King Lear takes mainstage at 25th Anniversary Shakespeare Festival

Courtesy / Karen Lipman

Courtesy / Karen Lipman

Mary Racette

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Grand Valley State University Shakespeare Festival, GVSU students and guest actors will perform “King Lear” at the Louis Armstrong Theatre in the Haas Center for Performing Arts. The series of events, titled “A Silver Coronation: The Grand Valley Shakespeare Effect”, will take place between Sept. 28 and Nov. 3.

Performances of “King Lear” will be at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 28 and 29, as well as Oct. 4, 5 and 6. Matinees at 2 p.m. will be held on Sept. 30 and Oct. 7. 

“King Lear” was selected as the main-stage event for the 25th anniversary of the Shakespeare Festival after an audience survey was conducted three years ago. According to Festival Director Karen Lipman, “King Lear” portrays themes that are notably relevant to modern society and this makes it the most commonly produced Shakespearean tragedy.  

“Who am I? What is love? Who really loves me? (are examples of the) big human issues which “King Lear” deals with that are still the big issues that we grapple with today,” Lipman said.

Professional actor Brian Webb-Russell will be joining the GVSU theater students in the production. Russell has been acting professionally since 1980 and is praised by Lipman for his contributions to the quality of the show and for providing a model of how a professional actor works.

“We bring him back because of his generosity of spirit in working with the students. He has the ability to mentor, teach and model without being condescending,” Lipman said. 

Since being brought on board as a guest actor in 2000, “King Lear” will be Webb-Russell’s sixth role in the Shakespeare Festival. When reflecting on past performances and his incentive to keep coming back to GVSU, Webb-Russell said his motivation is always the community. 

“I always have sensed this as a family. Half the fun is watching them grow past here,” Webb-Russell said in regards to his fellow actors.

Over the last 25 years, the Shakespeare Festival has included thousands of participating students and has served almost 100,000 audience members, according to Managing Director and Producer Jim Bell.  

“We provide the opportunity for our campus community and the West Michigan community to come and see Shakespeare every year. There’s something about experiencing Shakespeare with a live production and among a live audience that is different than any other experience,” Bell said.  

The performance is available to younger students by providing matinee performances of “King Lear” for secondary schools. The university’s traveling group, Bard to Go, will be touring schools during the Shakespeare Festival in addition to its public show at Loosemore Auditorium, located at the GVSU Pew Campus in Grand Rapids. 

Along with the main-stage performance of “King Lear,” The Shakespeare Festival includes various events which celebrate Shakespeare and his work.  The newest edition to the celebration includes three staged reading performances of a brand new play: “Defy the Stars”, written by alumnus Scott Watson. “Defy the Stars” performances will be free and will be held at the Linn Maxwell Keller Black Box Theatre.