Shakespeare has become as much a part of summertime in Houston as baseball and backyard barbecues. Produced by the University of Houston’s School of Theatre & Dance, the Houston Shakespeare Festival (HSF) has brought the Bard to Bayou City residents for four decades.
This year, the festival celebrates its 41st anniversary with productions of classics “Macbeth” directed by Jack Young, head of UH’s Professional Actor Training Program and “The Merchant of Venice” directed by guest artist Tiger Reel. Casting is ongoing, and a full list of actors soon will be announced.
HSF is performed at Miller Outdoor Theatre in Houston’s historic Hermann Park (6000 Hermann Park Dr.). In keeping with festival founder Sidney Berger’s mission to share the works of Shakespeare with all audiences, performances are free.
Shows begin at 8:30 p.m. on these dates:
- “Macbeth” – July 31, Aug. 2, 4, 6, 8
- “The Merchant of Venice” – Aug. 1, 5, 7. 9
“I love how many different things HSF can be at the same time,” said Jim Johnson, director of UH’s School of Theatre & Dance. “Certainly, it delivers productions of Shakespeare, but it's also a shared Houston experience that attracts such a diverse group of people who are there for various reasons. The festival is a celebration of those wonderful audiences who brave Houston’s summer heat to experience these plays. It's a festival, and it's Shakespeare, but also very Houston.”
“Macbeth” is among Shakespeare’s most renowned tragedies. With elements of violence and the supernatural, the play follows the title character’s treachery as he – along with his ambitious wife – plots his route to Scotland’s throne.
“Macbeth” director Young is among the faculty members grooming graduate actors as they hone their talents through rigorous curriculum and performances. Through his guidance, students have emerged from UH and taken on roles in productions around the globe. Prior to arriving at UH, Young oversaw actors training programs at Ohio University, The Warehouse Theatre (in Greenville, S.C.) and Duke University. He’s no stranger to HSF or Shakespeare. Young has directed more than 30 of the Bard’s works including “1 Henry IV” in 2014 and “The Taming of the Shrew” in 2011. Young also is a celebrated regional actor and contributed his talents to HSF in 2011 as Iago in “Othello.” This year, he plays Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice.” The role reunites Young with director Reel, who directed him in “Speed Merchant (of Venice).”
“The Merchant of Venice” remains a popular dark comedy with its tale of merchant Antonio who finds himself in debt to cruel moneylender Shylock. The merchant accepts a loan that he cannot repay, and has signed a contract pledging a pound of flesh to the lender.
Guest director Reel is the founding artistic director of Action! Theatre Company in Los Angeles. Reel directed West Coast premieres of “There Is a Happiness That Morning Is,” “Slaughterhouse-Five” and Garland Award winner “Cartoon.” He also helmed award-winning productions of “Speed Merchant (of Venice),” "Othello,” “The Tempest,” and “R.U.R.” Regional and international directing credits include “The Dog in the Manger” at the Ricardo Montalban Theatre in Los Angeles, “The Merchant of Venice” at Shakespeare Walla Walla, "Measure for Measure" at Charlotte Shakespeare Festival, "Julius Caesar" and “Vigil” at The Warehouse Theatre, "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)" for Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" for The English Theatre of Frankfurt, Germany. In 2003, Reel was named "Best Director” by Pasadena Weekly. As an actor, he has toured Europe and Asia with the Reduced Shakespeare Company. HSF marks Reel’s return to Houston as he is a graduate of the city’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.
In addition to main stage productions, the festival also includes performances from young actors in the Houston Shakespeare Festival Conservatory. This professional development component of HSF provides theater training for high school students. Members of the HSF acting company and stage crew work with students for three weeks. Students are trained in acting, stage combat, movement, voice for the stage and text analysis. At the conclusion of the conservatory, they perform for audiences prior to each HSF production and join the professional casts on the Miller Outdoor stage.
The festival and conservatory are made possible by the talents at UH’s School of Theatre & Dance. The school produces pre-professional plays, dance concerts, studio productions, and school shows through the Theatre for Young Audiences program. Performances are delivered in in the Wortham Theatre and the Quintero Theatre. The UH School of Theatre & Dance offers bachelor’s and master's degrees in theater and teacher certifications in dance and theatre. Its graduate program consists of a Master of Arts in theatre and Master of Fine Arts in theatre with specializations in acting, technical production and design. Alumni include actors Jim Parsons, Dennis Quaid, Brett Cullen, Robert Wuhl and Dylan Paul. Faculty includes Tony Award-winning producer Stuart Ostrow, Tony-nominated designer Kevin Rigdon and award-winning playwright and screenwriter Theresa Rebeck. Among the greats who have taught at the school are Edward Albee, Lanford Wilson, Sir Peter Hall, Jose Quintero, Patsy Swayze and Cecil Pickett. In 2012 and 2013, the school was named “Best College Theater” in the Houston Press Theater Awards. For details on UH's School of Theatre & Dance, visit www.theatredance.uh.edu.