Exit, pursued by a bear. It’s probably the most famous stage direction in history, and it’s brought to us by the Bard himself. It’s not heard that often, but this summer Kansan Citians will get that chance: For the first time in over a decade in the area—and for the very first time for this company—the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival will present The Winter’s Tale, the origin of said stage direction. Does a bear exit stage right in the woods? We caught up with Sidonie Garrett, the festival’s longtime executive artistic director, to find out.
Spaces: This play hasn’t been done in a long time in the area, or ever for the festival. Why don’t we see it that often?
Sidonie Garrett: It’s known by three monikers—a tragicomedy, a late romance, and some people call it a problem play. I think that’s because of the structure of the play. Shakespeare wrote it later in his life. The plays he wrote later were more complex. Anything that’s more complex, you anticipate all kinds of challenges in how you’re going to tell that story. This one by nature of being tragicomedy has three acts of tragedy, two of comedy, and then—I hate to give anything away—but there’s a miracle at the end. It’s not structured in the same linear fashion as the earlier plays. The language is more challenging in some ways and richer for it.
The main and motivating thing that happens is jealousy, and it’s an instantaneous and inexplicable jealousy that occurs and causes everything else to happen. It’s got some fanciful elements that give it a framework that’s fairy tale-like, but within that there’s a very serious story. There are also some of Shakespeare’s clowns, and there’s an old shepherd, and there’s a character literally named Clown. So that tells you what he’s going to be up to. There’s a character that’s known as a rogue.That tells you what he’s going to be up to. There are going to be sheep, there’s going to be a bear, there’s going to be a sheep-shearing festival with a lot of pastoral people. There’s just something kind of magical about it, too. In all those reasons, I think there’s a complexity to this story, and it’s produced less often because it has a lot of challenges within it, yet it tells a good, strong story.
S: What’s new for audiences this year?
SG: This year we’re going to have a set that’s made of greenhouse material, and we’re hoping to light through it. So it will have a translucence once it gets to full dark. We did that last year to great effect in some scenic pieces. It should be very interesting.
We also have live music on stage this year. We have had live musicians on stage before, but it’s been a really long time. In the third season of the festival, there was a band of actors who played music, including someone actually playing the kitchen sink. People still remember that. They loved it. Years ago when we did a production of Much Ado About Nothing, we had Beau Bledsoe—who’s a brilliant classical guitarist—play guitar, which was beautiful. Since then we really haven’t done anything live, except for last year when we had singers onstage. Our composer, Greg Mackender has composed for the festival since the very beginning. He composes all of the ancillary music that plays actors on and off stage, music that underscores various scenes. People don’t know that we have new music composed every single year for the festival. He’s wanted to find a time and a place that’d be appropriate to have musicians actually be part of the story. And I thought in the framework of a fairy-tale story—as this one is—with musical elements already written in it, that this is a great year to have live music to help us frame the way we tell the story. We actually have a musicians’ gallery built into the set. We’re going to have three live musicians on stage with us through the whole run this year. It’s pretty cool.
S: Now about that bear…
SG: Shakespeare doesn’t give you very many stage directions. He’ll just say, “exit” or, “exit separately.” [Exit, pursued by a bear] is a funny, great thing that a lot of people know. They may not even know where it comes from, but they’ve heard it. In all the plays that Shakespeare wrote, to have so few stage directions and have one of them be “Exit, pursed by a bear” is just too great.
The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival will present The Winter’s Tale June 17-July 6, Tuesday through Sunday evenings and Monday, June 30. (No show July 4.) Not up for packing a picnic basket? Not to worry: Also new this year, Corinth Square mainstay Urban Table will sell food from 6 p.m. to intermission.