Big Additions in Store for 2011 Houston Shakespeare Festival

Annual Event to Feature Regional Artists, Two-Week Workshop for High School Students

Some things get better with age, and that's especially true for the Houston Shakespeare Festival (HSF). This year, the Bayou City's oldest celebration of the Bard becomes bigger with national guest artists, pre-show festivities and a two-week workshop for high school students.

For 36 years, the University of Houston and Miller Outdoor Theatre have partnered to deliver free performances of Shakespeare plays. Just as the community has evolved through the years, so must HSF, said Steve Wallace, director of UH's School of Theatre & Dance (SOTD).

"This year we are adding significant new components to our offerings," Wallace said. "These include two nationally recognized guest artists, the Houston Shakespeare Summer Conservatory, and the HSF Cultural Festival at Miller Outdoor Theatre. The HSF Cultural Festival will showcase pre-show entertainers, educational activities and lectures for the family. We're also streamlining our mission as a professional project of UH by offering more students opportunities to be involved in a professional summer stock atmosphere."

This year's festival will include free performances of  "Othello, the Moor of Venice" (starring Seth Gilliam and directed by Leah Gardiner) and "Taming of the Shrew." All performances are at 8:30 p.m. at Miller Outdoor Theatre. Performance dates are as follows.

  • "Othello" - July 29, 31, Aug. 2, 4, and 6
  • "Taming of the Shrew" - July 30, August 3, 5, and 7

Gilliam has starred in critically acclaimed HBO series "Oz" and "The Wire." He also has appeared in films such as "Starship Troopers" and "Courage Under Fire." He also has appeared in television series such as Showtime's "Nurse Jackie" and "Law and Order." Last year, Gilliam performed as the title character in "Othello, the Moor of Venice" during the Commonwealth Shakespeare Festival in Boston.

A graduate of Yale University's drama school, Gardiner is a leading director on regional and university stages. She's helmed plays for events such as the New York Shakespeare Festival and Oregon Shakespeare Festival and has contributed her talents to productions on both coasts. Credits include the national tour of "Wit," which included performances at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., "Angels in America, parts I and II" for Connecticut Repertory Theatre, "A Streetcar Named Desire" for Pillsbury House Theatre in Minneapolis, Minn. and "Intimate Apparel" at the Julliard School in New York.

"Seth has agreed to play the lead role in ‘Othello, the Moor of Venice.' Leah will direct him and a talented cast that includes a mix of professional Equity actors and graduate students from the SOTD," Wallace said. "Having these talented, well-known artists participating in HSF helps us to continue to diversify our audience and demystify the perceived inaccessibility of Shakespeare's works to a younger audience."

This year's festival also will mark the inaugural season for the HSF Summer Conservatory for Texas high school students. This two-week workshop will provide them with intensive training in acting, voice and movement. Instructors include professionals who have worked on Broadway, television and regional stage productions. As part of the conservatory, students will have the unique opportunity to actually perform at HSF. To learn more about the HSF Summer Conservatory and how students can register, visit its website.

"HSF is the perfect teaching vehicle for high school students who are planning to make their careers in the arts field," Wallace said. "They are working with people from the profession and are participating in all aspects of the Festival. The students will also get a sense of the work and dedication that will be required of them should they go on to college. The Conservatory is not just about the performances at the festival. Students will study with our guest artists, acting company, directors and dramaturgs."

Since 1975, the Houston Shakespeare Festival has attracted thousands of Houstonians to Miller Outdoor Theatre for free performances of the Bard's timeless classics. HSF productions have featured rising talents and esteemed stage veterans. Among the master thespians who have participated in HSF was Oscar-nominated actor Dan O'Herlihy, who played the title role in the festival's production of "King Lear." Regional star Ken Ruta also contributed his talents to HSF, starring as Prospero in "The Tempest."