Since 2014 St Petersburg Shakespeare Festival has brought the works of William Shakespeare to audiences throughout the St. Petersburg community. Now, in 2022, the company is re-emerging from its pandemic-forced hiatus with new leadership and new areas of focus.
According to its website “St Petersburg Shakespeare Festival is a theater company dedicated to generating cultural engagement in the St. Petersburg community through the works of William Shakespeare. We pursue community enrichment through innovative educational opportunities, local arts partnerships, and quality live performances.”
The past two years have seen a period of transition for St Pete Shakes. In 2020 the founder, Veronica Leone Matthews, took on a new employment opportunity and moved to North Carolina. During the 2021 season Matthews (from afar), Chad Jacobs, and GJ Thompson planned and prepared for St Pete Shakes’ future. In 2022 Matthews and Jacobs stepped away from the Shakespeare Festival and its leadership was officially transferred to Thompson who now serves as Producing Artistic Director and CEO. Joining him are Cinda Goeken, VP and Member at Large, Bello Pizzimenti, Secretary and Member at Large, and Louie Rodriguez, Finance Committee Chair and Member at Large. It is a team with strong backgrounds in theater, community engagement, and a love of Shakespeare.
The Company is moving forward with renewed energy and focus on several goals.
- SPSF will focus on an emphasis on Shakespeare’s language in performance. “‘Speak the pray you, as I pronounced it to you’ is not only good advice to the players in Hamlet, but important to remember for contemporary performers,” Thompson says. “actors cannot treat the text as they would a contemporary playwright’s text. It is one of our primary goals to make better speakers of Shakespeare so that audiences can better hear the language and appreciate it.”
- Creating Festival Atmospheres for our Productions In Spring 2022 St Pete Shakes is producing the “Inaugural William Shakespeare’s Birthday Bash!” This annual event will be a day-long Street Festival of the arts celebrating the life and works of William Shakespeare. In the fall a similar annual festival is planned with a full production (this year Twelfth Night) as the central piece along with a haunted trail experience called “Something Spooky This Way Comes” – a collection of Shakespeare’s ghosts, witches, and murders.
- The Spooky” haunted trail” speaks to our desire to create a repertoire of Shakespeare performance products that include full productions that are mounted for a short run of performances with concept-driven design elements and with scripts that are minimally edited; “Shakespeare Short Presentations” which are abridged versions of Shakespeare’s plays running 35-40 minutes in length; and “Bite-Sized Shakespeare”, collections of speeches, scenes and sonnets tied together with a theme and guided with a narrator. The Shorts and Bite-Sized productions are intended to be revisited numerous times as traveling shows, fringe festival entries and entertainment at our festival events.
- Creating a strong education program that includes classes for actors and educational programs for students. In the spring of 2022 SPSF offered its first Shakespeare Acting class for adults.This class focuses on Shakespeare’s language in performance including studies of scansion, articulation, breathing and vocabulary. The class is offered as part the “Big Break Acting Company” at Studio Grand Central in St. Pete. In addition, St Pete Shakes’ future plans include creating educational programs for middle and high school students focused on Shakespeare in performance.
- Finally, a future goal for the company is the creation of a mobile Shakespeare unit. Inspired by the mobile unit of NYC’s Public Theater, this mobile performance venue will travel to various locations, such as Pinellas County parks, set up, and perform Shakespeare’s works. This effort is in keeping with an original goal of the company, to bring Shakespeare to the audiences, and when possible, to charge no admission for the show. Thompson says “St. Pete Shakes has always been a nomadic theater company. We have no theater space for audiences to come to, rather we are dedicated to creating partnerships with venues so that we can bring our performances to the audiences. We have performed at USF, Williams Park, Studio @620, Studio Grand Central, just to name a few. We know there are additional settings, in the area, both indoors and outside, that would well serve Shakespeare performances and a festive atmosphere.”
St Petersburg Shakespeare Festival recognizes that St Petersburg is “home to a magnificent and vibrant arts community, with renowned museums, performance venues, and arts companies” Thompson says. “We think St Petersburg Shakespeare Festival productions can and should be a destination theater experience, attracting not only local audiences, but visitors to St Petersburg and the Greater Tampa Bay Area looking for arts and entrainment.”
For more information about St Petersburg Shakespeare Festival please visit our website