All is quiet at Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park—for the moment. Behind the scenes, it’s a different story. In 11 years, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis has drawn more than a half-million theater-goers to its enchanting, open-air productions. With preparations, auditions and plans well underway for the 2012 season, the excitement is certainly building for Othello (May 25 to June 17). And no one is more thrilled about season No. 12 than executive director Rick Dildine!
LN: Tell us about Othello and what audiences can expect with this year’s production.
RD: Othello is one of Shakespeare’s most well-known tragedies. It’s a play about an outsider who misplaces his trust, and the themes that run throughout it are universal: jealousy, betrayal and racism.
Director Bruce Longworth (who directed Shakespeare Festival’s Hamlet in 2010) likes to refer to Hamlet as ‘realism under the stars,’ and now he is referring to Othello as ‘theater under the stars.’ Othello should be a very theatrical production. We’re finalizing the set right now, and Bruce is framing the production in 1912 when there was a short 30-day war between Italy and Turkey. It’s been really important to him throughout this process that the set convey the psychological journey of Othello. So what audiences can expect is indeed ‘theater under the stars.’
LN: What do you enjoy about producing and how are things progressing?
RD: I’ve been most impressed by the amount of local talent at our St. Louis auditions. I think, in large part, that’s because of Bruce Longworth. He’s brilliant director, and he’s very good with Shakespeare’s text.
As a producer, I’m in this beautiful role of getting to live with a play from the moment of identifying the play that we’re going to do through its closing. So to pick a favorite moment, I would say I have two: Seeing the creative team lock in on an idea of how they want to tell the story and then watching it take different forms. And then also there’s the moment the audience responds to the work.
LN: Tell us about some of the new and exciting programming, like Shakespeare in the Streets—it was just announced that The Tempest is its first production.
RD: This year is our first for Shakespeare Q&A in the Streets, and it will happen April 27 to 29 on Cherokee Street in the Gravois Park neighborhood. With this program, we send a creative team into a local neighborhood, and they spend about six months getting to know that neighborhood. After meeting with residents and businesses, we pick a Shakespeare play that we develop with residents and professional actors to perform over one weekend on the streets of that neighborhood. It’s our largest programming expansion since our beginning in 2001.
Shake 38 is another program that happens once a year, leading up to the Festival opening in Forest Park. The past two years, it’s been over a 38-hour time period: Every hour on the hour for 38 hours straight, a different Shakespeare play happens somewhere in the city. This year, we’re expanding it to five days. Through Shake 38, I have seen plays in parks, schools, street corners, parking lots, bars, roof tops, on the top of a food truck in U. City, and I’ve seen a dance crew dance on the steps of the Art Museum. Anything you can think of, people are performing in it—that’s what’s beautiful about it.
LN: And what about education and outreach?
RD: What I’ve learned about moving to St. Louis is that people are very proud of the city. The joke of Where’d you go to high school? is a beautiful question. It’s personal because this city means a lot to those who live here. So our programming is focused in three areas: in the schools, in the streets and culminating in the park. We want to engage the community, and that’s what we’ve done with our school programs, putting forth issues that are important to students, teachers and parents. We’ve received an incredible response to our anti-bullying initiative. And with Shakespeare in the Streets, we’re using Shakespeare to talk about social issues.
LN: How are you enjoying your time with Shakespeare Festival?
RD: This is the best job I’ve ever had! I love waking up every day and coming to work, and it’s mostly because of the board, the staff and our hundreds of volunteers who are so committed to making St. Louis a better place.
I just joined the faculty of Webster University as the director of the MFA Program in Arts Management and Leadership, so I’m not only committed to this city, but I’m also committed to mentoring and educating the next generation of arts leaders.
And I’m very excited about Shakespeare Festival’s growth in becoming recognized as a year-round institution. This year, we’re going to serve almost 40,000 students with our education programs, which have grown tremendously in the last two years. I’m excited about the impact Shakespeare Festival is going to make on the community year-round.
LN: Describe the Festival experience at Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park.
RD: From 6:30 to 8 p.m. every night before the performance, we have the Green Show, which includes musicians, jugglers, clowns— local St. Louis talent. We also do a 20-minute version of the play we’re performing that evening, so this year it will be a 20-minute version of Othello. It summarizes the play into a manageable chunk for young kids to comprehend. We have a full restaurant and bar, but you also can bring a picnic. It’s not just about a play. The Shakespeare Festival experience is about coming together with friends and family, and breaking bread and sitting in a gorgeous venue.