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Datebook: A comedy, a tragedy and the Bard's complete (abridged) works are all at 2022 Shakespeare Fest

ISF at Ewing Cultural Center
Illinois State University
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Illinois Shakespeare Festival
The theater at Ewing Cultural Center is the site of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival that returns to normal operations in 2022 after being cancelled in 2020 and performing a truncated 2021 season.
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The Illinois Shakespeare Festival is announcing its 45th season for 2022, returning to a full slate of three plays for the first time in two years and Ewing Cultural Center feeling a lot more normal as the festival resumes pre-pandemic operations.

ISF artistic director John Stark said he’s happy to be fulfilling a promise he made in 2019 to revive “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged).”

“We are moving forward as a gift to our patron community that really wanted to see this production again,” Stark said. The play, by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, condenses Shakespeare’s 37 plays to 97 minutes. Canceled in 2020 by the pandemic, it was last seen by festival audiences in 2011, starring local favorites Tom Quinn and David Kortemeier. Both will be returning in 2022.

The season continues with two alternating canonical Shakespeare works—one tragedy and one comedy: “Much Ado About Nothing” and “King Lear” will run on a rotating schedule in July and August.

Stark said he considers the former to be one of Shakespeare’s best comedies. “It’s a smart comedy, with witty word play and the banter between the two lead characters, Beatrice and Benedict,” he said.

“King Lear” will make only its third appearance in the festival's 45-year history, last seen in 2003. “It’s almost been a generation since we produced it, so I thought it was time,” said Stark, noting the universal themes of power in the play and adding, “The family dynamics of what happens between an aging monarch, King Lear, and his daughters—those machinations are always part of life.”

Stark, a scenic designer who leads the theater design and production program at Illinois State University, began his tenure as artistic director in 2018, though his ties to the festival reach back to the early ‘90s. With the pandemic putting a halt to the 2020 season, this will be Stark's third time in the director’s chair. While it’s unusual for someone to transition from production to artistic direction, Stark feels he brings more to the table than institutional knowledge.

“I was involved with building the new space in 1999,” Stark said. “I understand the challenges of the space and can be helpful to the production team in how they want to use it. I also bring my artistic eye. As a scenic designer, I’m looking at the total picture that the audience is seeing, and as artistic director that just extends a bit further.”

Including his family: Stark is married with two children, who are all professional performers.

“There’s lots of performance around my family life,” he said. “It’s always been part of my make up as a theater practitioner.”

The Illinois Shakespeare Festival opens on the grounds of the Ewing Cultural Center, beginning on June 4, 2022. For a full lineup, visit www.illinoisshakes.com. Tickets will be available next spring.

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