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The Arkansas Shakespeare Festival returns to UCA.

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Now in its fourth year, the Arkansas Shakespeare Festival has settled into a pattern of staging a children's show and a modern commercial piece alongside a couple of works by the festival's namesake. 

Producing artistic director Matt Chiorini notes that besides "Henry V" and "Comedy of Errors" that "Alice in Wonderland" and "Dracula" "are there if you have no interest in Shakespeare." Chiorini also notes that "Dracula" isn't necessarily on the schedule in order to capitalize on the vampire craze that's taken hold in American culture. 

"But that didn't hurt in the selection," quips Chiorini. "We've always done one big commercial show. This year I wanted to do a straight play. Somebody said the three plays that will always have an audience are 'Christmas Carol,' 'Dracula' and 'Annie.' The other thing is that last year our production of 'Macbeth' was dark and moody and people really seemed to like it. They liked to go from the heat to sit down and experience something dark and moody."

Even though this year's Shakespeare Festival takes place in an economic environment that appears to be recovering, Chiorini acknowledges that his company of players, which numbers over 50 and includes actors, designers and directors, had to do more with less this go-round.

"We have a year to look ahead when planning the festival and we knew we were going to have to batten down the hatches. Yeah, it's tougher this year. You know, there's a quote from a John Lennon song, 'Give me a tuba and I'll make something come out of it.' We'll find a way every year."

Chiorini is directing the history play "Henry V," which he says has been a favorite of his for 20 years. His approach is a stripped-down one, a way of staging necessitated not by the times but by the play itself.   

"It's an unusual play," he notes. "Right from the first sentence the play is telling the audience there is no way we can have a thousand people for a battle and we are actors on a stage and we're doing the best we can. That is unusual in any play. It gives us life to stage it in a way that's simpler. Our audiences are going to get a really intimate, black box production of a really remarkable play. Once they accept that a black box is a throne then they'll focus on the characters and the beautiful words."

For this festival, Chiorini estimates that about a third of his company comes from outside the state and many of those have local ties. He doesn't want the productions to feel like they've been imported from somewhere else.

"We hired a few more locals this year," says Chiorini. "It was really important to us that the Arkansas Shakespeare Festival feels like Arkansas."

The company is fortified with a healthy dose of young blood with interns filing out roles on stage and working behind the scenes. 

What they do every day is remind the quote unquote professionals what it's all about, says Chiorini. "There's no cynicism for them. We all know that nobody makes any money doing this. You have to do it because you love it or do something else." 

Arkansas Shakespeare Festival
"Comedy of Errors," "Henry V," "Dracula," "Alice in Wonderland"
Reynolds Performance Hall, University of Central Arkansas, Conway
June 16-July 3

Tickets: $20 adults, $15 seniors/UCA community, $10 children/students for all performances/seats for "Comedy of Errors," "Henry V" and "Dracula"; $10 adults and children for "Alice in Wonderland"; Sundays are pay what you can

501-450-3265

www.arkshakes.com

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