This summer, the MOV welcomes back for the fifth time a theater festival that wonderfully pairs an outdoor Shakespeare play at Muskingum Park with a Broadway musical at People’s Bank Theater. Many will fondly remember last summer’s performances of Twelfth Night and Guys and Dolls. The festival standard of excellence continues with two classics: Romeo and Juliet and Bye Bye Birdie. Romeo and Juliet opens this Thursday – June 27, 2019, at 8:30 p.m. and Bye Bye Birdie opens the following night at 8:00 p.m.

All performances:

Romeo and Juliet: June 27, 29, 30 at 8:30 p.m., as well as July 3 and July 7 at 8:30 p.m. Free for all to attend at East Muskingum Park.

Bye Bye Birdie: June 28 at 8:00 p.m., June 29 at 2:00 p.m. and July 5 and 6 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are available for these performances at the Peoples Bank Theatre.

The Pioneer Summer Theater Festival thrives under the leadership of Andy Felt, whose substantial theater credentials include studying Shakespearean acting in London and his current role as Associate Professor and Artistic Director of the Marietta College Theatre. As the primary administrator, he is switching his energy from logistics and directing to the success and future of the festival. He further (as his peers say) serves as an advisor to the other show directors, attending some rehearsals and providing a different perspective which helps build a team and a support system.

The two directors, Emily Heugatter and John Galas, are appreciative of Andy’s guidance as he has a “good, solid, artistic eye” as opposed to the often more business-minded show managers. In some festival updates, shows now require all directors to meet more specific qualifications; directors have academic resumes and provide a truly professionally run show. All directors and upper-level production staff – from the stage manager to the choreographer and set designer – are required to be professionals with academic resumes and thus, viewed as Marietta College employees.

In costume at the Peoples Bank Theatre

One such Marietta College adjunct is Sara Keller, a second-year graduate student at Ohio University. Sara has held several jobs as a costume designer and brings her talents to the Marietta production; talents that were observed by this writer and a Clutch photographer during a Romeo and Juliet costume parade.

Andy discussed working through the challenges of managing increased numbers of cast/crew, a name change, and dividing the festival between two off-campus locations. Overall, he is excited about the festival’s continued success and growth both in numbers and recognition. Speaking of festival expansion, the cast and crew have expanded to around 50 people, from four professionals to fifteen, and from fourteen pre-professionals (current theater college students) to twenty-one. These actors and crew members hail from all over the country and can boast of many accomplishments – the actress who plays the Madame role is about to do a national tour of American in Paris. Many of the actors have parts in both shows, providing a unique opportunity to see people’s range in different roles. In addition to a great cast and crew, having professional directors is a tremendous asset to the festival. The two shows’ directors have a wealth of experiences from national and international tours to national academic honors to published authors. And, both directors come to town with the support of talented and experienced spouses that can offer their expertise in various roles.

Romeo and Juliet’s director, Emily Heugatter, an Associate Professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and author of Playground Shakespeare: bringing the Bard to Life, no doubt brings a smart interpretation of the play to Marietta. Telling a story that’s oft-told, Emily brings her expertise and draws upon the history of the MOV to set this Romeo and Juliet in an Ohio River town of Verona in 1861, and the Montagues on the union side rival the confederate Capulets. Love grows as war tensions remain. Building upon the familial and generational history (a great draw for a town energized by the release of David McCullough’s The Pioneers) her play highlights the natural landscape and historical political divides of Ohio and across the river to Virginia.

The idea of having friends and family across the river takes on new meaning during the civil war where lines and borders have heightened political significance. Emily overlays a contemporary feeling to encourage audience members to ask themselves “Is this us? Can we see ourselves in this?” She highlights the humor and how the play is more complex than just a tragedy though once Tybalt and Mercutio die, the play quickly turns to tragedy. More than tragedy, this play shows that teens caused their families to mend their divisions. The Ohio Valley Shakespeare Conference, also here in Marietta, is sure to be impressed by this show from the costumes to the performers and certainly the direction. This year’s play and musical were selected to balance each other and be family friendly. And, while at first glance may not have much in common,  both have strong rebellious teens and similar thematic elements around the power of youth.

Bye Bye Birdie is directed by John Galas, a graduate student at the University of Georgia. John performed in several national and international tours for Broadway before beginning his masters. And, fittingly, one of John’s first shows as an actor was Bye Bye Birdie. This 1960s musical includes Elvis-inspired music and two sides of a story of America. There had never been a show about youth culture before –youth and amateurs produced, wrote and acted in the show. And its debut on April 14, 1960 was quite the surprise. John repeated a quote about the show: “That’s when Broadway discovered teenagers and the world trembled.” As teenagers balance the yearning for adulthood with the innocence of youth, they have to worry about the threat of being drafted. Both shows reveal the political significance of teenage rebellion; in addition, the characters are thinking about struggles beyond their years from warring (literally) parents to the possibility of the draft and premature death.

The performances of these two classics will provide a unique experience for lovers of theater and musicals alike. Enjoy the relaxed outdoor atmosphere under the lights of the park, or the opulent glamor of the Theatre—or treat yourself to both!