Heart of America Shakespeare Festival More than a Performance in the Park (Sponsored)
Every summer Kansas City welcomes one of its favorite annual traditions — the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival (HASF).
HASF has constructed a stage and theatre space in Southmoreland Park where thousands of visitors have come to see FREE professional Shakespeare productions of 31 plays in 25 seasons.
The overwhelmingly popular free performances allow access for all and provide audiences with an opportunity to connect with Shakespeare in new and exciting ways.
This year, from June 12 to July 1, festivalgoers will enjoy "Much Ado About Nothing." This hilarious tale of intertwined love stories in the village of Messina encompasses Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon; his daughter, Hero; the Prince’s half-brother, Don John; Leonato, Messina’s Governor; and war officers Claudio and Benedick.
The comedic and bumbling twists and turn, lead the audience through a whirlwind of mistaken identities and surprising emotional shifts. In this production, HASF is paying special attention to the storyline of its very strong female protagonists.
“When planning this production I was drawn to the women’s roles in the story,” said Sidonie Garrett, HASF executive artistic director. “At the time this play was written in 1598, Queen Elizabeth was the powerful head of Shakespeare’s society. In this play, Beatrice, Hero, Margaret and Ursula engage in word play much loved by the Queen and reflected in her court. The feminine characters and energy shape this story, are the catalyst for the action, and reflect the frustration of being a female in a male dominated culture.”
Garrett’s interest and focus on female driven stories includes directing a script-in-hand gender reversed reading of "The Taming of the Shrew," and an all-female reading of "The Women," featuring 21 women reading 43 female roles, for Kansas City Actors Theatre. HASF staff includes several female department heads and/or leaders.
“Confident, talented, knowledgeable women are working together in increased numbers to make this year’s Festival programs possible, alongside our male collaborators,” Garrett explained. “We hope our story is inspiring for young women who see this play, our interns working with HASF professionals, and the female students who are part of our education programs.”
Shakespeare isn’t just for the summer. HASF also offers a robust array of popular, multifaceted, in-school and weekend year-round programs for children and teens, and adult acting classes.
Summer youth offerings include Camp Shakespeare (ages 8 to 14), unique and fun two-week arts experiences. The camps, held at five different metro locations, are led by theatre professionals, actors and teaching artists with years of experience performing and teaching Shakespeare. At each camp session conclusion, the students participate in a formal performance.
“We have offered Camp Shakespeare for the past 22 years,” said Matt Rapport, HASF director of education. “It has grown tremendously over that time, and some of those kids are now actors in the professional production. It’s very gratifying to see how they have embraced acting and Shakespeare and are incorporating it—either as a career or as one of their interests—in their adult lives.”
Shakespeare Exploration (ages 14 to 18) is a conservatory-styled camp providing an advanced experience for returning and new teen campers. Shakespeare Alive! (ages 8 to 18) offers a unique perspective on Shakespeare through contemporary music styles, pop culture, spoken word poetry and writing.
"I believe studying Shakespeare helps us learn about ourselves and our place in the world,” Rapport said. “Shakespeare had a unique and empowering view of humanity and our potential. In Shakespeare we see the best and the worst we have to offer, and the students learn that despite the troubles, our world can be just as beautiful and amazing as we make it."
Will’s Players, a one-week, half-day camp for 5- to 8-year-olds, in-school programs, contests and a special Team Shakespeare pre-show parody in the park are also part of the summer programming offered. Shakespeare Crosses all Walks of Life The annual Festival attracts fans of all ages from throughout the five-county metro area on both sides of the state line. Over 50 percent of the audience attend as a family.
“We’re also really proud of the fact that the Festival welcomed patrons from 12 different states last year,” said Garrett, “including Alabama, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Ohio, and Texas. That really speaks to its wide appeal.”
The nightly Festival schedule is as follows:
6 p.m. Gates Open
6:30 p.m. Parody presented by Team Shakespeare
7 p.m. Show Talk
7:15 p.m. Parody presented by Team Shakespeare
8 p.m. Much Ado About Nothing
Heart of America Shakespeare Festival
When: Nightly performances June 12 to July 1. Gates open at 6 p.m. The show starts at 8 p.m.
Where: Southmoreland Park just west of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Cost: The Festival is FREE for all ages.