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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Come Back to the Park! A Conversation with Kentucky Shakespeare’s New Producing Artistic Director: Matt Wallace


Walden Theatre Artistic Associate Julane Havens met her friend and colleague Matt Wallace, Kentucky Shakespeare’s new Producing Artistic Director, to dream about the future of Shakespeare and reminisce about the community experience that brought both of them to live in Louisville.

Entire contents copyright © 2013 by Julane Havens. All rights reserved.

Matt in Much Ado About Nothing, Kentucky Shakespeare, 2003.

Julane Havens: Let’s close our eyes and dream for a moment. If there were no obstacles and if money was not an issue, what does the park look like five years from now?
Matt Wallace: Can we do that please?
JH: Yes! I’m sure there has been a lot of focus on the recent problems. Let’s leave them out of this for a minute and dream.
MW: The word festival was dropped from the name of the company, but I want the park to feel like a festival – like a community experience.
JH: You know I love that word, community.
MW:  That is what I said when I interviewed for this job in 2008. We first have to embrace our Old Louisville community, and then we embrace the Louisville community, and then the state. But somewhere along the line during the last three years we started going outside for everything. You know that if we start with wonderful festival work (exciting, unique, coming-together experiences), then people will come. If you build it, they will come.
JH: Five years from now, what’s been built?
MW: I see multiple productions. More than three plays all produced by Kentucky Shakespeare, running in rotating repertory. I see the possibility of an indoor option for people who don’t want to come to the park as a part of that. I want community partners performing in the park. I want students performing in the park. The festival will last from Memorial Day to Labor Day. And when you walk into the park, I want you to feel like you are at a Renaissance festival. The service-based mission of FREE Shakespeare in Central Park is why I moved to Louisville. I also want our education program to have more visibility.
JH: The education program’s offerings have expanded dramatically over the last three years. What’s your education vision?
MW: It will all be Shakespeare related. I worked for Kentucky Shakespeare in the hey-day of the education department, when Boy Meets Girl Meets Shakespeare was the flagship show. Many of us [Louisville actors] were in that show – three interactive scenes that aren’t performance-y. Keeping Shakespeare active for the students. A focus on the text. That is what excites me.
Cast & Crew of SBB's 2013 production of Richard III
with director Matt Wallace.

JH: What’s going to happen with Shakespeare Behind Bars? Would you like to see Kentucky Shakespeare and SBB connected again?
MW: When SBB separated in September of 2010 and when I was able to focus most of my energy on growing the organization – we’ve expanded to 12 programs – I saw that it is a very specialized kind of work. I spoke with Curt [Tofteland – founder of SBB] and we decided to keep it a separate organization. I will still remain involved and I will direct next year’s performance of Much Ado About Nothing. SBB is very important to me. I told the guys, “I think I’m going to need this more than you will.” They are one of my artistic homes. They ground me and center me.
JH: I was fortunate to work with SBB while it was still a part of the summer season experience for the company. I miss the opportunity for dialogue between the festival actors and the SBB guys – it was inspiring and artistically energizing for me as a young actor. Can this happen in the future?
MW: Heck yeah. The upcoming Hamlet education tour is a possibility for Kentucky Shakespeare to perform for at-risk populations and prisons in addition to schools. This is one way we can serve the SBB guys, our students, and our community. Since we are dreaming today, I would love to see this production performed in some parks, say on Saturdays –
JH: That’s fantastic! Park performances are hot right now – making theater accessible to more people. I’m focusing on street performance in my advanced class at Walden Theatre this semester. How can we make this happen?
MW: We’ve got great local talent. We’ve got the actors. We just need money. Just the pesky money. That’s no big deal, right? I feel like if we are true to our mission of providing FREE Shakespeare, we will get the right people on board to fund projects like this. I’d love to be funding these future dreams right now, but there is the immediate obstacle of cleaning up what’s left after canceling a week of a run. Anyone who knows me knows I’m bringing honesty and integrity to this. I’m not going to overspend. We’re going to do quality work on a budget.
JH: How do you prove to people that Shakespeare is cool (and worth funding) in 2013?
MW: If you think Shakespeare is old and boring, then you haven’t seen the right company do it. He’s the greatest writer that ever lived. His themes have resonated with us for 450 years. His works can be accessible without dumbing them down. They can be relevant without being simplistic. Shakespeare is meant to be seen and heard – not read. Say the words out loud and you will feel what you are supposed to feel. It’s visceral.
JH: Aside from asking your wife Tina Jo to marry you, what is your most memorable moment on the Central Park stage?
MW: That gives me the chills. A great memory is when we did Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead [2002]. It was the first non-Shakespeare that Kentucky Shakespeare ever did. We started out in a grave onstage, and so Tina and I were in there –

Matt Wallace and Tina Jo Wallace in Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern are Dead
, Kentucky Shakespeare, 2002
JH: You and Tina were Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?
MW: Yes! In both of the plays. It was the same cast in Hamlet. We did it in rep. It was brilliant. So here we are lying down, waiting to pop out of this grave and say our lines, and I’ll never forget sitting up and looking right at a thousand people. You’ve seen the park when it’s full. People sitting on blankets in the grass. I remember it knocking the breath out of me. That mixture of fear and excitement – when there are no empty benches. I want to see that again and I will see that again.
JH: Will you act in the park again?
MW: Maybe someday. I’m not interested in it right now. My focus this year is inviting the community back to the park. Come back to the park! Because it’s yours. It’s ours.

Matt will host a story-sharing BBQ in Central Park in honor of Kentucky Shakespeare’s past and present employees and volunteers next month. (If you are a past employee or volunteer and haven't yet been contacted and would like to attend, please send your email address to matt@kyshakespeare.com.)
Saturday in the Park will return this year on October 19 and feature FREE performances from Kentucky Shakespeare and students of the Youth Performing Arts School and Walden Theatre, among others. Please check the Kentucky Shakespeare website for updated information: kyshakespeare.com.


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