Stage & Dance

SummerFest

The first edition of ­SummerFest couldn't have happened last year without the Lexington Shakespeare Festival.

It's not just that the long-running outdoor theater festival's closing in November 2006 provided the catalyst for organizers to create an event to fill the void. Just before the announcement that SummerFest would launch, the Shakespeare Festival also gave its stage, costumes and other vital infrastructure to the new group.

”Without the Shakespeare Festival's stage, we would have had to start from scratch, and that would have been a tough walk up to the festival in just a few months,“ says Joe Cannon Artz, president of the ­SummerFest board of directors.

SummerFest's ­inaugural season was considered ­successful simply because people showed up.

”I talked to so many people in the weeks before the festival that had no idea it was happening,“ Artz says. ”So when opening night came, I would have been happy if 50 people showed up.“

Like the festival that preceded it, SummerFest, with a lineup of Romeo and Juliet, The Crucible and The Taming of the Shrew, frequently had evenings when the crowds pushed into four figures. Now, organizers are set to launch the second edition and hope to build on success.

The lineup includes several blasts from the Shakespeare Festival's past:

■ Sullivan Canaday White, who worked with the Shakespeare Festival before going on to other institutions, returns to direct Lord of the Flies.

■ Mike Thomas, who directed LSF's most successful production ever, 2004's Jesus Christ Superstar, returns to direct Hair.

A lot went right last year, but the SummerFest directors want to blunt the perception that it is a student company with kids playing all the parts.

That perception grew out of its affiliation with the Kentucky Classical Theatre Conservatory and productions that relied on high-profile student talent. Romeo and Juliet was cast with age-appropriate actors, and The Crucible leaned on students to play the gaggle of girls that led a ­Massachusetts town into hysteria in the late 1600s.

But the adult roles were populated with adult actors with long histories in the Shakespeare Festival and ­Lexington theater.

Joe Ferrell, SummerFest's producing director, says that through the conservatory and performing with mature actors, the conservatory and festival hope to create future generations of SummerFest actors, as well as students prepared for stage careers in major markets.

”Paying attention to what students we have out there determines the course of the future,“ program director Trish Clark says.

But the directors emphasize that these are not high school shows. This year's opening production, Antony and Cleopatra, will have some of Lexington theater's best-known adult actors, including Eric Johnson and Ellie Clark in the title roles, and Adam Luckey, Sidney Shaw and Kim Dixon in supporting parts.

SummerFest also is focusing on solidifying its organizational structure this year.

”Last year was about raising funds,“ Artz says. ”It takes a year to get your structure in place so you can run like a true arts organization.“

SummerFest's leaders think the organization needs to grow. The event has filled the space that the Shakespeare Festival occupied, but organizers want to do more than just replicate something.

”We want to create a wonderful event that goes beyond three theatrical events every summer,“ Artz says. ”We want to break the mold of what SummerFest is.“

That's a lofty ambition that will be addressed after the second edition wraps at the end of this month.

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