Your guide to Kentucky Shakespeare’s Packed Season of Free Plays

Kentucky Shakespeare has announced the lineup for its 59th annual Shakespeare Festival in the Park, including seven productions, 58 performances, and 54 pre-show performances, all free as always. 

This kind of packed season is nothing new for the folks at Kentucky Shakespeare, who make a point to do more and more with every season. This year, thanks to an Imagine 2020 Project Grant, the season is bigger than ever. One of the changes includes a “Kids’ Globe,” a tent that will be open throughout the season to keep kids entertained before performances with a number of hands-on arts activities. 

The three main plays this season include “As You Like It,” “Henry IV, Part II” and “King Lear.” “As You Like It” begins May 29, “Henry IV, Part II” begins June 13, and, finally, “King Lear” starts on June 27. Each show runs for two weeks straight. before they begin to run in repertory for another two weeks starting July 9th. Matt Wallace, also the producing artistic director, will direct “As You Like It” and “King Lear,” while Amy Attaway, associate artistic director, will direct “Henry IV, Part II.” 

“As You Like It” returns to Kentucky Shakespeare now in a new setting — that of 19th century rural Kentucky — and includes live bluegrass music to fit the atmosphere, courtesy of Aaron Bibelhauser of Relic. Hallie Dizdarevic, who impressed last year playing Desdemona in Othello, will play the role of the leading lady, Rosalind, alongside Jon Becraft as Orlando, Gregory Maupin as Touchstone, Abigail Bailey Maupin as Jacques, Jon Patrick O’Brien as Oliver, and Crystian Wiltshire as Silvius. “As You Like It” will also debut two actors new to Kentucky Shakespeare, though recognizable if you followed Actors Theatre’s Professional Training Company this year: Amber Avant as Celia and Angelica Santiago as Phoebe. 

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“Next, Henry IV, Part II” serves as the penultimate performance in the “Game of Kings” series that began in 2017 with “Richard II.” Like the others in the series, the cast will remain largely consistent. Tom Luce will return as the titular king along with Zachary Burrell as Prince Hal and J. Barrett Cooper as the Shakespeare favorite, Falstaff. Amber Avant will take the role of Lady Percy this year, and Monte Priddy, a Kentucky Shakespeare veteran, will return again this time to play the role of Shallow.

With so many productions each year, it’s easy to repeat shows, but “King Lear” actually hasn’t been performed by Kentucky Shakespeare in 32 years. This production is set in ancient Britain, possibly a play on the original legend of Leir of Brittain that inspired Shakespeare’s play. John Huffman will play the mad King Lear while Jennifer Pennington plays Gloucester, Dathan Hooper plays Kent, Braden McCampbell plays Edmund, and Neill Robertson plays Edgar. 

Once the three main shows of the year have run through, the Kentucky Shakespeare Globe Players, a professional training company made up of high school students, will put on ‘Twelfth Night,” as directed by Kyle Ware, both the Director of Education for Kentucky Shakespeare as well as a member of the acting company. This show will have a four day run, from July 24-27. Past partners will also return this season: the Louisville Improvisers will return with the popular “Late Night Shakes” on select Saturdays. Cincinnati Shakespeare partners with them again for a touring production of “Romeo and Juliet,” directed by Caitlin McWethy. The show will play at the Central park stage on July 28 and July 30. Louisville Ballet will close out the season again with Roger Creel and Scott Moore’s “Shakespeare in Dance,” running from July 31 through Aug. 4. You’ll even see familiar vendors among the 28 food trucks that will serve the park throughout the festival season.