_1333699099Just as next summer marks Oak Park Festival Theatre’s 40th anniversary, so this summer marked the close of Jack’s tenth year with the company. September begins his eleventh year as Artistic Director. Of the many changes he has witnessed and overseen during his tenure, he remarks that the greatest changes have been that “the quality of production just continues to grow higher and higher, and we have gone from just doing one show every summer to two shows in the summer.”

Jack continued: “I think we’ve raised our profile to the extent that more and more people are aware of us which is evident by the fact that the our audience numbers keep growing and growing.”  There have been many highlights during his decade long stewardship. Jack is always happy when the productions can have original music such as Paul Amandes’ score for Romeo and Juliet. Most recently Jack got to play selections of the music Josh Dumas composed for Twelfth Night. “It has been just a blast being part of the band every night.”

There have been tough times as well as when the Picnic cast received word that lead actress Adrianne Cury had been struck by car and critically injured as she biked her way to the theater.  Much Ado photo by Michael RothmanAnd there has been plenty of humor, ironic and otherwise such as the year (2008) Jack “decided I would not act in any shows and just direct Much Ado About Nothing, and through some crazy circumstances I ended up going on for an actor in both Much Ado as well as the other summer production, Dancing at Lughnasa.”

Cyrano photo by Michael RothmanHis most cherished memory was the chance “to perform the role of Cyrano de Bergerac in front of very large crowds in Austin Gardens.” Also, the delight of any Artistic Director was “breaking our all time attendance records with Amadeus.”

But, what of the future? Looking ahead, Jack said:  “In five years I’d love to see Oak Park Festival Theatre as a year-round theater. In 10 years I’d like to see the theater grow to the size of a regional theater much like Chicago Shakespeare or the Goodman Theatre.” Step One for Year One is generating the funds, among other necessities, to hire staff and increase pay for all the artists.

 Such recognition is only right for the Midwest’s oldest professional outdoor classical theatre and Oak Park’s sole professional (Actors’ Equity Association) theatre. This extraordinary community deserves and has for four decades supported topflight productions of Shakespeare and modern masters.  Shakespeare’s works were most often performed open to both the elements and all the citizenry. This is possible because of the generosity of the Park District of Oak Park and the well submarket ticket prices including generous donations of tickets and the policy of free admission for children 12 and under. “We do Shakespeare’s plays in essentially the same kind of venue that he wrote for. That calls for a certain extra oomph, an extra theatricality that you don’t always get indoors.”

ShakespeareNext season the major productions will both be performed out of doors in glorious Austin Gardens. “I’m excited about next season,” says Jack, “for so many reasons. We will be celebrating our 40th anniversary, an amazing feat for any theater. And we have chosen a season of brilliant masterpieces: Hamlet followed by The Importance of Being Earnest.”  Of his choices for this landmark season, Jack said: “Hamlet is perhaps Shakespeare’s ultimate play, the one everybody knows or at least heard of, the one that is most often quoted in our own society. Interestingly, I’ve just learned that next to Hamlet, The Importance of Being Earnest is the next most quoted play in literature!”

Both plays deal with similar themes of parents and children, deception, deduction, identity, and the lengths devious or direct to which necessity drives us.  Lavina Jadwalhi who directed this summer’s Twelfth Night will direct Hamlet which will be followed by Oscar Wilde’s glittering comedic jewel, The Importance of Being Earnest . “A play,” states Jack,” that I have always loved and believe will work well outdoors. I’m excited that our veteran director Kevin Theis is coming back to direct.”

What of seasons yet to come?  “Shakespeare plays on my dream list are: The Tempest, King Lear, and Two Gentlemen of Verona. For the modern classic I’ve been wanting to doWaiting for Godot forever. I’d love to do Noel Coward’s Hay Fever. The Chicago setting of Proof would work very well out of doors.” And what of adding Jack’s long cherished wish, musicals? “Perhaps one day we’ll be able to afford an outdoor musical. Something like Man of La Mancha, or A Little Night Music would work really, really well, but that’s real dreaming.”

With the continued support of Festival Theatre’s loyal audiences, its benefactors both sustaining and yet undiscovered, and the selfless and unstinting dedication of its artists, perhaps that and indeed another rich and rewarding forty years is not by any means an “Impossible Dream.”