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Love, Laughter And Beer Highlight Illinois Shakespeare Festival

Laura Kennedy
For John Stark, this is his first season as artistic director of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival.

This season of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival deftly combines the thrill of both a battle and a heart won, familiar faces revisiting cherished roles, and a chance to imagine "what if" about The Bard.

The 2018 season kicks off July 5 and features “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” “Henry V,” and, for the first time at the Festival, “Shakespeare in Love.”

This is the first season for new artistic director John Stark, who for years has been a production designer with the ISF. It’s a heady time for the festival, since The Chicago Tribune named it one of the 20 Must-See Cultural Attractions in Illinois. Stark and his staff are delighted with the honor.

“I subscribe to the paper and I opened it up and there we were – number one!” Stark said with a grin. “That’s where we need to be! Number one! It was fun to see.”

Stark credits the artistic directors that preceded him, plus the faithful community members who have supported the festival through the years for making the ISF a top cultural destination.

“And our season ticket sales are up, so we feel good about that," he said.

Stark is bringing back a popular actor from the Festival’s past to appear as Falstaff in “The Merry Wives of Windsor.

“Actually, we’re calling it The Windsor Economy Suites of Normal, Illinois.  The play is going to take place in Normal in 1978,” Stark explained. “So we’re going to have a little fun with it. And we have Steve Young as Falstaff, who played Falstaff for us before in the 90s in 'Henry IV,' parts One and Two.”

With Falstaff on the loose at the Festival, there’s also adult libations to enjoy—Shakesbeer.

“White Oak Brewery is providing our Shakesbeer for the summer,” revealed Stark.

Going once more unto the breach this summer is the history play, “Henry V,” featuring Festival favorite Jordan Coughtry as the young King Henry.

“I like the histories,” said Stark. “And it’s one of my favorites. It’s an inspiring play, very noble and heroic.”

Also this season, the Festival is staging “Shakespeare in Love.” Based on the 1999 Oscar-winning film, the play will be performed in the ISU Center for the Performing Arts only.

“It’s a very popular piece right now. It’s definitely a RomCom. It’s very fun and it brings that connection to Shakespeare. We’ve done that sort of thing for a number of seasons where we do plays that are not Shakespeare, but are connected to Shakespeare. It’s fun to think about where Will got his inspiration from. It all makes sense, yet it’s fictionalized.”

You can also listen to GLT's full interview:

GLT's full interview with John Stark.

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Reporter, content producer and former All Things Considered host, Laura Kennedy is a native of the Midwest who occasionally affects an English accent just for the heck of it. Related to two U.S. presidents, Kennedy appalled her family by going into show business.