29 Jun Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre sees leadership changes, virtual events
Longtime Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre (AST) Executive Director Mary Ruth Marotte and Producing Artistic Director Rebekah Scallet are both stepping down from their positions at the 14-year-old summer theater festival traditionally held on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas.
Marotte is returning fulltime to her role as a professor in the UCA Department of English and Scallet is moving to another state.
Marotte has been involved with AST since its inception in 2007 and served as president of the AST board before becoming executive director in 2010. Scallet came to AST in 2011 and has produced and directed plays over the last eight seasons.
Under Scallet and Marotte’s leadership, AST saw tremendous growth. They expanded the length of the festival by a week; instituted the popular “Pay What You Can” outdoor Shakespeare productions; and created the Family Shakespeare program, which reaches families and students through tours across the state and in some parts of Texas. They also helped bring Shakespeare’s First Folio to the UCA campus in 2016 as part of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s “Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare” exhibit.
“What I’ve witnessed with this festival these past 13 years has not only transformed but exploded my understanding of what is possible when passionate people come together with a purpose,” said Marotte. “This festival truly is both a source of local pride and one that is recognized nationally for its artistic excellence. I’m so grateful to Rebekah, our board and committee members, our artistic collective, the numerous volunteers, our brilliant company members and our sponsors, who have helped make AST what it is today.”
The 2020 season would have been Scallet and Marotte’s last, but it was canceled due to COVID-19. Instead of the traditional performance-based season, however, AST is coordinating a series of online and remote experiences featuring social, educational and performance-based projects. The series is created by members of the AST Artistic Collective, a group of directors, actors and designers who have had significant artistic relationships with AST over the last nine years. It will take place on Facebook and Instagram (@arkshakes), as well as on the AST website and via mail to audience members’ homes through Sunday, July 12, during the same weeks the in-person performances would have been held. This unique artistic collaboration will offer a way for artists and audiences to connect while being together in person is impossible.
“Leaving AST and the amazing community of Central Arkansas is bittersweet for me. The personal and professional support I’ve received over the years has been incredible, and I’m very proud of the work that we have created here,” said Scallet. “It didn’t feel right to let the summer go by without any Shakespeare, and so the Collective came up with the idea to share the best of AST via as many avenues as possible in a safe, socially-distanced way.”
Members of the AST Artistic Collective are the creative forces behind these activities. The slate of events is still under construction, but it will include a workshop sharing of a new play combining “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” and “Romeo and Juliet,” adapted by Artistic Collective members Robert Quinaln and Jordan Coughtry, with new original music by Coughtry. There’s also a Zoom adaptation of “The Taming of the Shrew” that shows the battle between Kate and Petruchio from all sides, led by collective member Nisi Sturgis. Scallet will also take an in-depth look back at “Twelfth Night.”
Additionally, AST will offer educational workshops for youth and adults, panel discussions and social events such as dance parties and a book club.
AST is a part of the UCA Department of Film, Theatre and Creative Writing. Shauna Meador is chair of the department and an associate professor of theatre.
“We will make the most of this pause to spend the next year planning and preparing AST at UCA for a bright and engaged future,” said Meador. “We are especially excited about AST having a home in the new Windgate Center for Fine and Performing Arts, which will begin construction in the fall of 2020!”