Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre to present annual festival

Carolf Rolf/Contributing Writer Published June 1, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: William Harvey

Jordan Coughtry of Astoria, N.Y., plays Hamlet opposite Kelly Karcher of New York City as Ophelia in this scene from Hamlet, which is part of the lineup for this year’s Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre’s summer festival at the University of Central Arkansas.

CONWAY — This summer, the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre’s summer festival will feature the theme Coming of Age. The festival, which will begin Thursday and continue through June 29, will be held at several venues throughout the state.

The lineup for the festival’s eighth year includes three works by William Shakespeare — The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Hamlet and The Comedy of Errors — and Pippin, the Tony Award-winning musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz based on the book by Roger O. Hirson.

“All of these plays deal with characters trying to find themselves,” said Rebekah Scallet of Little Rock, the producing artistic director of the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, which is housed at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.

“In Pippin, Pippin struggles to see just who he is,” Scallet said. “In [the song] “Corner of the Sky,” Pippin sings, ‘I’ve got to be where my spirit can run free, got to find my corner in the sky.’

“In Hamlet, Hamlet’s father has just been murdered, and he has to grow up and become a man who must avenge his father’s death.

“In Two Gents, two young best friends end up falling for the same girl. They must move beyond their feelings to grow up.

“And in The Comedy of Errors, two sets of twins who were separated at birth must find the pieces that will make them whole again.”

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

The 2014 festival will open at 7:30 p.m. Thursday with a performance of The Two Gentlemen of Verona under the stars at The Village at Hendrix. The play will be repeated at the same venue on Friday and Saturday and again June 13 and 15. The play will move to another outdoor location in the Argenta Arts District of North Little Rock, behind the new Argenta branch of the Laman Library on Main Street, for three performances on June 19, 21 and 22. The performances will begin at 7:30 p.m.

There is no set admission charge for the outdoor productions. The performances are “pay what you can,” with a suggested donation of $15. Those planning to attend are asked to bring lawn chairs or blankets.

The play will be directed by Scallet, a graduate of Parkview High School in Little Rock, who holds a bachelor’s degree in theater and English from Brandeis University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in directing from Illinois State University.

Scallet spent 10 years in Chicago as a teacher, director and dramaturg (researcher of plays). She directed Twelfth Night in 2012 and King Lear in 2013.

Jordan Coughtry of Schoharie, New York, will star as Proteus, one of the “gentlemen,” who finds himself torn between two loves. Coughtry, who is married to actor Nisi Sturgis, formerly of Conway, has also written the music for the production.

“Jordan is a brilliant actor and musician who craftily takes some of Shakespeare’s best lines in the play and turns them to song,” said Mary Ruth Marotte, executive director of AST. “His songs are gorgeous and will add significantly to the audience’s enjoyment of this production.”

Coughtry appeared as Feste in AST’s 2012 production of Twelfth Night.

Local actors appearing in The Two Gentlemen of Verona include Jordan Breckenridge of Hot Springs, a graduate of Hendrix College, as Thurio; Kevin Browne, associate professor of theater and academic director at the University of Central Arkansas, as Eglamour and Outlaw 2; Jordy Neill of Conway, as Speed; Paige Reynolds of Little Rock, assistant professor of English who also teaches a class in Shakespeare at UCA, as Lucetta and Outlaw 3; Chris Fritzges, assistant professor of theater at UCA, as Duke; Anna Caroline Gregg, Mary Dean Johnson and Olivia Marotte, all of Conway, as attendants; and Zeke Whisenhunt of Conway as a servant.

Pippin

Pippin will be presented at 7:30 p.m. June 11, 12, 14, 25 and 26 and at 2 p.m. June 13, 15, 22, 25 and 27 at the Donald

W. Reynolds Performance Hall at UCA. Tickets are $28 for regular admission and $23 for students, seniors and active military personnel.

Garrett Whitehead, a recent Ouachita Baptist University graduate and a former AST intern, will take on his first starring role with the company as Pippin, the son of the historical King Charlemagne.

Jeremy Williams, a North Little Rock native, will return to Arkansas as director and choreographer. He lives in Manhattan, where he works as a director, choreographer, producer and consultant.

“I am thrilled to have Jeremy directing for AST for the first time,” Scallet said. “We met as kids participating in Summer Theatre Academy at the Arkansas Arts Center years ago. Though he has gone on to direct and choreograph in New York and across the country, he shares my passion for creating the highest caliber of artistic experience for the residents of his home state.”

