Vanderbilt strengthens artistic collaboration with Nashville Shakespeare Festival

Vanderbilt faculty expertise and collaborations will enhance two Nashville Shakespeare Festival/Kennie Playhouse Theatre productions—Cymbeline and Gem of the Ocean—which open Aug. 18 and 25, respectively, at oneC1TY. In mid-September, both shows will move to Academy Park in Franklin, Tennessee, for one weekend.

Leah Lowe, associate professor of theatre, is directing William Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, the story of a king in ancient Britain who arranges for his daughter to marry his arrogant stepson. She defies her father’s plan and weds a poor but worthy ward of her family. “Cymbeline is an epic adventure that has it all—a gutsy princess, evil stepmother, handsome hero, dastardly villain, two kidnapped sons and a war between Britain and Rome,” said Lowe, who also is the new director of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy. She has been working with the Cymbeline cast and festival staff during their rehearsals in Neely Auditorium.

Chuck Smith, a former colleague and longtime friend of Lowe, is directing Gem of the Ocean by August Wilson. The resident director at the Goodman Theater in Chicago, Smith will return to Nashville in spring 2023 to work with Lowe and other theatre faculty on a new Vanderbilt–Fisk arts partnership. He will direct the play Sweat, with actors and crew members from both universities coming together for the production.

studio headshot of Phillip Franck in white collared shirt with brown jacket
Phillip Franck (Vanderbilt University)

Also sharing his expertise with the festival’s Summer Shakespeare productions is Phillip Franck, associate professor of theatre and department chair. Franck is the lighting designer for Cymbeline and Gem of the Ocean. “They are very different productions, with most of Gem of the Ocean set in a kitchen, while the scenes in Cymbeline move from a British palace and garden to Rome, a cave in Wales and more,” Franck said. “With both plays, the lighting must communicate visibility—selecting what parts of the stage are visible at different points in the story, and supporting the emotion that is happening onstage with the actors.”

Most of Franck’s responsibilities will be during “tech week,” when all aspects of each production come together, including the actors, costumes, lighting, scenery and sounds. “We will record all of the different lighting arrangements so they will be ready to go with the press of a button each show,” Franck said. “Of course, we will have to move everything and ‘retech’ the shows for the performances in Franklin.”

Vanderbilt University is a longtime supporter of the Nashville Shakespeare Festival as part of its overall community outreach, with the Division of Government and Community Relations facilitating the sponsorship. Midori Lockett, chief community impact officer, serves on the festival’s board.

“We are grateful to Vanderbilt for the many ways they support our festival’s mission, which is to educate and entertain the Midsouth community through professional theatrical experiences,” said Denice Hicks, executive artistic director for the Nashville Shakespeare Festival.

The festival is free and open to the public, with a suggested $10 donation per person at each performance. Visit the Nashville Shakespeare Festival website for show dates, times and additional information.