Tony, Emmy and Grammy award-winner André De Shields (Broadway: Hadestown, The Wiz, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Play On!, The Full Monty) will star in King Lear as part of The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s 21st summer of free Shakespeare in Forest Park. The production marks the theater’s return to live outdoor performance, one of the first scheduled in the country. King Lear will be directed by Carl Cofield (Associate Artistic Director of the Classical Theatre of Harlem) and begins previews on Wednesday, June 2, with an opening night set for Friday, June 4 at 8:00 pm, and play through June 27 to strictly limited capacity crowds.
The Festival’s 2021 Season will also include a new outdoor touring production of Othello that will visit 24 public parks across the metro area and three outdoor performances of “Shakespeare in the Streets: The Ville” in one of the most historically significant Black communities in America. Also announced, the second Confluence New Play Festival and members of the third Regional Writers Cohort, and a six-month Directors Fellowship now accepting applications.
“André is a national treasure and one of the most extraordinary theatrical artists alive,” said producing artistic director Tom Ridgely in a statement. “And Lear is the Everest of Shakespeare’s tragic roles. To see it played by an actor of his caliber in a setting as stunning as Forest Park after the year we’ve all been through, will be the thrill of a lifetime. And Carl Cofield’s vision for how the play speaks to a 21st century America is both bracing and brilliant. We couldn’t be more proud to welcome them and the incredible company they’ve assembled to St. Louis.”
King Lear is considered by many to be Shakespeare’s greatest – and most modern – masterpiece. A richly imaginative story of love, loyalty and unfathomable loss, it depicts a family and a nation torn apart and turned against itself by disastrous leadership. After the aging king’s plan to divide his kingdom equally among his daughters goes horribly awry, he’s cast out into the most famous storm in all of drama. By turns shocking and profound, Lear paints an unforgettable picture of human endurance pushed to the absolute limit by nature, violence and its own vanity.
André De Shields heads an all-BIPOC company featuring some of the finest actors out of New York, Chicago and St. Louis. He is joined by Brian Anthony Williams (“The Wire,” “The Sopranos”) as Gloucester, acclaimed Chicago and Shakespearean actor Allen Gilmore as the Fool and St. Louis legend J. Samuel Davis as Kent. The three daughters will be played by Nicole King (Cordelia) and Festival favorites Rayme Cornell (Goneril) and Jacqueline Thompson (Regan). Daniel José Molina (Oregon Shakespeare Festival) and Leland Fowler (TFANA) will play Gloucester’s sons Edgar and Edmund, respectively. The company also includes Jason J. Little (Albany), Carl Overly, Jr. (Cornwall) and Michael Tran (Oswald), as well as an ensemble of actors from The Black Rep’s Professional Internship Program: Kentrell Jamison, Theorri London, Brian McKinley, Tyler White and Christina Yancy.
“We are in a global reckoning with where we want to go and who we want to be,” said director Carl Cofield in a statement. “‘We See You White American Theater’ is the current zeitgeist. For me, this chance to do King Lear with André in a bold, vibrant reimagining speaks directly to 13-year-old Carl and seeing Brown and Black people at the forefront. To bring this story in this way to St. Louis audiences is something I’m tremendously excited by.”
The creative team for King Lear includes first-time Festival designers Wilson Chin (Scenic Design), Mika Eubanks (Costume Design) and David R. Molina (Music and Sound Design). John Wylie (Lighting Design) will return for his fourteenth season.
