2020 was set to be a banner year for Shakespeare Festival St. Louis. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, a name change —St. Louis Shakespeare Festival— was announced early in the year, and planning for this season’s production of Much Ado About Nothing was in full gear. Then COVID 19 appeared on the world stage, and “Much Ado…” became “what to do…”
Producing Artistic Director Tom Ridgely and his staff may have taken a cue from the Bard himself while they struggled to cobble some sort of production together. It was interesting to learn recently that the actor and playwright William Shakespeare learned to work around frequent plagues throughout his lifetime. (You can read more about this in an article in STL Magazine authored by Shakespeare Festival’s Tom Ridgely or Stephen Greenblatt’s piece in The New Yorker: What Shakespeare Actually Wrote About the Plague.)
After 20 years of staging free Shakespeare performances in Forest Park, which drew an average of 2000 per night (some performances saw crowds of 3 to 5,000 people), Shakespeare Festival’s Development Associate Tori Rezek came up with an inventive performance, a walk through the Forest Park titled A Late Summer Night’s Stroll.
Photos courtesy of CWEnders Beki Marsh & Janice Forsyth
With backing from 14 generous sponsors, the event, which took place August 12 through September 6, featured 14 arches created by 14 local artists that meandered from Shakespeare Glen across from the Saint Louis Art Museum down the hill to Government Drive, around the Boathouse to the foot of the Grand Basin. What awaited guests as they followed the path were performances by over 50 actors and musicians from 12 area arts organizations.
Shakespeare wrote the script for the 1st and 14th stops, while dialogue at the remaining 12 was written or composed by the presenting arts organization with vetting by the Shakespeare staff.
As a nod to current times, masks and measuring tape were incorporated as props.
About 1,000 people (scheduled in socially distanced groups of 10) were able to attend A Late Summer Night’s Stroll over 23 nights. It’s estimated that an additional 2,000 people scanned QR codes and took self-guided tours during the festival. The self-guided tour featured excerpts read by local actors paired with music inspired by or thematically related to the play.
St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s annual gala, which is vital to the organization’s bottom line, was on the calendar for early spring. Unfortunately, this event collided with the coronavirus shutdown so organizers quickly pivoted to a virtual gala, “To Thy Own Self Be True,” which was hugely successful netting more than was raised in previous years. And 2020’s gala was featured in an entertaining Bloomberg News report about hosting galas around the country during the pandemic titled Tuxedo Tops and Pajama Bottoms.
Thanks to CWEnder and Artistic Producing Director Tom Ridgely for sharing so much helpful information for this post, to CWEnder and Shakespeare Board Member Jessica Holzer for her input, and to CWEnders Beki Marsh and Janice Forsyth for all the great photographs.
Visit St. Louis Shakespeare Festival website to stay updated on what’s next.