Shakespeare hits the road with TSF's off-season cast

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The Texas Shakespeare Festival is taking the Bard on the road once again, preparing to begin another round of performances for its fall tour.

TSF Artistic Director Matthew Simpson said the Roadshow cast have been working for weeks to prepare for the intensive performance schedule after being cast only months ago.

“There are seven company members. Six are in two shows, one is in one show and also serves as tour manager for the whole tour. Casting took place throughout July and August. They showed up to start rehearsals on September 23 and the tour starts October 8,” Simpson said.

The touring company will present two productions, as usual, but the cast is made up of previous Roadshow performers as well as some new to the experience.

“Some people are coming back to the Roadshow but haven’t done the summer season before. Some have done the summer season but haven’t done the Roadshow. In fact, we have two people, this is their first time working with TSF in any capacity,” Simpson said.

Productions are intended to give new and young audiences a chance to witness the excitement and entertainment of a wide range of the Bard’s plays.

“They will be performing an abridged production of Macbeth and along with that we also offer an original play called “Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits,” which has five famous scenes from Shakespeare. It has music, narration and audience interaction and it’s a great overall introduction into Shakespeare’s work,” Simpson said.

The Roadshow is one sign of TSF’s continued success and its efforts to bring live theater to the public in new and exciting ways. Each year, the festival consistently sells nearly all of its summer season tickets to audiences from around the country and, for the past several years, the festival has expanded beyond its summer performances with the Roadshow.

“This is the fourth Roadshow,” Simpson said. “It used to be a program that was around in the 1990s and early 2000s. It was funded by the state and it coordinated with Region 7 here in Kilgore. The state pulled the funding in the early 2000s. We reinvented the program and now it is fully funded by TSF and the new Roadshow began in 2016.”

The Roadshow has been busy over the last few years. The tour began with spring performances but, in 2017, the event was moved to the fall to better coincide with schedules at local schools. That year, the Roadshow performed in both the spring and the fall before settling on a fall performance schedule for 2018.

The Roadshow typically performs for high school students but the event is so well-received, the cast is sometimes booked for additional performances for the community or in civic centers.

Simpson said the Roadshow is a great promotional tool and TSF has seen an increase in enrollment at their summer acting workshops, often from kids who saw the Roadshow perform at their high school.

He also believes the Roadshow sends a powerful message to young East Texans who dream of careers in the arts.

“We also want it to be an example for kids in East Texas to show them, if they have a dream of being an actor or a musician or an artist, there are jobs for them here. I think it can be really inspiring for kids in East Texas to see that there’s an option for you to pursue your passion.”

Since the state pulled the funding for the Roadshow, TSF has had to work to ensure the program’s success. Some schools pay for the Roadshow to perform at their campus, but Simpson said the program works hard to expand their tour to schools which may not be able to afford the program.

“TSF works to get grants from the Texas Commission on the Arts. Those funds are being used for subsidized performances in Upshur County so we can go to schools we’ve never been to before,” he said.

Simpson added, during this Roadshow season 15 schools will be visited by the company at no cost to the school, thanks to funds TSF secured through private organizations and the state.

Simpson said the Edwin A. “Blue” and Janice Owen Miller Charitable Fund at East Texas Communities Foundation provided funding for free performances at schools in Henderson County. The T.L.L. Temple Foundation provided funding for free performances at schools in Angelina County.

Those additional performances are great news for audiences and for TSF but they also mean the Roadshow cast is in for a busy schedule.

“In total we’ll be doing 37 performances over five weeks,” Simpson said. “Sometimes we might be at one school for a full day and we’ll have three performances.”

TSF cast and crew are accustomed to a hectic schedule, as they put on a full repertory season of summer performances each year, with only a few weeks to build sets, design costumes and learn lines. The Roadshow is similar to the summer season in some ways, Simpson said, but it’s entirely unique in its own right.

“There are many similarities,” Simpson said. “It’s its own thing in that it’s very small. A seven-person group has to do everything on the road. There aren’t really different departments like in the summer. It’s all contained within seven people.”

He said the rest of the TSF crew helps the Roadshow prepare for their tour but “once they get it going, they handle everything themselves.”

Despite the challenges of managing a touring theatrical company so soon after wrapping up a summer season, the TSF Roadshow has been met with success and is growing.

“We added two extra weeks to the tour this year. Next year, we’re adding at least one, possibly two more weeks as well,” Simpson said.

The Roadshow will also offer a free performance to TSF Guild members on Sunday, October 28, in the Festival Center UpStairs Space on 815 Houston St. in Kilgore.

The tour is fully booked for this year but schools and organizations who want to book the TSF Roadshow during its 2019 fall season can visit www.TexasShakespeare.com to find all of Simpson’s contact information or call 903-983-8119.

In addition to launching the Roadshow for another season, TSF recently announced its selection of plays for the 2019 summer season. The plays include the Shakespearean “Othello” and “As You Like It”, the Broadway hit “Born Yesterday”, the musicals “Forever Plaid” and “Into the Woods” and a children’s play.

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