The Michigan Shakespeare Festival gets underway later this week and while the headliner features a 20-year reunion, another play has been bringing out the online trolls to the Festival's social media outlets.
Over the next 6 weeks, the Michigan Shakespeare Festival brings three plays to both Jackson and Canton, Michigan. The first of the three chosen is, by design, a famous one.
"That's when we do our Hamlet, that's when we do Romeo and Juliet. This year we're doing The Taming of the Shrew." says Janice L. Blixt, Artistic director of the Michigan Shakespeare Festival.
"The decision to do Taming of the Shrew this year was kinda based on the fact that 20 years ago, I first worked for the Michigan Shakespeare Festival as an actress playing Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew. And, a man by the name of David Blixt was playing Petruchio. That is where we met. 20 years on, we are married, we have 2 children, we have a life together and I am now the producing Artistic Director [of the Michigan Shakespeare Festival]. He has been the fight director of the festival since 2009 and he's been an ensemble member there since 2000."
After the popular pick of The Taming of the Shrew, the second of the Michigan Shakespeare Festival’s 2017 trilogy is usually something lesser known, or underperformed. "It might seem like Julius Caesar is a very odd choice for that," says Blixt, "but we sent out a questionnaire to our regular patrons and theatergoers asking what shows they have seen, haven't seen, what have they seen a lot of, and strangely enough, so many of them were saying 'I have read Julius Caesar, because I had to read it in High School,' or 'I read it in college, but I have never seen it on stage.' We kinda looked around and realized that it's not produced as often as you would think it is."
However, this year’s underperformed pick of Caesar has been overshadowed by New York’s Shakespeare in the Park where a production placed a President Trump surrogate in place of the title character. Something Blixt couldn’t know about when it was selected two years ago.
"The publicity that has surrounded this has been interesting." explains Blixt. "We had to release a statement for both our box offices because people have been calling and asking a lot of questions. I have been hearing about Shakespeare Festivals around the country that have been getting death threats and a lot threats of violence. We have not received any of that. Our audiences and the people of Michigan, I think, are smart enough to know that that's not appropriate. But we have been trolled quite a bit on our facebook page and on our twitter feed and mostly it's been people out of state. We're getting trolled by a lot of people in Virginia. I don't know what that's about." But Jan Blixt does reiterate "We are not depicting any historical, or modern political figures other than the ones actually named in the script."
Along with Julius Caesar, the third and final pick of the Michigan Shakespeare Festival is… not by Shakespeare. The third is always a non-Shakespearean classic play or adaptation.
"This year, we are doing Chekov's The Seagull. I wanted to do the show because my experience with it, it's very funny" says Blixt. "and it never seems when I go to see productions of it to be very funny. It's a modern funny. It's a biting funny. It's the kind of funny where one character is talking about their dreams and their goals and everything they want out of art, out of their life. And then the next beat, someone else asks for a cup of coffee. The stakes get dropped completely out from under people. The humor on it is more modern sitcom, like The Office, rather than slapstick, or silly, or just plain witty comedy."
Chekov’s The Seagull joins Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew and Julius Caesar in this year’s Michigan Shakespeare Festival which takes place in Jackson’s Baughman Theatre for three weeks, then moves to Canton’s Village Theater for an additional three weeks. For more information, visit MichiganShakespeareFestival.com