Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre to open eighth season June 5

More than 100 theatre actors, artists and technicians are about to descend on the University of Central Arkansas campus to prepare for Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre’s eighth season.

The 2014 summer festival will include “Two Gentlemen of Verona”, “Hamlet, Pippin” and “The Comedy of Errors.”

“I always want to connect the plays in our season with a common thread,” said Rebekah Scallet, AST’s producing artist director. “This year my theme is ‘coming of age.’ Starting with “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” a story of young people grappling with the pangs of first love; to Pippin’s journey toward self-discovery; to Hamlet’s struggle to rise to his father’s level by avenging his death, these plays all tell stories of growing up and confronting the challenges, responsibilities and joys of adulthood.”

The season will kick off Thursday, June 5, under the stars at The Village at Hendrix in Conway with “Two Gents,” Shakespeare’s lively, witty comedy about lasting love and true friendship. It will also be produced in the Argenta Arts District of North Little Rock behind the new Argenta branch of the Laman Library on Main Street Thursday, June 19, Saturday, June 21, and Sunday, June 22.

Jordan Coughtry of New York will star as Proteus, one of the “gentlemen” who finds himself torn between two loves. Coughtry, whom many will remember from his lively performance as Feste in AST’s 2012 production of “Twelfth Night,” has also written original music for the production.

"Jordan is a brilliant actor and musician who craftily takes some of Shakespeare’s best lines in the play and turns them to song,” said Dr. Mary Ruth Marotte, executive director of AST. “His songs are gorgeous and will add significantly to the audience’s enjoyment of this production."

Scallet, whose direction of “Twelfth Night” in 2012 and “King Lear” in 2013 won rave reviews, will direct “Two Gents.”

AST’s summer season will see the return of many favorites from seasons past starring in “Hamlet,” including Coughtry as Hamlet, Paige Reynolds of Little Rock as Gertrude, Dan Matisa of New York as Claudius and Robert Anderson of Urbana, Ill., as Polonius.

"We are thrilled that this season marks our debut production of “Hamlet,” one of Shakespeare’s most moving tragedies, with the brilliant Robert Quinlan directing in the same intimate on-stage setting of his celebrated “Richard III” production of 2012," Marotte said.

Quinlan said he was excited to tackle Hamlet for the first time.

“This is a human story with characters that we can all recognize,” he said. “I hope the audience relates on a personal level to the family dynamic — the fathers and mothers, sons and daughters of the play. With Jordan Coughtry, they will see a three-dimensional Hamlet — a Hamlet with a sense of humor, a Hamlet they can root for.”

“Hamlet” will open Friday, June 20, at the Donald W. Reynolds Performance Hall on the UCA campus.

The musical for the season is “Pippin,” winner of the Tony Award for "Best Revival of a Musical" in 2013. It brings a cast of colorful characters, lively dancing and soulful music and lyrics from Stephen Schwartz (“Wicked”) and a wickedly funny book by Roger O. Hirson into Reynolds Performance Hall beginning Wednesday, June 11. Garrett Whitehead, a recent Ouachita Baptist University graduate and former AST intern, will take on his first starring role with the company as Pippin, the son of the historical King Charlemagne. Jeremy Williams, a North Little Rock native, will return to Arkansas as director and choreographer.

“I am thrilled to have Jeremy directing for AST for the first time,” Scallet said. “We met as kids participating in Summer Theatre Academy at the Arts Center years ago. Though he has gone on to direct and choreograph in New York and across the country, he shares my passion for creating the highest caliber of artistic experience for the residents of his home state.”

Williams said there were many things to love about “Pippin”: the spectacle and fantasy, the songs and dance numbers, the delightful characters.

“But what I love most about it is the story — a story of a young man searching for his way in life,” Williams said. “This young man could be, and has been, all of us at some point. I think it’s a wonderful musical that everyone can relate to and enjoy.”

“The Comedy of Errors,” AST’s production for young audiences, will open in Reynolds on Tuesday, June 24, and will also tour the state, with productions at the North Little Rock Laman Library on Saturday, June 14; Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville on Wednesday, June 18; and the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute on Petit Jean Mountain on Saturday, June 28. As with AST’s previous youth adaptations, “The Comedy of Errors” keeps intact all of Shakespeare’s original language while shortening the play to about an hour in length, perfect for younger attention spans. This hilarious comedy of twins separated at birth and mistaken identities is full of physical comedy and fun adventure, perfect to capture the imagination of audiences of all ages.   

Tickets to the Reynolds Performance Hall productions of “Hamlet” and “Pippin” are $28 per person ($23 for seniors/active military/students); tickets for “The Comedy of Errors” are $10, general admission. UCA faculty and staff will receive one free ticket per production. All outdoor performances of “Two Gents” are pay-what-you-can (with a $15 per person suggested donation). For more information about tickets or subscriptions, call the box office at 1.866.810.0012 or visit For general information, call 501.852.0702.

Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre is the state’s only professional Shakespeare company and is proud to make its home on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas. Each summer, AST offers full productions of a range of Shakespeare’s works as well as other plays and musicals that help fulfill AST’s mission to entertain, engage and enrich the community.