Home Arts and Life St. Petersburg Shakespeare Festival commences its third year
St. Petersburg Shakespeare Festival commences its third year

St. Petersburg Shakespeare Festival commences its third year


On opening night, the hustle and bustle of the city could be felt reverberating across the Williams House Courtyard.

“Leaves will fall on you,” warned artistic director, Veronica Matthews to the full house. “You will hear dogs bark.”

With this, the St. Petersburg Shakespeare Festival launched its third spring season Thursday, Feb. 23, with a showing of “Twelfth Night.” The members performed the play at 7:30 p.m. throughout the weekend.

The stage sat wide under the crosswalk that connects Snell House to Williams House and overlooks the courtyard where spectators gathered.

Two rows of chairs were set on either side of the walkway leading to the stage allowing actors to better interact with the audience and play out scenes amongst them.

In the chaotic lyrical comedy, Shakespeare teases courtly love, gender norms and social class expectations. When the play was written, “Twelfth Night” or the twelfth eve after Christmas, was a holiday of revelry where roles were reversed and servants dressed as masters and men as women.

Aside from minor changes to the story regarding the gender of the characters, and the switch to modern tunes like with Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea,” Peggy Lee’s “Fever” and Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender,” the performance rang true to the spirit.

Founded in 2015 by Matthews, an alumnus and Dr. Lisa Starks, the director of the MLA in Liberal Studies Program, the St. Petersburg Shakespeare Festival hopes to provide students accessible opportunities to experience Shakespeare’s works.

“American Stage held an annual Shakespeare in the Park event for 30 something years and then they stopped,” said Matthews.

As a student, Matthews wanted to do something creative that was part of the community and after several Shakespeare classes with Starks, she decided to create another outdoor Shakespeare event.

Starks expressed she had always wanted theater to be part of USF St Petersburg. When Matthews proposed to start a Shakespeare Festival, the two decided to make it happen and co-founded the non-profit organization, St. Petersburg Shakespeare Festival.

“Our first priority is to students,” said Matthews. “We wanted to provide an opportunity for students to come see a performance.”

The first year they did “As you like it.” From May to October, the organization held stage readings. Last year was the first time the Festival performed two plays: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Cymbeline.”

“The amount of people who showed up made me want to tear up a bit,” said Matthews.

This year, they have outgrown their space in the courtyard and are starting to look forward to performing in larger venues.

When Matthews created the Shakespeare Festival in 2015, she and Starks also founded the Shakespeare Society, an on-campus student organization.

“We support [the society], co-host their events and try to work together on scripts,” said Matthews.

Before the festival’s performance of “Twelfth Night,” the cast held two workshops with Starks’ students to help them better understand the play, which they were currently learning.

“When I was [at USFSP] there was no Shakespeare Society, but now we work together,” said alumnus and yearly festival actor, Derrick Hutek.

Next year, the Shakespeare Society is expected to take over for Shakespeare Festival’s responsibility of directing the May to October stage reading season, as the festival moves towards full stage productions.

Though the festival is still in the process of making a name for itself, it has had a great response from the community, which has expressed missing American Stage’s Shakespeare in the Park, and now welcomes the creation of a similar event.

“In so much of the country, arts are taking a back seat,” said Hutek, who believes the way the plays are set makes Shakespeare a comfortable, approachable experience for students.

“There was nothing outdoors for Shakespeare for 10 years,” said Hutek. “We fill that gap and to be able to do it on this beautiful campus is great.”

The festival will resume with a production of “Hamlet” at 7:30 on March 2.


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