Shake­speare finds fol­low­ing in ’burbs

>‘ Dream’ pro­duc­tion and bard’s ed­u­ca­tion out­reach ex­ceed plan

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Stage - By Christo­pher Blank

Spe­cial to The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

If, as Shake­speare has writ­ten, “the lu­natic, the lover, and the poet are of imagination all com­pact,” then Dan McCleary is in good com­pany. He makes his liv­ing quot­ing Shake­speare, and if that weren’t looney/ro­man­tic/po­etic enough, he aims to do it in Ger­man­town.

About two years ago, McCleary an­nounced plans to start a pro­fes­sional Shake­speare troupe out in the sub­urbs. By “pro­fes­sional,” he meant that he’d bring in ac­tors from New York, pay union wages and present Shake­speare to the masses in a way they’d likely never seen.

The Ten­nessee Shake­speare Com­pany de­buted its first pro­duc­tion, “As You Like It,” last fall in a wooded lot be­hind St. Ge­orge’s Epis­co­pal Church. Over the course of the run, 3,600 peo­ple came to see the show.

What hap­pened next, also in the words of the bard, was “such stuff as dreams are made on.”

“It was a wildly suc­cess­ful first year,” McCleary said at a re­cent re­hearsal for his sec­ond show. “Peo­ple were us­ing a very South­ern term to de­scribe it. They were call­ing it a ‘bless­ing.’ ”

The word stuck with McCleary. He’s in­structed his ac­tors to keep it in mind as they per­form “A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream,” open­ing Satur­day at the Po­plar Pike Play­house.

Shake­speare, he says, wrote the play to bless a mar­riage in the court of El­iz­a­beth I. Now he hopes it will im­part bless­ings on his rapidly ex­pand­ing en­deavor.

Some might say that the show is a re­al­ity check for the com­pany. There’s noth­ing gim­micky, out­doorsy or “en­vi­ron­men­tal” about it, per­formed in a small, tra­di­tional the­ater at Ger­man­town High School where McCleary grad­u­ated.

But the di­rec­tor is as en­thu­si­as­tic as ever.

Ten­nessee Shake­speare Com­pany’s ed­u­ca­tional out­reach, which he’d planned to im­ple­ment within five years, is al­ready in full swing. The city of Ger­man­town ear­marked $89,000 to fund stu­dent mati­nees. A full-color study guide, thick as a text­book, was sent out to class­rooms. The com­pany is hold­ing Shake­speare work­shops in a hand­ful of lo­cal schools. This sum­mer, kids ages 8-17, can take part in a Shake­speare sum­mer camp at Hutchi­son.

Rais­ing funds for the com­pany’s $500,000 an­nual bud­get has been a dream in it­self.

It turns out that Shake­speare is pop­u­lar with lo­cals. A re­cent fundrais­ing gala grossed more than $100,000. In­cred­i­bly for a com­pany only a year old, it al­ready has a $100,000 en­dow­ment, thanks to a big donor.

And what about McCleary’s am­bi­tious plan to turn Mor­gan Woods Park into a 300-seat out­door am­phithe­ater where the com­pany can put on al fresco plays in reper­tory? The city has ear­marked money for that too: $250,000 for Phase 1 of the de­sign. The blue­prints are al­most done.

To para­phrase Mark Antony, am­bi­tious is what they called Cae­sar. Maybe it ex­plains why McCleary will di­rect a com­pact, tour-wor­thy “Julius Cae­sar” in the spring, per­formed by a cast of eight women and one cel­list, a piece, he says, that could be per­formed on the steps of City Hall.

Un­til then, audiences can ready them­selves for “A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream,” in­spired by the artist Marc Cha­gall, com­poser Bela Bartók, and Dr. Carl Jung, with hints of Joseph Camp­bell thrown in for good mea­sure.

Mem­phis ac­tor Dar­ius Wal­lace says that McCleary’s “Dream” is un­like any Shake­speare pro­duc­tion he’s ever worked on.

“His stan­dards are so high that none of us leave the stage without sweat­ing,” he said. “We’ve been told that it’s a pro­duc­tion about bless­ings, and all of us are play­ing it straight from the heart.”

Ti­ta­nia (Char­lotte Schi­oler) rides Bot­tom (Tony Molina) as Pease­blos­som (Ca­ley Milliken) and her fairies cre­ate her bower in “A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream,” pro­duced by the Ten­nessee Shake­speare Com­pany.

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