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The bard's a classic, but Shakespeare Festival's opening acts are more modern

Drama, passion and war are all part of this year’s Shakespeare Festival in Forest Park, as they have often been since 1997.

What’s new this summer is the addition of more local dancers, jazz artists, Latin musicians and a DJ (full list, below). You can see them on a new House Stage near the main stage, just prior to the production of the firey “Antony and Cleopatra.”

Michael Perkins is in charge of what’s known asthe “Green Show” entertainmentthat takes place before the play begins.  He says the more contemporary acts are designed to draw a different crowd.

“The word ‘Shakespeare’ tends to scare a lot of people. But when they get there, they’re like, ‘Oh, I actually understand it a lot more than I thought I would,’” Perkins said.

Leverage Dance Theater on the House Stage at Shakespeare Festival in Forest Park
Credit Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio
Leverage Dance Theater on the House Stage at Shakespeare Festival in Forest Park

Leverage Dance Theater has performed three times on the House Stage during the Festival, including this past Sunday. One visitor, Addie Schnurbusch, 25, of Tower Grove East, came for “Antony and Cleopatra.” But while watching Leverage performers, she said the dancers were a pleasant bonus.

“It gives you a different feel than just the play,” Schnurbusch said.

She liked that she could see the dance troupe from the comfort of her blanket.

“We like to eat our food and drink our drinks, and it’s nice to just look over there and be like, ‘Oh, this is really cool,’ something different, you know?” Schnurbusch said.

Festival says no to Renaissance Faire, but all's well

Student actors perform a 20-minute version of Antony and Cleopatra on the Lobby Stage
Credit Nancy Fowler
Student actors perform a 20-minute version of Antony and Cleopatra on the Lobby Stage

The House Stage is in addition to the Lobby Stage, located near the entrance of the Festival. That’s where the 20-minute student show of “Antony and Cleopatra” is performed two times a night during the season, which ends June 14. In between, local performers including The Muny Kids, Prison Performing Arts actors and Los Flamencos dancers and musicians take the stage, as they have each year.

Pre-show activities also still include fire-breathers and jugglers from Circus Kaput. What’s missing this year are performers from the Renaissance Faire.

A spokesperson for the Renaissance Faire said they asked to again be part of this year's festival, and were told no. But they're not upset. Shakespeare Festival does include Faire brochures in its program, just as the Faire is handing out Festival materials, during its season which also closes June 14. Neither organization said there were any hard feelings.

“We’re just moving in a different direction,” Perkins said.

Although the move toward more contemporary performers is about increasing attendance, the Festival has typically enjoyed a fairly regular stream of about 55,000 people. Last year, though, numbers were down -- to only about 44,000. Festival organizers blame nine days of rain and bad weather for the decline.

Overall, since the arrival of executive/artistic Rick Dildine in 2009,attendance (and income) have grown more than 30 percent.

Just after last year’s event, Dildine left St. Louis to join Shakespeare & Co. in Massachusetts. But he returned to his post at Shakespeare Festival St. Louis this past March, before the Festival named a permanent replacement.

The House Stage schedule:

  • Thursday 6/4: DJ Alexis
  • Friday 6/5:  Percussionist Henry Claude
  • Saturday 6/6: Jazz performers Hershey & Coco
  • Sunday 6/7: Jazz performers Hershey & Coco
  • Monday 6/8: Latin group Farshid Etniko
  • Wednesday 6/10: Jazz musicians John & Benet
  • Thursday 6/11: DJ Alexis
  • Friday 6/12: Percussionist Henry Claude
  • Saturday 6/13: Jazz performers Hershey & Coco
  • Sunday 6/14: Jazz performers Hershey & Coco

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.