Williams said there are many things to love about Pippin: the spectacle and fantasy, the songs and dance numbers, the delightful characters.

“But what I love most about it is the story — a story of a young man searching for his way in life,” Williams said. “This young man could be, and has been, all of us at some point. I think it’s a wonderful musical that everyone can relate to and enjoy.”

Mark Binns of Little Rock is the production’s musical director. He is an active freelance musical director, arranger, composer, pianist and vocalist.

Local actors include Holly Ruth Gale of Russellville, an assistant professor of music at Arkansas Tech University, who plays the part of Pippin’s stepmother, Fastrada. Hannah Moulder of Bentonville, a UCA intern, is a member of the ensemble.

Hamlet

Hamlet will be presented at 7:30 p.m. June 20, 24, 26 and 28 and at 2 p.m. June 21 and 29 at Reynolds Performance Hall.

Tickets are $28 per person and $23 for seniors, active military personnel and students.

“We are thrilled that this season marks our debut production of Hamlet, one of Shakespeare’s most moving tragedies, with the brilliant Robert Quinlan directing in the same intimate onstage setting of his celebrated Richard III production of 2012,” Marotte said.

Quinlan is a visiting assistant professor and leads the Master of Fine Arts directing program at Purdue University. He said he was excited to tackle Hamlet for the first time.

“This is a human story with characters that we can all recognize,” he said. “I hope the audience relates on a personal level to the family dynamic — the fathers and mothers, sons and daughters of the play. With Jordan Coughtry [in the lead role], they will see a three-dimensional Hamlet — a Hamlet with a sense of humor, a Hamlet they can root for.”

Local actors appearing in Hamlet include Breckenridge as Guildenstern; Browne as the player king, the first ambassador and a member of the Norwegian army; Reynolds as Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother; Gale as the player queen, an ambassador and a Norwegian; Aaron Eley of Conway, as a messenger, a servant to Claudius and a member of the Norwegian Army; Fritzges as Osric, the player Lucianus, a priest and a member of the Norwegian Army; Sarah Guinee of Conway as Gertrude’s assistant; Joey Whisenhunt of Conway as the young Hamlet, a boy player and a member of the Norwegian Army; and Elena Wiltgen of Conway as Gertrude’s attendant.

The Comedy of Errors

The Comedy of Errors is a production for young audiences. It will be presented at 2 p.m. June 24, 26 and 28 at the Reynolds Performance Hall. General-admission tickets are $10.

The production will tour the state with performances at the North Little Rock Laman Library at 2 p.m. June 14, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville at 7 p.m. June 18 and the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute on Petit Jean Mountain at 6:30 p.m. June 28. Each of these individual institutions will handle tickets for the performances.

Scallet said that as with AST’s previous youth adaptations, The Comedy of Errors keeps intact all of Shakespeare’s original language while shortening the play to about an hour in length, “perfect for younger attention spans.

“It is a comedy of twins separated at birth and mistaken identities. It is full of physical comedy and fun adventure, perfect to capture the imagination of audiences of all ages.”

Katherine Campbell will direct the show. Originally from North Carolina, Campbell is a company member with the Arkansas Art Center Children’s Theater and improviser with ImprovLittleRock and The Joint Venture. She is also the co-founder and co-director of the youth improv comedy company Armadillo Rodeo.

Local actors in the production include Neill, who plays one of the twins; Adam Frank of Conway, who plays Aegon; and Moulder, who plays Luciana.

Neill is the son of Cindy and Randy Romeo of Conway. A 2007 graduate of Conway High School, he has studied theater at UCA and appeared in several Conway Community Arts Association productions. He performs with the Sonoma Valley Shakespeare Co. in California and the Shake on the Lake professional summer Shakespeare festival in Silver Lake, New York.

Frank, who has performed with the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre in years past, is an associate professor in the Schedler Honors College at UCA. He will be going on sabbatical soon. He appeared in Much Ado About Nothing with the ATS in 2013 and in Richard III in 2012.

Moulder is majoring in theater at UCA. She played the lead role in UCA Theatre’s April production of A Doll’s House. She recently received a $7,000 James Bridges Scholarship for the 2014-2015 school year.

Season packages for Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre performances are available. For more information about tickets or subscriptions, call the box office at (866) 810-0012, or visit arkshakes.com.

For general information, call (501) 852-0702.

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