Last Saturday, Kentucky Shakespeare’s touring cast of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” prepared to debut their production in Baxter Square Park. For five years now, the company has taken a pared-down production out of Central Park to visit Kentuckians closer to their home.
This year’s tour began on an unseasonably cold day, so it moved inside to the auditorium of the Baxter Community Center. You could blame the move indoors on “an unforeseeable cold snap,” but like the thorough planner he is, Kentucky Shakespeare Artistic Director Matt Wallace did foresee such possibilities, and every single stop on the tour has an inclement weather backup location.
Wallace, embarking on his fifth summer with the organization, says that audiences and interest around the city have grown.
“I think we’ve definitely seen some growth each year,” he tells Insider. “We’re trying out some new parks this year. We often have big audiences — some that started small start to grow, so that’s always exciting, too.”
Also in attendance on Saturday was Metro Council member Barbara Sexton Smith, who represents District 4, which includes the Baxter Community Center.
Council members like Sexton play a big role in helping Kentucky Shakespeare get its touring production out to so many neighborhoods in Louisville.
Sexton Smith praised the work of Wallace and Kentucky Shakespeare.
“We see 30,000 people a year in Central Park, and it’s free, it’s accessible, it’s on public transportation, and it’s a diverse gathering of folks,” she said. “But what this tour does is, thanks to Matt Wallace and the board at Shakespeare, it goes throughout the county to many of our parks and makes it easily available and accessible to everyone.”
Wallace and Sexton Smith buzzed about the Baxter Community Center’s auditorium, personally greeting members of the audience. Wallace displayed once again the genuine enjoyment he takes in sharing Shakespeare with any and every audience — large or small, local or far-flung across the commonwealth.
In plain view of the audience, the cast members prepared the show, meticulously setting up set pieces, props and a large number of costumes.
Wallace explains that the set for the indoor and outdoor shows isn’t quite the same, which reflects the way the touring show has continued to fine tune its methodology in the years it has been touring.
“Just learning, each year, a little bit more how to travel the show. The first year, I brought all those curtains and pipes and drapes, and then we got outside and the wind is catching it like a sailboat. So now we have an alternate set for indoor locations,” he says.
Inside or out, the cast looked ready to entertain either way. Actors Neill Robertson, Sabrina Spalding, Shaleen Cholera and Tamara Dearing, who have all worked with Kentucky Shakespeare before in one capacity or another, were joined by Colin Nesmith and Charity Means.
As always with a tour of this nature, the last member, and one of the most important, is stage manager Racheal Luther, who wrangles actors, sets, sounds and cars when the show is further away from home.
The action of this “Midsummer” has been set in a modern-day version of Athens. In the six-person cast, each actor takes on a lot of different characters. They have a specific look for each character they play — a vest here, horns and a cape there.
This production is helmed by Kentucky Shakespeare Associate Artistic Director Amy Attaway, and fans of her work will likely recognize the playful, almost mischievous quality she brings to the comedies. The way the actors change back and forth through characters and costumes displays a particularly puckish amusement.
It’s a fitting and flirty wink at the audience, which is then embodied by the choice to have Puck portrayed alternately by all six members of the cast. They don a similar cap in separate scenes to denote who is currently embodying that merry wanderer of the night.
A purist might tut at such liberties and the insertion of cell phones to replace scrolls and almanacs, but this tour isn’t for purists.
It’s an approachable and energetic production aimed to draw in new audiences — kids in schools, families at a park and others who night not have made the trip to Central Park for the main season.
It’s also an example of Wallace and Kentucky Shakespeare’s ongoing commitment to serve as much of Kentucky as they can, pleasing Shakespeare newbies as well as the company’s already devoted fanbase.
Shakespeare in the Parks, like Kentucky Shakespeare’s summer season in Central Park, is absolutely free. The parks tour will continue through May 19, and the main summer shows will run from May 30-Aug. 5. This season will include “The Comedy of Errors,” “Henry IV: Part One,” “Othello,” “Romeo & Juliet,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Tempest.”