SummerFest: It’s A Marvelous Night For a MoonDance
BY KIM THOMAS
For some reason, I avoided outside theatre all my life, until about 12 years ago when my friend Mary took me to the Arboretum to see THE THREE MUSKETEERS. The fight scenes were so wonderfully staged, you could see every twist and turn from the back row…and the crowd roared, we laughed and laughed. From then on, I was hooked. Sure, I needed to prepare for the bug onslaught and feeling of dehydration that came with hours of drinking wine from a box, but it was all worth every bite and nip. Each year thereafter, I have made an effort to see at least one outdoor show, especially if it is presented by those at SummerFest.
What is SummerFest?
Assemble dozens of actors, technicians, and staff members, gripping plays and musicals, wonderful sponsors, thousands of art loving, wine-toting, cheese-cutting casts of audience members, and you will have an idea of the profoundly pure fun that invades the Moondance Amphitheater each July. This wonderful carnival-upon-Beaumont creature is SummerFest.
SummerFest began over 30 years ago as The Lexington Shakespeare Festival, and in 2007, under a new Board of Directors and staff, became SummerFest. Wes Nelson, executive director, is proud of its growth. “We have seen two and three generations of many families out under the stars, enjoying a picnic basket, perhaps a little wine, and some of the best theatre that this area has to offer.”
Nelson credits SummerFest’s array of theatre choices for its success. “SummerFest has presented many of William Shakespeare’s comedies, histories, and tragedies. Beginning about ten or so years ago, SummerFest also became a presenter of musicals. RENT, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, A CHORUS LINE to name a few, have all shared their special worlds with our audiences. Each summer we present a variety of shows that will surely please all tastes, and the quality is such that our audiences will discover that they cannot stay away.”
This summer’s programming is the Broadway smash hit and Tony Award winning musical, MONTY PYTHON’S SPAMALOT, and William Shakespeare’s hilarious classic, THE COMEDY OF ERRORS.
NATALIE CUMMINS, is in her first year as Production Manager notes. Her first actual SummerFest show was HAIR in 2008. After that, she was stage manager THE MERCHANT OF VENICE in 2010, RICHARD III in 2011, and A CHORUS LINE in 2013.
Cummins is a self-described “slightly unusual Stage Manager in that I love doing outdoor theatre. I cut my teeth as the Assistant Stage Manager/Props Mistress in 2003 on the long-running outdoor production DANIEL BOONE: THE MAN AND THE LEGEND in Harrodsburg. That same year I had the tremendous experience to stage manage for the AGL production of BAT BOY, under the direction of Mike Thomas and Mark Funk. When they mentioned doing JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR the next summer, I jumped at the chance (partly because it was outdoors and working with them, but also because I’d grown up listening to the album).”
She believes Shakespeare In the Park fans will enjoy the new experience at MoonDance Theatre. “As much as I loved doing shows at the Arboretum, actually producing theatre there was always a tremendous challenge. There was no tangible infrastructure; each year the stage had to be reconstructed from scratch, the light poles had to be sunk and connected to the mains, and the trailers and portable toilets had to be rented and brought in. While the location near downtown was nice, the MoonDance Amphitheater represents a large cost savings AND provides a much nicer environment for watching shows. Last year was the first year of Summerfest at MoonDance, and as an audience member I can testify that the experience was wonderful. Parking was easy, the sightlines were great, and a large number of people can fit very comfortably into that space thanks to the thoughtfully-tiered layout.”
She emphasizes the new creature comforts will make a difference in the SummerFest experience. “Also, don’t ever discount the importance of a real restroom! Plus, the location is near so many great eating establishments, which means you can have a nice dinner beforehand, or get take-out, or simply visit Kroger or Liquor Barn to pick up your picnic items and bring them to the show. It’s wonderfully relaxed.”
“As for the selection of shows this year, SPAMALOT is a musical I had the great fortune to see in London several years back. People will enjoy it because it’s based heavily on the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and it was in fact co-adapted by Eric Idle. It’s funny and fast-paced and rather silly (and a lot of the dialogue will be familiar). Viewers will recognize several of the songs, but others were written specifically for this adaptation, and they’re fabulous.”
She adds, “THE COMEDY OF ERRORS will take several cues from Monty Python, and that will link the season, in a sense. Since it’s a classic Shakespearean comedy about mistaken identity, the script is ripe for opportunities to play up that angle, and a Python-esque absurdity definitely helps. I’m sure Bob Singleton can comment more about that! Both shows will share the same stage in rotating rep, and certain scenic elements will be swapped out from week to week to distinguish the two.”
