three professional shows. Wallace wasn’t sure that people would keep coming back.

But they did. Sometimes multiple times per show (for the record I went to 12 shows this summer). “It became a community place,” says Wallace. “People coming over and over. Sometimes just for dinner.” The festival had food trucks every day. “Sometimes just for one act.”

The success of the 2014 season and the resurgence in community support for Kentucky Shakespeare has allowed them to take some leaps. The first major one was that the funds raised this summer allowed Wallace to hire an Education Director for the first time: Kyle Ware, who was on the education team, in the summer professional shows, and has a weekly column here at IL.

Assisted by a grant from the Kentucky Colonels, they will replace the rusty lighting truss at the Central Park stage. And along with Councilman David James they are working on installing lighting in the park’s pergola and cleaning up the bathrooms. New, more comfortable benches are also on the horizon (yay!).

Last year, Kentucky Shakespeare toured city parks and schools with an abbreviated version of Hamlet. Thanks to a grant from the Gheens Foundation, next spring they will be adding more schools and more parks, this time with a truncated “MacBeth.”

Wallace again plans to audition in December, which is early for a summer season, “I want to get a jump on offering people work.” And as he did last year, he has no plans to audition outside the city — a frequent criticism of previous ADs.

Kentucky Shakespeare’s four educational programs and workshops are up and running. The public can catch those on the Central Park Stage from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. every day of the St. James Art Fair.

One of Wallace’s goals is to increase visibility of the organization throughout the year. They will be staging a candlelight reading of “MacBeth” at the ReSurfaced pop-up plaza on Oct. 25 at 8 p.m.

Earlier this year, Wallace was named an Alden Fellow by the Community Foundation of Louisville. The award comes with a grant to be used for professional development. Next month Wallace will go to Stratford, England and work to continue a relationship with the Royal Shakespeare Company. (An example of how beloved Kentucky Shakespeare is to its donors — a group of donors chipped in and are sending Amy Attaway too.)

And then there’s the matter of Shakespeare Behind Bars at the Luther Luckett Correctional Facilities. Yes, he’s still directing that and the actors are already in rehearsal. It’s their 20th season this year, and they’ll be performing “Pericles” in May.

When Wallace was hired to be the producing artistic director of Kentucky Shakespeare, he was already a well-known and well-regarded member of the community. People expected great things from him.

I think it’s safe to say he’s over-performed.

2015 Shakespeare In Central Park

  • 10 Weeks
  • 59 Performances
  • 7 Productions

Kentucky Shakespeare Productions

The Tempest
June 3 – July 25

The Taming of the Shrew
June 18 – July 25

Macbeth
July 2 – July 26

Rotating Repertory Weeks
July 14 – July 26

Bard-A-Thon
July 25

The Comedy of Errors
Globe Players (student production)
July 29 – August 2

Community Partners Week
August 4 – 9

Recent and Relevant Shakespeare
New Commissioned Work from Theatre [502]

Chasing Ophelia
Bard’s Town Theatre

Post-Show Entertainment

Late Night Shakes
Louisville Improvisors
Improvised Shakespeare Show
10:30PM
6/27, 7/11, 7/18

Other Things of Note

  • Food Trucks
  • Will’s Tavern
  • Pre-show Entertainment
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