The play’s the thing at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. And this season, the plays we know so well have a new look and a fresh perspective to thrill audiences.
The Festival is featuring the romantic comedy, “As You Like It,” the politically charged “Caesar,” plus a stage version of Jan Austen’s classic novel, “Pride and Prejudice.” Each play is an adaptation and is directed by those who did the adapting.
The most striking change can be seen in the adaptation of “Julius Caesar.” Written by Shakespeare in 1599, the text has been brought into the 21st century by Quetta Carpenter, and technology plays a major role in the adaptation.
“We’re really excited about this piece,” said Stark. “Quetta Carpenter has been working for the last two years on this script, reimagining it in terms of the political climate, the technology that’s involved, so we’ll be involving projections, some things with cell phones and live feeds.”
All the tech that’s involved in the play is much easier to achieve in an indoor facility, so “Caesar” will be staged in the ISU Center for the Performing Arts Theater.
“We’re still steeped in Shakespeare’s story, still with the language. But Quetta has linked it together, combined some characters and streamlined the whole thing, so we’re looking at a two-hour play.”
Adapting classic plays is the norm in today’s theater, said Stark.
“Everyone is looking to use Shakespeare as a way to comment on today’s world. Almost any Shakespeare that you see in the nation is adapted to some extent. There’s always some editing, rearranging or tying things together to tighten things up for today’s audiences.”
The adaptation of “As You Like It” teams director Robert Quinlan with Festival favorite, Jordan Coughtry, who has composed new music for the production, said Stark. Coughtry is also taking the role of Touchstone in the play, which is set in the days just prior to WWI.
“Jordan’s written 10 pieces of music and the cast will perform them,” revealed Stark. “There’s already music in 'As You Like It' and they’ve expanded that and made it a musical journey through the play.”
The third play this season is a stage adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice,” adapted and directed by Deanna Jent. Just as the poetry of Shakespeare remains in the new adaptations, this play captures the spirit of Jane Austen’s classic, said Stark.
“Part of the reason why I chose this is that it’s a classic story and a beloved book. Those classic stories are really what we’re all about this year. Deanna’s written a very faithful but tight adaptation of 'Pride and Prejudice.' I think audiences will really enjoy and have fun with this.”
This season, Shakespeare is served up with a side order of farm to fork.
“We’re partnering with Epiphany Farms to create packages for dinner and a show,” Stark explained. “Each of them will be discounted a certain amount and you can eat at one of the Epiphany Farms eateries that they have – Bakery and Pickle, Anju Above or Epiphany Farms – and then go see a Shakespeare play. We’re really excited about this partnership.”
Stark said the Festival is also reaching out to nearby communities by offering The Bard Bus.
“If you happen to live in the Peoria area, we are going to have a bus that on different occasions will take you from Peoria, drive you to Epiphany Farms Restaurant, then take you to the Shakespeare Festival show, and then take you home. It’s all inclusive.”
The Festival is expanding the free live jazz performances on Saturday nights. Organizer and sax man Glen Wilson will bring in a variety of jazz musicians to perform with him in the courtyard at Ewing on six Saturday nights, prior to the play.
“That makes it a whole evening of entertainment,” said Stark.
The season also has a return of Theater for Young Audiences, featuring “Who Stole Cleopatra,” by local playwright Nancy Steele Brokaw. The performances are free and held at the Ewing Cultural Center.
The schedule of performances and Bard Bus opportunities are available on the ISF website.
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