BOB SINGLETON tells us this is his first time directing for SummerFest, “first time directing for outdoor theatre, first time directing Shakespeare.” Singleton has performed for four SummerFest productions. He especially enjoyed teaming up with Adam Luckey for one SummerFest show. “JEKYLL AND HYDE was memorable for the style of the production, and it was my first; 12TH NIGHT was a brief chance to chew some scenery to pieces, which is always fun, too, however, I can already tell that COMEDY OF ERRORS will be my favorite SummerFest directing experience!” Singleton adds, “It’s a novel play for Shakespeare in that it is one of only two he wrote that adheres to the classical unities: everything takes place within a 24-hour period, in (basically) one location, and the action serves one primary plot. This has allowed for what I think is a very streamlined production. The show will move at a fast pace, but a lot of ground will also be covered. It’s one of Shakespeare’s shortest and most farcical productions, which I think works well for an outdoor production. We’re taking advantage of the opportunity for physical spectacle, and I’m kinda anxious to start working in the actual space with the great set we’re gonna have.”
Singleton emphasizes the new venue’s strengths make the evening of theatre under the stars much easier to enjoy than in past. “All performances are at MoonDance Amphitheatre in Beaumont. It’s a great place for outdoor shows. All seats are good, the bathrooms are real, and the food trucks rock.”
“COMEDY OF ERRORS was selected to run with SPAMALOT in part because it’s the kind of story that might be dreamt up by the Python fellas. Sprinkled throughout the production, you’ll hear some echos, I hope, of many comedy genres and giants that are familiar to audiences. And maybe a couple of Easter eggs… ”
“Double the antics! Double the hijinks! Double the twins! That’s right, Shakespeare’s earliest and wackiest comedy features not one, but TWO sets of identical twins, leading to twice the confusion, and twice the fun. Twin masters Antipholus and Antipholus and their twin servants Dromio and Dromio, separated at birth and each unknown to the other, just happen to end up in the same town on the same day. What ensues is an increasingly unlikely string of misunderstandings and mistaken identities as the twins unintentionally wreak havoc on each other’s lives. You’ll be DOUBLED over with laughter at Shakespeare’s THE COMEDY OF ERRORS.”
“There are a number of folks who are new to SummerFest and in some cases new to the Lexington area (with cast members from Richmond and Wilmore). It’s a very talented, creative, intelligent, and involved cast – all the way around including Lindsay Warnick. She was Stage Manager for 12th Night, which is how I met her. She’s fantastic – having the chance to work with her again is one of the reasons I’m doing this production.”
ALEX MADDOX is portraying one of the twins, Antipholous of Syracuse. “My character has been on a quest to find his mother and his twin brother, Antipholous of Ephesus. The play opens with my character arriving in Ephesus, where my brother is a prosperous citizen. Now that we’re both in the same town, mistaken identities ensue and we’re off to the races!”
“Antipholous of Syracuse is challenging in a completely different way – Shakespeare. I’ve been very fortunate to be involved in several productions around Lexington, but I haven’t performed Shakespeare since high school. I took courses devoted to Shakespeare at UK when I was studying for my theatre degree, but this will be the first time I’ve actually performed Shakespeare in years. I’m diving into the language and learning more and more each rehearsal. But this is a different beast to tame. I’m developing the character as we speak, so you’ll have to come out to MoonDance to see how he turns out!”
ALY MILLER plays the Courtezan, and was last seen on stage “about a year ago with a BCTC show called THE DIVINERS. I feel that both of my characters are quite sassy but for different reasons. Goldie was just a classic southern woman not afraid to speak her mind – and the Courtezan, let’s just say, is always on point with her job! This will actually be my first SummerFest production and my first time doing an outdoor show and I’m so excited!”
MATT SECKMAN is playing the part of King Arthur and has appeared six times with SummerFest. “I played Seymour last year in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, Oberon
in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, Eddie (also the Narrator) in THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, to name a few. My first show with SummerFest was JEKYLL AND HYDE in 2009.”
“In SPAMALOT, I’m playing Arthur, King of the Britons, so there’s a world of difference between these two characters, geographically, socially and mentally. For context, LITTLE SHOP was an American horror comedy, where SPAMALOT is based on a British Parody Comedy (MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL). Seymour was meek and a pushover, easily manipulated by the talking Audrey II into doing whatever it took to become famous (including killing). King Arthur, on the other hand, is a grandiose and confident character who believes himself worthy of greatness and (with his God’s help) seeks out opportunities to become a legendary King. I find it quite interesting how both these characters want the same things in life but their paths are very different!” he observes.
