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Oak Park Festival Theatre

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Oak Park Festival Theatre is a professional theatre company in Oak Park, Illinois, under contract with Actors' Equity Association. The company was founded in 1975 by Marion Kaczmar, an Oak Park resident and arts patron, and performed Renaissance works, almost exclusively by William Shakespeare, until 2004, when it broadened its scope to classics of other eras. Its outdoor venue has been Austin Gardens, a wooded park near downtown Oak Park within walking distance from restaurants, Frank Lloyd Wright landmarks, and Metra and CTA trains. To attract a greater following, Renaissance, classical, and modern American works were added to the offerings, some being produced indoors in historic Farson-Mills Home and, in the 2010-11 season, in the studio space in the Madison Street Theatre.

Audience members in Austin Gardens often picnic before performances. Occasionally, special performances by the Oak Park Recorder Society or other pre-show events are presented. Special Family Day performances and child-centered special crafts, games, and activities are held at least twice a summer to encourage families to introduce their children to Shakespeare.

History

Predecessor

Oak Park had a Shakespeare theatre previous to OPFT. In the 1960s producers Josephine Forsberg, Ed Udovic, and actor-director Lee Henry created Village Classics Theatre and produced The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Richard III, and other productions outdoors on the hill of Field Playground under the auspices of the Recreation Department of the Village of Oak Park. Actors who performed included Equity performers Val Bettin, Robert Kidd, Tom Elrod, and Angel Casey as well as Oak Park residents Les Golden, Clifford Osborne, and Nick Cotsonas. The hill was, at that time, crowned on all sides with numerous large bushes and small trees, providing a natural set for battle scenes and forest liaisons. The professionality of the productions brought, among others, esteemed Chicago Tribune drama critic Richard Christiansen, a native Oak Parker, to the theatre.

Early Decades

Oak Park Festival Theatre was begun in 1975 by Marion Kaczmar, an Oak Park resident.[1] Its first production was A Midsummer Night's Dream with a cast that included David Mamet and William H. Macy. Its artistic directors since then have included Patrick O'Gara, Tom Mula, David Darlow, Dale Calandra, and Jack Hickey.

The 1980s were heady years for the theater. With numerous Actors' Equity contracts attracting Chicago professional actors and the presence of talented non-Equity actors, audiences numbering in the 300s and 400s came to see Shakespeare under the stars.

Later Decades

The 1990s began some difficult years for OPFT. During this time the number of Chicago area theaters quadrupled and other theaters, inspired by Festival Theatre's success, began to produce Shakespeare on a regular basis. The resulting decrease in attendance compounded by some questionable management decisions which were discovered by actor Les Golden in 2001 when he was cast as Gremio in Taming of the Shrew, and which he then shared with the local press, combined with the elimination of arts funding from the Village of Oak Park[2] necessitated a decrease in the number of Actors' Equity contracts that could be offered.

In 2002 Joyce Porter,[3] an actress, director, Professor of Theatre at Moraine Valley Community College, and member of the Board of Directors since 1989, averted a vote by the board to cease production and was, shortly after, elected President of the Board. The change of leadership was greeted enthusiastically, with suggestions in the local press for additional strategies.[4]

Porter envisioned broadening the focus of the theater to performing classics of all eras year-round indoors as well as outdoors. The new artistic director, Jack Hickey, who had been appointed by the previous board president, worked with Porter to effect this expansion in phases. They attracted new board members and began financial reforms that led to solvency within a few years. Additional innovations under Porter’s leadership included educational programs, including a college intern program, the creation of a touring show, later revised and directed by Kevin Theis, and a summer workshop for teens. The theater, in a very real sense, owes its continued existence to the discovery of wrongdoings by Golden and the dedication of Porter.

In 2010, Kevin Theis and Belinda Bremner were elected co-presidents of the board and began the expanded four-production season with stable theatre finances.

