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HART's Shakespeare on the Canal hits snag

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Artistic Director Michael Shelton has continued plans for HART, despite the setback. Photo by Mark Lee.
  • Artistic Director Michael Shelton has continued plans for HART, despite the setback. Photo by Mark Lee.

The beloved Shakespeare on the Canal series produced each summer by Heartland Actors' Repertory Theatre (HART) and White River State Park's Family Arts Series is canceled for the summer of 2011. In the past, hoards of Hoosiers have gathered with picnic baskets in hand at the banks of the White River to enjoy full-length, free Shakespearean productions including The Merchant of Venice, Two Gentlemen of Verona and Much Ado About Nothing.

This year, HART planned to produce the political tragedy Julius Caesar, before they ran into a different kind of tragedy: the cancellation of the Family Arts Series, which funded a large portion of this project. "The cancellation of the Family Arts Series was disappointing, to say the least," says HART Artistic Director Michael Shelton, "not just for us, but for the other acts and, we'd like to think, the thousands of audience members who have seen our Shakespearean productions in the past years."

"We regret that we weren't able to acquire funding this year," says Bob Whitt, Executive Director of White River State Park. "But we are certainly very appreciative of the funding we received for the last three years. The Allen Whitehall Clowes Foundation let us know that they wanted to do other things. We understand; they were very generous for three years."

Both HART and White River State Park tried desperately to save the production. The park offered free use of their facilities, if only the theater company could raise money for the show. However, the budget for the equity level production was too much to cobble together in such a short amount of time. "We were looking forward to continuing the Shakespeare in the Park element of the Family Arts Series if it could be financed," says Whitt. "Obviously, whenever you are doing a full professional play with equity actors, it's a fairly expensive undertaking."

Though HART has hit a stumbling block this summer, the theater plans to continue producing quality work throughout the year. "A silver lining of the series' cancellation," says Shelton, "has been a swelling of support in terms of spirit and development for HART's Shakespeare from White River State Park personnel, other arts benefactors, patrons and artists. We are aiming to harness that as we take time to retool for next year. It is our hope to expand the previous years' single production to two full-length productions in repertory, essentially a full-on professionally produced Shakespeare festival."

"It's very early on," says Whitt in regard to next Summer's possible Shakespeare festival. "There certainly is a lot of interest in the community and interest among the theatre community. If we can do it, it'd be great. But it's a challenge. There are a lot of demands on funds out there. For many folks, it's a question of taking care of their basic human needs."

However, summer 2012 is still an entire Superbowl frenzied city away for this theater company. So what's next? HART plans to co-produce The Exonerated with Butler University on August 29th. Starring local talent like Ryan Artzberger, Diane Timmerman, David Alan Anderson and Shelton himself, the play will be directed by Butler Theatre chair William Fisher. In addition, Sister Prejean, whose story was told in the Sean Penn/Susan Sarandon film Dead Man Walking, will attend.

After that, Shelton's has big plans for the little theater company that could. "We are working with the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library [to stage a] reading of Vonnegut's only play Happy Birthday Wanda June." says Shelton. "[And] we're also shooting for a late spring public reading of a new full-length play by company member Matthew Roland, who wrote our Fringe production Another Classic of Western Literature."

While HART's Summer Shakespeare will be sorely missed, the company maintains a positive attitude about what is to come. To support the continued work of Heartland Actors Repertory Theatre, visit their website.

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