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— The Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre in Conway will open its fifth season Thursday, and the executive director promises it will “blow people away.”

This year’s lineup includes two of William Shakespeare’s classics, As You Like It and Othello; Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice; and the children’s show The Tortoise andthe Hare, based on the fable by Aesop.

“We certainly have something for everyone and hope that people all around Arkansas will come out to support the only professional Shakespeare theater in Arkansas,” Mary Ruth Marotte, AST executive director, said. “Our actors this year come from all over the country, and they will be ready to thrill and entertain the audience during this one-of-a-kind festival.

“It’s going to be a fantastic season,” she said, smiling. “It’s going to blow people away this year.”

The website says about the fifth season: “Yes, you’ll like it!”

Not only will theater patrons be able to enjoy shows at the Donald W. Reynolds Performance Hall at the University of Central Arkansas; they will be able to do so at The Village at Hendrix in Conway and at the newly renovated Argenta Community Theatre on Main Street in North Little Rock.

“With the addition of the two new venues, I hope that theatergoers in Arkansas and around the region will embrace AST as a reflection of the cultural and artistic growth that is currently under way,” said Marotte, who teaches English at UCA. “We are excited that we will be able to bring our professional theater to a wider audience.”

Matt Chiorini, AST artistic director, added his thoughts about the off-UCA campus locations:“It’s exciting to be able to move out into the community.”

Chiorini is the founding producing artistic director of the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre. He now lives in Syracuse, N.Y., and teaches theater at Le Moyne College. “I’m happy to be back here and attached to the festival again,” Chiorini said.

“We have this figured out by now,” he said, reflecting on the fifth season of AST. “We know how to do things. We’re really a tight ship this year.”

Marotte, who has been on the AST Board of Directors since its inception, and Chiorini share responsibilities for this year’s event; she as executive director and he as artistic director.

“Matt and I have partnered this year,” Marotte said. “Last year, when he decided to leave, we proposed that we share responsibilities. I would do the managerial part and he, the artistic part. I’ve handled scheduling the events, fund-raising activities, advertising and promotion. Matt chose the production managers and the actors. We have collaborated on pretty much everything else.”

This year’s summer festival opens with As You Like It at The Village at Hendrix, which is the green space adjacent to Panera Bread and ZaZa Fine Salad and Wood-Oven Pizza Co. Tickets are “pay-as-you-can.” Show time is 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, June 19.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat will open in Reynolds Performance Hall on Thursday, June 23, and continue through Saturday, July 2. Show times are 7:30 p.m. June 23, Friday, June 24, and Sunday, June 26, and 2 p.m. Friday, July 1, and Saturday, July 2. Tickets are $25 each.

Othello will open in Reynolds Performance Hall Saturday, June 25, and continue through Thursday, June 30. Show times are 7:30 p.m. June 25, Wednesday, June 29, and Thursday, June 30, and 2 p.m. Sunday, June 26. Tickets are $25 each.

The children’s show, The Tortoise and the Hare, will be presented Friday, June 17, through Saturday, July 2. Show times are 10 a.m. June 17; 2 p.m. Friday, June 24; noon, Sunday, June 26; and 10 a.m. Friday, July 1, and Saturday, July 2. Tickets are $5.

The festival will conclude with four performances of As You Like It at the Argenta Community Theatre, 405 W. Main St. in North Little Rock. Show time is 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 1, through Sunday, July 3. Tickets are $25 and $35.

All festival tickets can be purchased through www.arkshakes.com, UCA Ticket Central at www.uca.edu/tickets or by calling the Reynolds Box Office at (501) 450-3265.

Marotte said three of the four shows are “completely family-friendly, with Othello falling in the PG-13 category.”

The 35 actors hired for the productions make up the usual mix of local and out-of-state professionals working alongside college students. This year, actors have been hired from New York, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina and elsewhere, working with Arkansas actors and student acting interns from UCA, Hendrix College and Conway High School-West.

“The cast for Othello is absolutely stellar,” Marotte said. “It’s like a hand-picked, brilliant cast. David is such a great director and actor.”

David Alford of Pulaski, Tenn., plays the role of Iago, Othello’s ensign and Emilia’s husband, in Othello. He also directs the play. Alford directed The Tempest three years ago with the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre.

“I’ve acted and directed before, but this year it is an interesting challenge,” Alford said. “This is a dream role.”

Alford explained that the actors in this production of Othello are in contemporary dress but “it’s real Shakespeare,” he said.

“Othello and his men are soldiers,” he said. “I thought the audience might relate to them better if they were dressed as modern day soldiers. This way they can see who the actors really are.

“We have cut the play,” Alford said. “Although still in two acts, it’s a length more acceptable to modern tastes.”

Making his debut with AST is Derrick Parker of Greenville, N.C., plays the title role of Othello, a Moor and a general in the Venetian military.

“Just the opportunity to be here is wonderful,” Parker said. “I have studied the play. I was a little anxious about it, but I’ve been blessed with this cast of characters. It’s a wonderful production.”

Heather Dupree of North Little Rock plays the role of Emilia in Othello.

“This is my first time to be here,” she said. “I’m very excited. I was familiar with the play but have never appeared in it before. It’s wonderful to work with such a great cast. I’ve been involved with theater since I was a child. I’ve done it all my life.”

Paige Reynolds of Little Rock plays Othello’s wife, Desdemona, in Othello.

“I’ve wanted to play this role for a long time,” she said. “I’m very excited to have this opportunity.”

Reynolds has a doctorate in Shakespeare and is an English professor at UCA, teaching Shakespeare.

Dennis Courtney of New York City directs and choreographs Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Last year, he directed The Producers for AST.

Tulsa-based actor Chris Crawford will play the title role in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He appeared as Romeo in AST’s past production of Romeo and Juliet and as Leo Bloom in The Producers, also presented by AST.

Andrew Hamm of Richmond, Va., directs Shakespeare’s comedy, As You Like It, on both off-campus locations. This week’s productions at The Village at Hendrix is the first AST production of its kind - Shakespeare on the Village Green.

Scott Wooten of Tampa Bay, Fla., directs The Tortoise and the Hare. Wooten, a native of Jonesboro, is the artistic associate of the American Stage Theatre Co. in Tampa Bay.

Members of the children’s choir for this production include Emily Beggs, Hallie Broome, Maggie Carroll, Regan Cate, Anna Caroline Gregg, Bailey Guynes, Madison Loyd, Ethan Marotte, Olivia Marotte,Simon Marotte, Lucas Massingill, Maggie McCullough, Lucia Redditt, Zoe Russell, Abby Shourd, Linley Thompson, Joey Whisenhunt and Maggie Whisenhunt, all of Conway.

Actors from Conway appearing in the various AST productions include Jay Ruud, chairman of the UCA English Department, and Adam Frank, who teaches in the Honors College at UCA. Ruud appears as Duke Senior in As You Like It and Brabantio in Othello. Frank appears as Adam in As You Like It and as Duke Senator in Othello.

Acting interns include UCA students Jackie Rivera of Jacksonville, appearing in the ensemble of both Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Othello, and Rachael Small of Little Rock, appearing as Audrey in As You Like It and in the ensemble in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; Hendrix students Ben West of Jackson, Tenn., who has several parts in As You Like It, and Jordan Breckenridge of Hot Springs, appearing in The Tortoise and the Hare; and two Conway High School-West students, Hart Denton and Alaina Kizer, both appearing in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

River Valley Ozark, Pages 129 on 06/12/2011

Print Headline: Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre opens Thursday

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