Productions/Actors

For most of its history, OPFT produced almost exclusively works by William Shakespeare. These included multiple productions of The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Tempest, The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, and Romeo and Juliet, as well as Julius Caesar, The Comedy of Errors, Hamlet, Macbeth, Loves Labour's Lost, and others. It also presented notable original adaptations of classics, including Falstaff by Tom Mula and Don Quixote by Dale Calandra. In 2011 it presented the History of King Henry IV, an adaptation by Stanton Davis of Shakespeare's Henry IV Henry IV, Part 1|parts 1 Henry IV, Part 2|and 2. Featured Actors' Equity members have included Chicago actors David Mamet, David Darlow,[5] Kristine Thatcher, Kevin Theis, Don Brearley, William J. Norris, Greg Vinkler,[6] Aaron Christiansen, Ned Mochel, Susan Hart, Ray Andrecheck, Lanny Lutz, George Wilson, Kevin Gudahl, Mary Michell, Barbara Zahora, Henry Godinez, Steve Pickering, Kathey Logelin, Linda Kimborough, and others, as well as professional non-Equity actors such as Dennis Grimes, David Skvarla, Mark Richard, Michael W. Halberstam, Robert Petkoff, Les Golden,[7] Toni Graves, Krista Lally,[8] Maggie Kettering, and Anne Gottlieb.

Its expanded production schedule has included Faith Healer, Picnic, Tartuffe, All My Sons, Cyrano de Bergerac and other plays considered to be classics of many eras.[9]

Recent Productions

Year Play Author Director
1998 The Adventures of Don Quixote Miguel de Cervantes
Adapted by Dale Calandra
Dale Calandra
1999 MacBeth Wm. Shakespeare Henry Godinez
2000 Twelfth Night Wm. Shakespeare Dale Calandra
2001 The Taming of the Shrew Wm. Shakespeare Dale Calandra
2002 A Midsummer Night's Dream Wm. Shakespeare Dale Calandra
2003 As You Like It Wm. Shakespeare Jack Hickey
2004 Romeo and Juliet Wm. Shakespeare Virginia Smith
2005 The Comedy of Errors Wm. Shakespeare Jack Hickey
2005 All My Sons Arthur Miller David Mink
2006 Tartuffe Molière David Mink
2006 Julius Caesar Wm. Shakespeare David Mink
2006 Picnic William Inge Kevin Theis
2007 Murder by the Book Duncan Greenwood
and Robert King
David Mink
2007 Talley’s Folly Lanford Wilson Michael Weber
2007 Robin Hood Scott Lynch-Giddings Kevin Theis
2008 Blithe Spirit Noel Coward David Mink
2008 Much Ado About Nothing Wm. Shakespeare Jack Hickey
2008 Dancing at Lughnasa Brian Friel Belinda Bremner
2009 Arms and the Man George Bernard Shaw Kevin Christopher Fox
2009 5th of July Lanford Wilson Michael Weber
2009 Cyrano de Bergerac Edmond Rostand Kevin Theis
2010 Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck Belinda Bremner
2010 Love’s Labour’s Lost Wm. Shakespeare Jack Hickey
2010 Betrayal Harold Pinter Kevin Christopher Fox
2011 Faith Healer Brian Friel Belinda Bremner
2011 The History of
King Henry the Fourth
Wm. Shakespeare
Adapted by Stanton Davis
Stanton Davis
2011 Henry V Wm. Shakespeare Kevin Theis

References

  1. ^ New Theatre in Town, Oak Park World, March 15, 1975
  2. ^ http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1N1-111233DC4EBFD160.html
  3. ^ http://www.imdb.me/joyceporter
  4. ^ http://www.geocities.ws/goldenforstaterepresentative/theater/index.html
  5. ^ www.flixster.com/actor/david-darlow
  6. ^ www.peninsulaplayers.com/players/GregVinkler.html
  7. ^ www.imdb.com/name/nm0325458/filmotype
  8. ^ www.imdb.com/name/nm0482469/
  9. ^ www.oakparkfestival.com/

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