The Bard is back.
The Tennessee Shakespeare festival will take place on the Webb School campus for four weekends, from June 18 to July 11. Unlike the first year of the festival, which ran for two weekends with "A Midsummer's Night Dream," and last year, when the company produced two shows, "Midsummer" and "Romeo and Juliet" over a four-week period, this year there will be one show all four weekends.
"We're doing 'Two Gentlemen of Verona (Tennessee)'," said director Lane Davies, the actor who established the festival in 2008 with the help of Ralph Jones and Ruth Cordell, both teachers at Webb.
The Tennessee Shakespeare Festival is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) entity and its main purpose, said Davies, "is to bring Shakespeare to everyone."
"This is the perfect venue," he said, referring to the open-air theater the cast and crew creates on the campus every summer. "We are so grateful to Webb for allowing us to perform here."
A massive tent is erected over the stage for reserved seating, but there is plenty of space surrounding the tent for those who want to bring lawn chairs or picnic blankets. Although there are vendors set up selling food, soft drinks and wine, people are welcome to bring their own picnic baskets and just relax and watch the show.
Davies is best-known for his roles on "General Hospital" as Dr. Cameron Lewis and "Santa Barbara" as Mason Capwell but has appeared in prime-time shows ranging from "3rd Rock From The Sun" and "Lois and Clark" to "The Practice" and "Babylon 5."
A native of Georgia, he lives there now when he isn't in Los Angeles, on location for a show or movie, or producing Shakespeare plays in Bell Buckle. While he's done his turn as soap opera heroes and super-powered villains, Shakespeare is his true calling and he performed with the Kingsmen Shakespeare Festival in California and helped establish the Georgia Shakespeare festival in his home state.
Working with the Georgia festival might be easier, he said, in terms of raising money and building audiences, but he sees a need for a "populist Shakespeare" -- making the Bard accessible to everyone from school kids to farmers, not just for urban theatergoers.
One way he does that is by shifting the plays into a setting that 21st Century Americans might find more familiar. "Midsummer" was set in the Depression-era Athens, Tenn., and "Romeo and Juliet" was set in the French and Indian War area in the Northeast.
"Two Gentlemen of Verona (Tennessee)" undergoes the same transformation.
"If I'd known there was a Verona here last year, I might have changed the setting for 'Romeo'," he said, laughing. "But then, there isn't a Padua, is there?"
In the play, a comedy considered by many to be one of Shakespeare's first, and the prototype for many of his following comedies, two young men go from Verona to Milan to gain some experience in the world. There is a Milan, Tenn., but in this case, the boys are going from Verona to Nashville, to make their fortune as singers in Music City.
There are the usual cases of unrequited love that is eventually requited, mistaken identity and a little cross-dressing as one of the girls disguises herself as a boy.
Davies is still casting, but is happy that many of his previous actors are returning, such as Jerry Wimsett, who had crowds bowled over with laughter as "Bottom" in "Midsummer."
There are other possible additions being planned for this year's production that will be announced later, but one that is definite is the addition of music.
"We're having original music; country and western, rockabilly -- it takes place in 1960 -- and even gospel," he said. "We hope to have local musicians come up and play before the show starts."
One thing that hasn't changed is the low price. There will be premium seating (under the tent) for $10 in advance or $15 at the door, and $5 festival seating, which is on the grass outside.
Sponsors are always needed, and those wishing to support the Tennessee Shakespeare Festival can visit the web site for details. Donations are tax-deductible.