Extreme makeover for SummerFest

Oberon (Matt Seckman) and Puck (Joe Fields-Elswick) plot against the mortals in last July’s SummerFest production of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”. SummerFest is going to reformat this year. © Herald-Leader staff photo by Rich Copley.

SummerFest, the annual July theater festival in The Arboretum, will get an extreme makeover this year. Kentucky Conservatory Theatre, which presents SummerFest, has announced the next two summers of shows in a schedule that will reduce the number of productions and expand the number of weeks.

Instead of the usual three shows, there will be two shows this year, each for a two-weekend run: J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, July 5 to 14; and A Chorus Line, July 24 to Aug. 4. The summer of 2014 will have Romeo and Juliet, July 5 to 13; and The Color Purple, July 23 to Aug. 3.

“This is a change that has been a long time coming,” said theater general manager Wesley Nelson. “For a long time, the feedback we were getting from designers and technicians and a lot of other people involved was that we needed to take it down to two shows.”

Nelson says the revised scheduling addresses several problems that have haunted the festival over the years including spates of bad weather that have plagued some productions and the pressure two-day changeovers put on productions, particularly the later ones.

“Two solid tech rehearsals was the best you could hope for,” Nelson said, “and by the time you got to that third show, the crew was just worn out.”

The new schedule leaves an open week between productions. Nelson said there was concern that having an open week between shows might interrupt the momentum of the festival, which has previously been presented on three consecutive weeks. “But we decided the benefits outweighed that,” he said, noting that with two-week runs, shows could now take advantage of positive word of mouth from audiences.

Nelson said in future years, SummerFest might present a concert or other sort of presentation in the Arboretum on the open weekend, but for this year, it will remain unscheduled, “so we can see how this new system works,” Nelson said.

He said KCT is announcing summer 2014 for several reasons.

“We knew that some people might see we were going down to two shows and think that means we’re in trouble, and we’re not,” Nelson said. “So we hope by announcing next summer, people will see we are planning for the future.”

He also said that directors wanted to assure fans of Shakespeare that the Bard will still be part of the festival, just not every year. SummerFest’s predecessor was the Lexington Shakespeare Festival. The Shakespeare Festival folded in 2006; SummerFest was created to fill its void.

Nelson said SummerFest is also being considered part of the Kentucky Conservatory Theatre season, which will run on calendar years instead of school years, contrary to the practice of most Lexington arts groups. Along with the SummerFest announcement, KCT announced its lineups for the next two seasons. Excluding SummerFest, they are:

2013

March 2, Blackbird’s Evening of Dance: The premiere of KCT’s dance ensemble, led by choreographer Jenny Fitzpatrick.

April 20, 24-Hour Theatre Project: High school students work with theater artists to create five original 10-minute plays in 24 hours.

Aug. 30-Sept. 1, The Girl Project: An original theater work created by area high school girls.

Nov. 8-14, The History Boys: Alan Bennett’s play about boys in a British boarding school.

2014

Feb. 7-23, The Real Thing: Tom Stoppard’s 1982 play about reality and honesty.

April 29, 24-Hour Theatre Project.

Nov. 7-23, Cabaret: The classic John Kander and Fred Ebb musical in the version of the 1998 Roundabout Theatre Broadway revival.

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