Nashville’s summer Shakespeare festival is moving after three decades in Centennial Park.
The festival’s leaders said this week they’ll be taking next year’s performances to a private venue — the nearby OneCity development — after failing to find a way to fix up the facilities where it’s long been staged.
“We had a great year this year and celebrated our 30th anniversary,” said Denise Hicks, the Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s executive artistic director. “But the bandshell on which we had been performing for 29 of those 30 years had just deteriorated to the point of being no longer usuable.”
Hicks lists problems such as as leaking and flooding in the dressing rooms and bathrooms that couldn’t keep up with the demands of crowds that often top 1,000 patrons.
Metro Parks has long recognized most of those complaints, and it’s even included building a new theater structure in its
master plans for Centennial Park. But the department has not been able to come up with the funding to do so.
Maintaining the character
The festival’s new home, OneCity, sits about a mile northwest of the Centennial Park bandshell. The development is offering its amphitheatre free of charge. That venue can seat about 600 to 700 people, fewer than Centennial, but Hicks says the festival plans to compensate by extending the run of next summer’s shows, “The Tempest” and “Pericles.”
Still the very phrase, “Shakespeare in the Park,” is iconic. Warm nights. Families gathered in the grass. Starry nights and the sounds of the city.
Hicks says all of that will still be a part of the experience.
“Even as we move into a new home, we are looking to maintain as many of the things about Shakespeare in the Park that people love as we possibly can.”
The festival plans to invite food trucks to set up outside performances and to continue with preshow entertainment. And admission will remain free, with a suggested donation of $10. Hicks says her organization’s mission continues to include making Shakespeare accessible.
What will be different is the name. It’ll simply be called “Summer Shakespeare,” a nod the fact that I’ll be staged on private land. The initial agreement is only for a year, and Hicks says the Shakespeare festival is open to returning to the park one day.
Metro Parks, meanwhile, calls the Shakespeare festival an “anchor” event, that it hopes to bring back once its facilities have been improved. The department expects to break ground next year on a round of renovations within Centennial Park that include new landscaping around the bandshell.
Metro Parks eventually hopes to preserve and renovate the structure, which it describes as a fine example of midcentury modern architecture. The bandshell is one of the structures highlighted in Centennial Park’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places.