André De Shields is the triple crown winner of the 2019 awards season, having won the Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk, and Tony Awards for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his critically acclaimed performance as Hermes in Hadestown. The Actors’ Equity Foundation followed suit with the Richard Seff Award, honoring veteran stage actors’ best supporting performances of the year. In 2020, Mr. De Shields received the 2020 Grammy Award for Musical Theater Album for Hadestown, the 2020 AUDELCO for Lifetime Achievement, an honorary Doctor of Arts Degree from Boston Conservatory at Berklee and the 2020 Red Bull Theater Matador Award for Excellence in Classical Theater. In 2019, he received the 2019 Project1Voice Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2019 SAGE Joyce Warshow Lifetime Achievement Award, The York Theatre Company’s 2019 Oscar Hammerstein Award for Lifetime Achievement in Musical Theatre, and was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame. He received the Key to the City of Baltimore from Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young in August, 2019. Prior to his Tony Award win, Mr. De Shields was best known for his show-stopping performances in four legendary Broadway productions: The Wiz, Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Emmy Award), Play On! (Tony Nomination), and The Full Monty (Tony Nomination). In a career spanning fifty one years, he has distinguished himself as an unparalleled actor, director, and educator, receiving in 2018 the 8th Annual Off Broadway Alliance Legend Award, and the 33rd Annual Bob Harrington Life Achievement Bistro Award. Among his other accolades are the 2009 National Black Theatre Festival’s Living Legend Award and the 2007 Village Voice Obie Award for Sustained Excellence of Performance. His film and TV projects include Anton Ego in Ratatouille: The TikTok Tok Musical, the Algebra Tutor in “John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch” on Netflix, Chubby in “Katy Keene” on the CW, Wyndham on “Almost Family.” He can be heard on the podcasts Live From Mount Olympus as Hermes and One Speckled Hen. He can next be seen as Gavin Plimsoll in Charles Busch’s new film, The Sixth Reel. De Shields is a proud member of AEA, SAG-AFTRA, and SDC. andredeshields.com
Performances in Shakespeare Glen are free and open to the public but for the first time will be limited in size to ensure the safety of staff, artists and audience. More details, including how to make a reservation, will be announced soon and will adhere strictly to City of St. Louis official health guidelines. Visit www.stlshakes.org for up-to-date information.
TOURCO – OTHELLO
This summer, the Festival is launching a brand new initiative called “TourCo” that will bring high-quality Shakespeare and the magic of Forest Park to parks all over the St. Louis metro area.
The inaugural production of Othello will play at 24 public parks and gathering spaces across the bi-state region from August 3 – August 29. The 90-minute adaptation will be directed by the Festival’s Manager of Community Engagement & Education, Adam Flores, and feature Courtney Bailey (Desdemona), Charlie Barron (Iago), Ricki Franklin (Emilia), Hannah Geisz (Roderigo), Jason J. Little (Othello) and Jesse Muñoz (Cassio). The free events will begin at 7:00 p.m., and a full schedule of locations will be announced later this spring.
SHAKESPEARE IN THE STREETS: THE VILLE
In September, the Festival’s internationally-recognized community engagement program, Shakespeare in the Streets, is partnering with The Ville neighborhood in North St. Louis on a new adaptation of Hamlet to elevate the incredible story of one of the most historically significant African American communities in the country. Home to Sumner High School, the first Black high school west of the Mississippi River, the Ville has nurtured cultural icons from Chuck Berry to Tina Turner to Arthur Ashe, Grace Bumbry, Dick Gregory, Robert Guillame, Robert McFerrin, Sr., The Fifth Dimension and more. Sumner alumna Mariah L. Richardson is writing the adaptation and Ville resident Thomasina Clark will direct. Presented in partnership with 4theVille, performances will be held September 9-11 at 8:00 p.m. outside the Annie Malone Home.
CONFLUENCE REGIONAL WRITERS PROJECT
Three new midwest playwrights join the Confluence Regional Writers Project as the 2021 cohort, the third group from Missouri and Illinois since the program’s inception in 2018. Courtney Bailey (St. Louis, MO), Melda Beaty (Chicago, IL) and Delaney Piggins (St. Louis, MO) were chosen to help foster a regional culture of playwriting. They will spend the next year writing, collaborating, networking and receiving feedback on a new work commissioned by the Festival. The new plays by the 2021 and 2020 cohort will premiere with staged readings at the second Confluence New Play Festival in the fall.
The Directing Fellowship, which launched in 2020 with major support from Kathleen and Rich Waidmann, is a six-month hands-on director intensive created specifically to nurture diverse perspectives in theater-making. The 2021 Directing Fellow will work as Assistant Director across the three main Festival productions and lead a series of staged readings in the fall. Applications are now open for the singular Fellowship on the Festival website. The deadline to apply is March 26.
The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s 2021 season is funded in part by the Missouri Foundation for Health, Bayer Fund, Regional Arts Commission, Arts Midwest, The Trio Foundation of St. Louis, the Missouri Arts Council and The Gertrude and William A. Bernoudy Foundation.
Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers, musicians and corporations. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman. She stars in and served as Executive Producer for the short independent films Hide and Seek, Balancing Act, Rom-Com Gone Wrong, Belongingness and When the World was Young. She is also the Executive Producer for The Cactus, The Language Lesson, The Writer and Cream and 2 Shugahs.
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