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The Michigan Shakespeare Festival returns this summer, but alas, not to Jackson

The Michigan Shakespeare Festival production of 'Henry V' features Sam Hubbard (L) as Henry, Demetria Thomas as Exeter, Victor Yang, Ian Geers, and Faith Berry.
Courtesy photo
Michigan Shakespeare Festival
The Michigan Shakespeare Festival production of 'Henry V' features Sam Hubbard (L) as Henry, Demetria Thomas as Exeter, Victor Yang, Ian Geers, and Faith Berry.

After a two-year COVID-related shutdown, the Michigan Shakespeare Festival is back this summer. Though, not in Jackson this time around.

Recent tradition has had the Michigan Shakespeare Festival at the Baughman Theatre inside Jackson College’s Potter Center for three weeks before moving on to Canton for three more weeks. A fire last summer at the Jackson venue has made it unavailable for productions this year.

Producing artistic director Janice Blixt says she worked with the Village Theatre in Canton to stage a five-week schedule there to get as close to a normal run as possible.

“It is not a choice that we packed up and left Jackson,” she explained. “There’s nothing bad or anything like that. We’re just all waiting to see what the renovations are and when the college finishes them.”

Blixt is keeping her fingers crossed about returning to Jackson next summer.

But one thing that is normal this season is the selection of two Shakespeare plays, one drama or history and one comedy, plus a third one from another playwright.

After being forced to cancel Henry V in 2020 due to the pandemic, Blixt is pleased to present it now. It was initially chosen heading into an election year because the entire point of the play, Blixt says, is the young king’s realization of what good leadership is, a theme she thinks is still worth considering.

Blixt says in Henry V, each act has its own climax, which she compares to the television binge-watching everyone was doing during the pandemic.

“Instead of thinking of this as just, you know, a five act play, I was thinking of it very much as a five episode Britbox series that I’m hoping, after each act, the audience is like ‘yeah, I could watch another, yeah, I want to see what happens, yeah, I’ll binge the next one’ and, kind of, we were looking at it that way too,” Blixt said.

The Merry Wives of Windsor is this season’s comedy. Blixt says it’s one of the only plays Shakespeare was asked to write. Queen Elizabeth I liked the Falstaff character in Henry IV, and she wanted a comedy with Falstaff falling in love. Think of it as a sitcom spinoff. That idea prompted director Rob Kauzlaric to model this production on 1980s television.

“Costume and look and feel, you know, it is Windsor,” Blixt said. “So, it’s got this, the set has this Elizabethan kind of Globe Theatre style to it, but the look is very all of those shows that we all watched in the 1980s, the sitcoms. The family silliness ensues, miscommunication, and a little bit of hijinx, and that’s very much what that production is.”

The non-Shakespeare play on the schedule is Charley’s Aunt by Brandon Thomas. Written in 1892, a time when Blixt thinks plays didn’t tend to be very funny, Charley’s Aunt was a smash hit in London, with more than 1,700 performances. A young Tom Hanks was first noticed by Hollywood while acting in a production of this comedy.

“It’s one of those shows that because it is heartfelt and it is sweet and very kind and loving with these characters, it gets done a lot in the rotation because it’s just funny,” Blixt said. “It’s a bunch of guys, and they want to get married, and they really want to hang out with their girlfriends and ask them to marry them, but they don’t have a chaperone, and the girls won’t stay and have lunch unless they get a chaperone.”

A preview performance of Henry V kicks off the Michigan Shakespeare Festival in Canton Tuesday evening at 7:30 p.m., with the three plays rotating through a final staging of Charley’s Aunt on August 21.

Scott Pohl is a general assignment news reporter and produces news features and interviews. He is also an alternate local host on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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