Curtain drops on Shakespeare fest, work underway on next season

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The curtain has fallen on another summer season of the Texas Shakespeare Festival.

After 10 weeks of rehearsals, set building, costume creation, performances, an acting workshop and final bows, the actors, staff and crew of TSF have returned to their homes.

The thirty-third season of TSF was a momentous one.

For the first time ever, the company staged “King John,” a Shakespearean historical drama rarely performed in modern theaters. This season also marked Production Manager Val Winkelman's thirtieth year with the festival and the final year of a raffle for a trip to Ireland.

For Raymond Caldwell, TSF founder and artistic director, the 2018 season was a success.

“I consider the 33rd season successful, considering the fact that we produced two plays with which our audiences are not overly familiar — King John and Tartuffe,” Caldwell wrote in an email last week.

TSF has produced “Tartuffe” twice before but not for many years. Previous performances were in 1989 and 2009.

Caldwell felt audiences engaged with this year's repertory and attendance at each show and event was outstanding.

“Audience response to all four main shows, the 'Belle of Amherst,' 'The Lovely Stepsister,' the Talent Show and the Chinese Theater Night was overwhelmingly approving; the Bard and Breakfast workshop for teachers had record enrollment; the high school acting workshop was filled; and the Ireland raffle sold all 300 tickets,” Caldwell said. The director also noted TSF fundraising efforts have been particularly successful in 2018.

“The TSF Foundation reaches its goal of matching a $71,000 grant, and Guild memberships exceed last year at this time,” he said.

Caldwell admitted the festival may not have sold quite as many tickets as previous seasons but feels audiences enjoyed the performances all the same.

“I won’t be surprised if our total ticket sales do not match last year’s, because of my choice to produce King John, one of Shakespeare’s least-produced history plays, but some patrons said it was their favorite show of the season, and I am proud that we did it. My original hope to produce every one of Shakespeare’s 37 or 38 plays may be realized during my tenure, but a Shakespeare Festival might be amiss if that were not one of its goals. I am also proud of Matthew and Meaghan Simpson for making their successful debuts as TSF directors.

“We are already making plans for the 2019 season, which I hope to announce by the end of September.”

TSF Associate Artistic Director Matthew Simpson remarked on the closing days of his eighth summer season with the festival.

“It's always bittersweet,” Simpson said. “We make a lot of friends and it's tough to see everybody go but there's always a great sense of accomplishment for doing so much over a 10-week period. I'm very pleased with how it all went.”

Simpson echoed Caldwell's sentiments about audience response to this year's selection of plays.

“We have such an enthusiastic audience and this year they delivered as they always do. They really turned out to see productions like 'King John', which is lesser-known. There was great feedback overall,” Simpson said. This year was also the first time Simpson, along with his wife and fellow artistic director Meaghan Simpson, directed TSF plays during the summer season.

“It's wonderful,” Simpson said, describing his experience as a director. “You get to work with such talented people. You work so closely with so many different departments. That part was wonderful, getting to see the show grow from the outside as it goes. I love the different responses from different audiences. It's very different from being onstage.”

Though the performances have ended, the Simpsons are already hard at work on next year's season. At this point, they don't know which plays will be chosen for the 2019 season or exactly what role they will take in the performances.

“What's great about having Meaghan and I here is we get to approach each season individually. Sometimes it's better for us to be directing, sometimes it's better for us to be acting, sometimes it's doing administrative work,” Simpson said.

It's been but a couple of weeks since the final performance of the 2018 season but Simpson and the rest of the TSF staff are busy.

“Oh yeah, we're deep into it,” Simpson said with a laugh. “That's been much of our July. We were doing a lot of grant work. A lot of that has already been done and submitted. We'll come back in late August and really get into it. We don't get much rest. We stay excited as the season wraps up. We have lots of ideas and we're eager to get back into it.”

TSF actors won't tread the boards of the Van Cliburn Auditorium until next June but the festival will continue in the fall with the touring TSF Roadshow. The TSF website describes the roadshow as “a traveling set of performances and workshops that come to your school or community.”

“A lot of what we're working on is the roadshow,” Simpson said. “We're planning out the calendar. The actors will arrive into town on September 23 and they will be touring for either four weeks or five weeks. We might extend it to five weeks, so they'll be in town for seven to eight weeks.”

The roadshow features a play lineup designed to introduce new audiences to the world of Shakespeare.

“They're doing an abridged version of Macbeth and every year they do an original production called 'Shakespeare's Greatest Hits', which is a collection of some of Shakespeare's most famous scenes mixed in with narration and live music,” Simpson said.

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