25 years. The silver anniversary. A quarter of a century.
1996. The year of “Show me the money!” and “You had me at hello.” Tickle-Me Elmo was the craze. Oprah started a book club. George R. R. Martin released a novel entitled A Game Of Thrones. People were doing the Macarena.
And in Ella Sharp Park, fairies, gods, and lovers were giving birth to the Michigan Shakespeare Festival with a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It has been, from its start, a uniquely Jackson affair.
True, there are other Shakespeare companies in Michigan. But Jackson founded the official Shakespeare Festival of the State of Michigan, acknowledged by the state legislature and signed by the governor. As such, the MSF brings world-class talent to a city that embraces all forms of entertainment. From wineries to golf courses, from Nascar to the Symphony to hot air balloons, Jackson is a cultural crossroads unique in Michigan.
The unsung jewel of Jackson’s cultural crown is its Shakespeare Festival. Hailed by such famous names as Dame Judi Dench and film’s own Stacey Keach for its quality and outreach, the Michigan Shakespeare Festival brings professional Michigan talent home to perform the greatest plays ever written. From its first weekend in the park, it grew to a massive 6-week indoor festival presenting high-tech, professional classical theatre.
Never in the last 400 years have the stories Shakespeare told seemed more relevant: tales of love and envy, of power and corruption, of hope and misunderstanding. Over the last decade, the festival has increased its audience by over 15% every year, drawing more people to Jackson’s beautiful Baughman Theatre at the Potter Center. And the MSF became the most award-winning theatre in Michigan.
In that same time the MSF has reached out to schools, performing for close to 100,000 high school students all over Michigan. This year the Festival presented Romeo & Juliet and Macbeth free to Jackson County schools. And this summer, thanks to a grant from the John George Foundation, student tickets to the MSF’s Mainstage Season are entirely free.
That Mainstage season, celebrating 25 years, combines both Comedy and Tragedy. The first of three shows is King Lear, with Michigan’s own award-winning John Lepard in the title role. A king gives up his power, splitting his land between his daughters. But his judgment is faulty, as he trusts the daughters who praise him, and disowns the one that truly loves him. This decision sparks a cloudburst of terror and destruction, driving King Lear out into the storm, where he finds humor and solace in madness.
The second show is The Two Gentlemen Of Verona, a raucous Comedy with all of Shakespeare’s favorite devices – travel, disguises, young lovers, angry parents. Two best friends quarrel over a woman, while the spurned love of one tries to regain his love. This is the first time the MSF has ever presented this hilarious favorite.
To round out the season, the MSF always presents a classical play not written by Shakespeare. This year’s third show is Cyrano De Bergerac by Rostand. The basis for Steve Martin’s movie Roxanne, this is the romantic and biting tale of a knight who cannot confess his love for a woman because he is ashamed of the length of his nose. So, he aids his friend to woo her instead, penning the letters and reciting the words that win Roxanne’s heart. Michigan native and Wilde Award winner David Blixt stars as the long-nosed cavalier.
For eleven weeks the company of professional theatre artists live and work in Jackson, watching 4thof July fireworks at the Cascades, dining at Klavon’s or Bella Notte or the Bone Island Grille. And for three of those weeks, the MSF becomes a bustling cultural destination, drawing patrons from all over the state, the region, and even other countries, to come and see Shakespeare as he was meant to be performed – fast, furious, and fair- spoken.
Since that first performance in the park 25 years ago, the MSF has grown. There are more lights, sounds, comfortable seats. But the core spirit has remained the same. The spirit of Jackson.
The 2019 Michigan Shakespeare Festival runs from:
July 11 to July 27 at the Potter Center’s Baughman Theatre – Jackson
August 2 – August 18 at the Village Theater – Canton
For more information about group rates (10 or more) call our office at 517-998-3673
For tickets go to: www.michiganshakepearefestival.com