Shakespeare Festival St. Louis' Rick Dildine Shares What's New With The Fest

 In Culture

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis is commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death with a broad range of events, including a new production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in Forest Park from June 2-26 (with previews June 1-2). Also included is SHAKE 38, a marathon presentation of Shakespeare’s 38 plays held at the St. Louis Public Library’s Central Branch from April 19-23. Later in the season, The Pulitzer and SFSTL are presenting an installation based on Shakespearean themes from August 19-21. A massive bash closes things out with Shakespeare in the Streets from September 16-18.

Photo courtesy of Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Photo courtesy of Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Now in his seventh year as artistic and executive director, Rick Dildine is charged with guiding the organization’s community engagement. Dildine previously served as the executive director and president of Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts, managing director of Chicago’s About Face Theatre, producer of the Brown University/Trinity Rep New Plays Festival and the artistic director of the Stephen Foster Theatre in Kentucky. He also is the former director of Webster University’s MFA program in Arts and Leadership.

Under his leadership, festival attendance and revenue have grown over 30 percent and the organization has received numerous awards including the Excellence in the Arts Award from the Arts & Education Council of Greater St. Louis, and the Exemplary Community Achievement Award from the State of Missouri.

Dildine talked about collaboration, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and the diverse programming presented this season by Shakespeare Festival St. Louis.

This year you are trying something new for SHAKE 38. Can you talk about that event?
Shake 38 is now in its seventh year. This event has only one rule: Make the play happen any way you see fit. We put a call out each year to anyone who wants to participate. We have Shakespeare’s entire canon happening all over the city in a variety of ways. It’s about people coming together and creating something. It’s incredibly creative and innovative.

This year, for the first time we are having a headlining event called “Cry Havoc.” It’s a one-man show about the effects of veterans leaving active duty from Stephan Wolfert, a veteran who stepped into a performance of “Richard III” and was inspired by Shakespeare’s writing and turned his story into a 70-minute play.

What can audiences expect from your production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream?”
This is the first time we have repeated a show at the festival. It is incredibly well suited for an outdoor setting. We have a set that comes out into the audience and gets close to them. “Midummer” is a show I’ve acted in but never directed and I was inspired by the subject of love and what it means to fall in love.

As the director and producer did you incorporate any personal themes into “A Midsummer Night’s Dream?”
I am most focused this year on doing a play that kids are going to love. The entire set is made of doors, so it’s an adventure. I wanted to create a forest where you had to make a choice to go into the woods. I wanted it to feel special and I want kids to laugh and feel special.

Our cast is incredibly racially diverse. This year, nearly 50 percent of the cast is people of color.  I think that’s important to St. Louis. I want to reflect the community in which we’re in.

Can you describe the process of selecting a play to perform?
Shakespeare only had so many plays. There are only 38 to choose from but it is a conversation that we go through of what would be well-suited for the park and what have we done over the past few years?

The past two years have been histories with a lot of people dying at the end, so we said we need something really upbeat and fun and about love. It’s about timing of what makes sense with the show based on what we’ve done in the past as well as artists who are inspired about doing a particular production.

How did Peter Mark Kendall (“Girls,” “The Americans,” “Chicago Med”) become involved with writing new songs for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream?”
We both went to the same graduate school and that’s how we got to know each other. It’s never worked out for him to be in one of my shows and we started talking about a year ago and one thing led to another I asked him to write a couple of original songs for the show. He has a very unique style of connecting lyrics to music.

The festival now has its own seasonal lager, 1616. How did this come about?
I was talking to my buddy Tom Schlafly nine months ago and I mentioned that the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare was coming up. Tom is a big Shakespeare-lover and he said ‘We got to get a beer.’ So Schlafly came to the table and has created an original brew called 1616. in reference to the year Shakespeare died. It will be made available at all of our events this season. Schlafly is also doing special commemorative boxes that will be throughout the community in stores.

What is happening with your collaboration with the Pulitzer?
We are still working out details, so I wish I had more to say. I‘ll tell you this: The Pulitzer is doing some incredible programming and they came to us interested in talking about domesticity and what does home mean to people today. They asked us if we would create an original piece of theater to be performed on one of their installations. We’re creating it from scratch. It will have a Shakespeare inspiration to it and will be incredibly unique. It has a working title of “Love’s Labor.”

How has Shakespeare Festival St. Louis expanded its profile in the community?
We keep bringing more and more people to the table and that’s what we set out to do. We think St. Louis is better when there are more people at our dinner table. That’s what the park represents: coming together breaking bread and seeing a story.

In September you finish the season with Shakespeare in the Streets, what is planned for that?
We close the season with something that has been incredibly special for us: “Shakespeare in the Streets.” We will be in our fifth neighborhood this year, Maplewood. It’s an incredible project where we spend a year getting to know a neighborhood and its residents. We interview them and record their stories and then write an original play about that community and perform it for free on the streets. The city of Maplewood and Boeing are partners and they are helping us put together what is going to be a rockin’ party.

Can you comment on what it is about Shakespeare that makes him so compelling 400 years after his death?
When Shakespeare was writing, most theater happened in wealthy places and they were about the aristocracy. One of the innovations that Shakespeare introduced was the everyman. All of a sudden, we had plays where the King spoke to the shepherd and the chambermaid spoke to the Countess and the audience watching saw that they had a voice there. I think it’s because Shakespeare found so many different ways in for so many different people. He captured the issues and ideas at the essence of what it meant to be a human. That is what makes him so powerful today.

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