Meet The Plays: A Panel Discussion

The Marvelous Wonderettes

Back before the first season of Festival 56, I sat down and sketched out a document that served as a blueprint for how the festival would be structured and what the various elements would be. It included an early draft of my “rep hybrid” production schedule that allows the festival to produce in three venues simultaneously while maintaining the production qualities that define the festival. It included free Shakespeare and late night cabarets and many more of the pillars that are a valuable part of the festival now, nine years later. It also included a  series of free workshops and low-cost programs that would engage our patrons on a more educational level. Two of these programs, Basic Bill: Shakespeare Made Easy and Beginning Stages: New Play Development Series are still a part of the festival each year, although they have morphed a bit into something new.

William Shakespeare’s The Tempest

In early seasons, and even as recently as 2010, we’ve occasionally held short seminars on everything from ballroom dancing to a panel discussion on the arts. This last seminar, which I called “The State of the Art” was my favorite, although we abandoned it after season three. It involved a group of artists and individuals from different backgrounds discussing and debating varous topics relating to the arts in a loosely structured environment. What I loved about it was how it illustrated so clearly just how many different philosophies and approaches to artistry and, more specifically, theatre there are.


Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps

The reasons we had to let go of this wonderful, free little program were rooted in the astounding success and rapid growth of the festival; we just didn’t have enough time to do everything well and we were forced to keep ourselves focused on our primary mission: presenting great plays. But it left me more than a little sad that we lost The State of the Art, and I’ve always held on to the hope that we would eventually find a time and place to revive it.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel

So imagine how excited I was when the Princeton Public Library and the Illinois Theatre Conservatory came up with the idea of presenting a series of free panel discussions at the library each Wednesday evening in June at 6:30pm to discuss the plots, themes and major topics of our summer series of plays! Finally, a chance to recapture what was lost when we stopped presenting The State of the Art. A chance for the artists to come together and talk about the issues, themes and motivations that compelled them to create the theatre that we will experience.

Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me a Tenor

It’s worth noting that the position the Princeton Public Library now enjoys in our community has fundamentally shifted over the past 3 or so years. Due in large part to the ambitious programming and forward-thinking of Grant Lynch, the library’s executive director, the libarary’s coffee shop-trendy new digs have become a vibrant cultural and social focal point of the town. And now Festival 56 will work with both the library and the ITC to present a stimulating and informative presentation that will give you some insight to our slate of plays.

Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None
a stage adaptation of Ten Little Indians

There will be four evenings, during which we will examine one or two plays with a qualified panel presenting their views. Stay tuned and keep an eye out in the paper for a list of the guest panelists. I would list them here, but since the list is not yet complete, I don’t to spoil the surprise. Rest assured, it’s filled with fascinating people who have lots to say about the questions and topics that will be posed.

Wednesday, June 6 at 6:30: The Marvelous Wonderettes and Lend Me a Tenor: Classic and Early Rock/Pop Music of the 1950’s and ’60s and Classic American Farce Comedy.

Wednesday, June 13 at 6:30pm: William Shakespeare’s The Tempest: Magic, Science and Literature are on the menu as we delve into the festival’s steampunk-themed island fantasy.

Wednesday, June 20 at 6:30pm: Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps and Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None: Mystery Writing and Stage Adaptations of films and novels.

Wednesday, June 27 at 6:30pm: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel and Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret: Two iconic songwriting duos take on the complexities of Redemption and Temptation.

Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret

This panel discussion series is a great way to get inside of the plays and make you feel a little superior to the person sitting next to you at the performance when you lean over and say “Did you know…?” I hope you will join us!

An Update: We are a mere two weeks away from the Season Preview Cabaret, where you will get a sneak peek at the music of the season and some of the talent. That weekend also marks the arrival of the staff and crew who will set to work on the sets and costumes for the first round of shows. Look for the Shakespeare in the Park set to pop up within the month!



About festival56drama

Dexter Brigham is the Artistic Director of Festival 56, Illinois' largest summer theatre festival, located in Princeton, IL. Founded in 2004 by arts supporters in the community working with a group of theatre artists from New York City, Festival 56 now offers 10 mainstage productions each season in three venues. Our programming ranges from free outdoor Shakespeare in the park and productions like Ibsen's A Doll's House, Tennessee William's The Glass Menagerie or Moises Kauffman's The Laramie Project to world premier productions of new musicals like Absolutely Anything (a musical adaptation of The Rivals) and familiar classics from Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein and many others. Visit for information about the current season!
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