Wednesday, July 31, 2013

HART's Shakespeare al fresco will bring us Petruchio and Kate in the fine madness of love

A company of professional actors active here for seven years has drawn most attention for working  outdoors in the twilight of summer evenings.

 But it hasn't been easy to put financial props under the troupe's most popular feature: "Shakespeare on the Canal" in White River State Park.

"We've been scraping by since we founded it," admitted Michael Shelton recently of Heartland Actors Repertory Theatre, the professional theater company he helped establish in 2006.

Now, however, HART enjoys support simultaneously from major funders of Indianapolis arts: a Central Indiana Community Foundation affiliate (the Indianapolis Foundation) and Lilly Endowment, with a "positive response" to a grant request under consideration by the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation. The synergy has resulted in HART's being assured already of having a 2014 season. "This is indeed the first time we have known this far in advance that the financial support will be in place for HART," producing artistic director Diane Timmerman wrote in an e-mail.

Even so, the company is seeking more ways to garner support from its audiences, mainly by offering the lure of premium seating (at $25) in its broad expanse of stage and playing area next to the canal downtown.

Shelton directs this year's production, "The Taming of the Shrew," Shakespeare's lively comedy about the battle of the sexes and its resolution within the context of patriarchal governance of marriage. Performances are Aug. 9 and 10.

Lisa Ermel as Kate gazes guardedly at Ryan Artzberger as Petruchio
His extensive experience as actor and director gives Shelton a unique perspective on the difficulties of keeping an independent professional troupe viable from year to year. Although the company has works of other playwrights in its history, it has become best known for the annual Shakespeare production in White River State Park. Predecessors are "The Merchant of Venice" (2008), "Much Ado About Nothing" (2009), "Two Gentlemen of Verona" (2010), and "Othello (2012).  In 2011, the series was interrupted by funding difficulties.

The new VIP seating  (more information on the website linked above) provides a revenue stream otherwise missing from the performances, since part of the brand of HART's "Shakespeare on the Canal" is free admission.

Each summer, Shelton has made a choice of play based on which capable actors he knows will be in town. "You don't want to come out of the gate without knowing who will play (the major roles)," he said.

Last summer, for example, the availability of the well-traveled David Alan Anderson meant that HART's production would be "Othello." Shelton had been on the lookout for a chance to present the veteran Indianapolis actor as the troubled Moor of Venice.

Shelton told me his interpretation of "The Taming of the Shrew" takes the viewpoint that "it's not a misogynistic play. It's about two people figuring out they were meant to be together."

Unusual for HART, Timmerman and Shelton have decided to make a major cut, bringing the running time down to a little over two hours. To be sure, the "Induction" is a problematic aspect of "The Taming of the Shrew," presenting a drunken tinker named Christopher Sly, for whose sake the play that follows is being performed. It's a "frame" for the action that lacks another side, since no surviving text of the play brings Sly back at the end.

Otherwise, the total tussle between Kate and Petruchio will be set before HART's audiences Aug. 9 and 10, richly instructive against the competing perspectives of her goody-two-shoes sister, Bianca, and their control-freak father, Baptista.

And as they settle in, playgoers may find themselves inclined to paraphrase Sly's final lines (which they won't hear): "Come, madam wife, sit by my side, and let the world slip, we shall ne'er be younger."

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