Ethan McSweeny announces titles for his inaugural season at American Shakespeare Center
Unveiling his first programming since assuming leadership of American Shakespeare Center, Artistic Director Ethan McSweeny announced on Sunday the company’s 2019 Summer, Fall, National Tour, and Holiday Seasons from the stage of ASC’s celebrated Blackfriars Playhouse – the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor theatre.
“One of the first things I learned after arriving in Staunton is that ASC’s artistic year is really made up of five distinct seasons, each featuring its own ensemble of actors and artists and each with a slightly different approach to exploring our commitment to Shakespearean performance conditions,” said McSweeny. “For my first summer, I wanted to emphasize the power of repertory theatre to tell stories bigger than just one play as well as invite audiences to spend a destination weekend with ASC.”
Billed as three great plays by two great authors that tell one great story, the 2019 Summer Festival Season will feature Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar; his own sequel, Antony and Cleopatra; and George Bernard Shaw’s “prequel,” Caesar and Cleopatra. Taken together, the plays trace the arc of Cleopatra’s journey from an impressionable young queen to a powerful world ruler, exploring where and how politics and personality intersect to alter the course of history.
Three directors will make their Blackfriars Playhouse debut. Tony-nominated, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Helen Hayes award-winning McSweeny will direct Julius Caesar, while Obie award-winning Sharon Ott, chair of Virginia Commonwealth University Theatre Department, will stage Antony and Cleopatra. 2014 Wall Street Journal Director of the Year and artistic director of NYC’s Bedlam Theatre Company Eric Tucker, known for his theatrically free-wheeling adaptations of Shaw, will helm Caesar and Cleopatra.
“In the past, ASC avoided the ‘Festival’ label because it did not fully convey our year-round programming,” said Managing Director Amy Wratchford. “In 2019, we are embracing ‘festive’ as the perfect description of what we do in the summer: celebrating the joy of recovering Shakespeare and other classical plays for contemporary audiences as well as partnering with other wonderful arts festivals in the region, especially the work of the Heifetz International Music Institute and the Staunton Music Festival, both of which will hold concerts in the Playhouse this summer.”
While ASC opens the Summer Festival at the Blackfriars, their national touring company will be in residence preparing for a journey that will take them from Maine to Texas, performing for more than 20,000 audience members in universities, performing arts centers and communities large and small. The 2019/20 ASC on Tour Season will feature Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Imogen (formerly known as Cymbeline) as well as the Broadway-tested, Frank Galati adaptation of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.
“ASC began 30 years ago as the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express,” added co-founder and Director of Mission Ralph Alan Cohen, “so touring is literally in our DNA as a company.”
The tour productions will be directed by Associate Producer of Red Bull Theatre Company Nathan Winkelstein (Midsummer), ASC veteran and celebrated actress Vanessa Morosco (Imogen), and Artistic Director of NYC’s Immediate Theatre José Zayas (Grapes of Wrath). Before hitting the road, ASC on Tour will contribute to the summer with Midsummer 90, an hour and a half long production of Shakespeare’s beloved comedy specifically created for families and first-time audiences looking for a taste of the Blackfriars experience.
The Fall Repertory Season officially begins after Labor Day and will include all three of the summer’s Roman Trilogy while heralding the arrival of a world premiere musical (ASC’s first): The Willard Suitcases by Julianne Wick Davis. Davis, best known for Southern Comfort at the Public Theatre for which she received the Jonathan Larson Award and GLAAD Media Award, is also a York Theatre NEO 9 emerging writer, a Dramatist Guild Fellow and a 2015 Sundance Fellow.
In 1999, a handful of forgotten suitcases were discovered in the recently closed Willard Psychiatric Center in upstate NY, untouched since their owners checked in many years before. Inspired by a book of photos taken by Jon Crispin, The Willard Suitcases imagines the lives that packed these bags, some funny, some strange, some tragic, and all very, very human. “If it is possible that there is a contemporary musical written to be performed in the Blackfriars manner and in Staunton, then this is it,” said McSweeny. “We are very excited about exploring Julianne’s touching and tuneful songs with ASC’s signature acoustic style on instruments all played by members of the company.”
Enhancing the performance schedule is a host of ancillary programming designed to enrich the audience experience. Starting this summer, each weekend is kicked off Friday at 5 p.m. with a “Dr. Ralph Presents” happy-hour lecture hosted by ASC’s charming co-founder in conversation with notable scholars and performers. Every week “Talkback Thursdays” include a post-show question-and-answer session with cast members. Select Sundays at 11 a.m., ASC introduces “Discovery Space,” an opportunity for audiences to look behind the curtain at what goes into making a play, from stage blood workshops to fight demonstrations to conversations with visiting artists.
December will bring the return of our Holiday Season favorite, A Christmas Carol, building on last year’s smash new adaptation by James McClure, once again directed by Stephanie Holladay Earl, and featuring Patrick Earl as Scrooge. A second holiday title remains to be announced.
Subscriptions for the Summer, Fall, and Holiday Seasons are on sale now and can be purchased by calling the ASC Box Office at 877-Much-Ado. Single tickets go on sale May 1.