- 30th Illinois Shakespeare Festival
The Illinois Shakespeare Festival entered its 30th season with new Artistic Director Alec Wild—only the fourth Artistic Director in the Festival’s history—but the main components of the Festival remained the same: three Shakespeare productions performed outdoors within a 425-seat theatre on the grounds of Illinois State University’s Ewing Manor. The Festival has matured in recent years, signing with the Actors’ Equity Association in 1997, and fifteen of the twenty-one members of the 2007 company were either union performers or candidates. The Festival built its new amphitheatre in 2000, and with the addition of a complete state-of-the-art lighting and sound system, and its consistently [End Page 95] elaborate costume designs, the mid-state Festival can compete in terms of production values with theatres in Chicago, ninety miles to the north. In 2007 Wild continued the Festival traditions of “Green Show” courtyard mini-plays before nightly curtains as well as the strolling, lushly Elizabethan-costumed Madrigal Singers.
The Festival debuted in Bloomington/Normal on July 6, 1978 with a space-age Twelfth Night and was fondly dubbed, “Shakespeare in the Cornfields.” Over the years, the Festival has made tremendous strides both technically and commercially. Inventive staging for Wild’s slate of plays characterized the 2007 season—Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, and Love’s Labour’s Lost—with Much Ado the feel-good comedic centerpiece, performed fifteen times during the summer compared to Henry’s nine and Loves Labour’s twelve. Costume and scenic designs have always been a Festival strength, in part owing to Illinois State University funding and its wealth of design talent and expertise as well as support from local businesses such as the State Farm headquarters, and this season featured the continuity inherent in having the same sound and lighting designers for each of the three shows.
Henry V was elaborately staged in a literal “wooden O,” a gravel pit encircled by uneven wooden ramps that ingeniously transformed into the jagged terrain of battlefields and the under-lit mines and tunnels at the siege of Harfleur. Tattered banners suspended from the stage walls were pulled down to become the battlefield tents for the “A Little Touch of Harry in the Night” scene, an eerie purple glow lighting the conversations between the cracks in the wooden ramps. The broken ramps evoked the hardships of the new King’s efforts just as the mottled shades of brown suggested the patchwork nature of Henry’s kingdom of English, Irish, Scots, and Welshmen.
With the productions staged in repertory, Wild’s crews deconstructed and rebuilt the stages daily from Tuesday through Sunday throughout the summer. The unique designs consistently set this Festival apart from other, less well-funded, in-a-field outdoors Shakespeare productions with makeshift sound and lights and bring-your-own...