Seckman states for him, “the biggest challenge I face in SPAMALOT is making sure I rise to the same caliber of comedic talent as my fellow actors. There are some REALLY FUNNY people in this cast, and most of them play 3 or 4 different characters in the show. Bringing all those characters to life, and to make them all funny, is quite a challenge. So, it’s important I get the humor right when playing Arthur, as he’s the only character I play. British humor is different from what most American audiences are used to – this show pokes fun of the social hierarchy in British history, making the royals and elites look like idiots, while the common people are really the brains behind everything. You really have to keep that idea in mind, when watching it. And also, that the absurdity of the situations is what makes it funny.”
Seckman believes that people who are familiar with the movie will love SPAMALOT, “I’m sure of it! It has almost all of those moments the fans love, the French taunter, the Black Knight, both rabbits, etc. There’s even something in there for the LIFE OF BRIAN fans! I only wish the original Producers of Spamalot had left in the scene with the false witch, which is one of my favorite scenes from the movie.”
However, he explains it is very different from the ending in the movie. “Of course, I can’t tell you why, or how, as that would ruin the surprise! But trust me, it has the same absurd Monty Python feel that the audiences expect. And no llamas will be hurt during our production, you have my word on that. We have professional trainers from Cirque Du Lama on hand at all times!” he laughs.
JACOB KARNES seems to be the perfect fit for (and has the comical task of) filling the brave and bold booties of Sir Robin in SPAMALOT. He confirms, “I am playing brave Sir Robin, whose great deeds have been all but lost to antiquity. If you’ve never read THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING, he plays a major role; if you have read it, well, then you know he isn’t in it.”
“The last roles I played were Simon Foul in the Rep’s CHRISTMAS SMACKOFF and Mr. Mushnik in last summer’s LITTLE SHOP. Every role I play, I get cast as a handsome,handsome man. It’s typecasting, but I’m used to it,” he deadpans.
He admits, “If I said I was a dancer I would be lying. So, dancing is the hardest part for me-—especially when singing at the same time. I’m not a dancer in any traditional sense of the word. I say I ‘move well.’ This is not true either, but I say it … but it’s always a pleasure working with Diana Evans; we have worked together for so many years, she knows how to bring out the best in me.”
“The show is really funny. It’s hard to say what the best part is. One never knows how ridiculous galloping is, until you try it with a straight face. Whether you’re a fan of Monty Python or musical theatre, this show should be a blast. If you’re not a fan of Monty Python or musical theatre, let me know what you are a fan of, and I’ll work that in as well,” Karnes says, amplifying his desire to please the crowds.
First time SummerFester and Lady of the Lake, STAFFORD HARTMAN’s background is in opera performance. “I earned my bachelors degree in voice at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, after which I spent two seasons as an artist-in-residence at Opera Memphis, and I am now entering my second year as a graduate student in vocal performance at UK. I am also the director of musical productions at the School for the Creative and Performing Arts (SCAPA) in Lexington. I play the role of Lady of the Lake, the ‘moistened bint’ who gives Excalibur to Arthur and helps him off on his quest. I am, primarily, a classical singer. Fortunately, Lady of the Lake is a caricature of Broadway’s archetypal ‘diva’ roles, and she’s not so different from some of the roles I have performed in opera: she has a lot of emotions, she has a lot of high notes, and she likes a lot of attention. This role has been so much fun because the music allows me to play with different styles, like pop, gospel, and jazz, while still adding touches of my classical chops. The challenge is, of course, navigating those styles successfully.”
For Hartman, the funniest moments in rehearsal happen when watching her cast mates. “Wes has given everyone a great deal of freedom to develop our own comedy, and it’s hilarious to watch what ‘bits’ the actors come up with.”
Her outdoor theatre memories include early memories from high school, “and summers that I came home from college, my friends and I would attend annual performances at the Arboretum, when they were produced by Shakespeare in the Park. This history of summer theater is a part of my own, hometown mythology. I am proud to be woven into the 2015 SummerFest season because it represents Lexington’s invaluable arts culture, which inspired me in my adolescence, and is more vibrant today than ever before.”
Now … bring me a SHRUBBERY!
Production dates for Comedy of Errors are July 16-19 and July 30-August 2 (Thursdays through Sundays). Gates open at 7pm all nights, and the show starts at 830pm.
Spamalot runs July 9-12 and 23-26. Same start times.
Tickets are from $10 (bring your own chair) to $60. There is plenty of parking in the MoonDance area of Beaumont; food trucks will be available and everyone gets a good seat.