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Illinois Shakespeare Festival opens 39th season in July

Illinois Shakespeare Festival

Deborah Staples will headline the 2016 season’s cast with her return to play the title role in "Hamlet."

Tickets are now on sale for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival’s (ISF) 2016 season, which features three well-known hits: Twelfth Night, Hamlet, and Peter and the Starcatcher.

The festival runs from July 8 through August 13 at Ewing Cultural Center in Bloomington, with half-price preview performances on July 5, 6 and 7. Tickets range in price from $10 to $47 and group discounts are available. New this season is an affordable Silver Section, with family-friendly prices.

For more information or to purchase tickets, call the box office at 866-IL-SHAKE or visit the newly-revamped website IllinoisShakes.com.

The season opens on Friday, July 8 with Shakespeare’s bittersweet comedy, Twelfth Night, directed by Rick Barbour, a founding member of the Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) in Winona, Minnesota. The production will be set in the early 20th century, include live music from that time period, and feature GRSF veteran and Milwaukee favorite Jonathan Gillard Daly in the role of Malvolio.

Opening the following day is the timeless masterpiece, Hamlet, directed by Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Leda Hoffmann. This production will be what Hoffmann calls “vaguely Elizabethan” with a twist: the title role will be played by Deborah Staples, who captivated ISF audiences in 2014 with her portrayals of Cleopatra and Queen Elizabeth. This is the fifth production of Hamlet in ISF’s 39 years, but its first with a woman in the title role. Staples, a veteran of American Players’ Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin, has a considerable following in Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago.

Peter and the Starcatcher, Rick Elise’s adaptation of the best-selling children’s novel, opens on Sunday, July 10. A hilarious origin story of Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and a young starcatcher named Molly, this play was a smash hit on Broadway, garnering 5 Tony awards. Chicago director Andy Park, whose 2013 Failure: A Love Story was an audience favorite, will direct this imaginative production. The cast includes newcomer Christopher Peltier as the young Peter and several faces familiar to ISF audiences, such as Chris Amos as Black Stache, Eva Balistrieri as Molly Aster, and artistic director Kevin Rich in the role of Smee.

Patrons commonly picnic on the grounds prior to performances, enjoying family-friendly, free green shows, and live music. Food, beer and wine are available for purchase. This season, patrons can once again see the phenomenal Improvised Shakespeare Company perform an entirely-improvised, hour-long Shakespearean production at 5:30 p.m. on Sundays, as well as a free Theatre for Young Audiences production, Rodeo, written by Philip Dawkins and directed by Kevin Rich, on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.

The Illinois Shakespeare Festival began in 1978. The nationally-recognized Shakespeare festival performs every night but Monday during the summer in the outdoor theatre at Ewing Cultural Center in Bloomington.

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