It’s “crunch time” for West Hartford’s Capital Classics, the professional non-equity theater company that will present its annual Greater Hartford Shakespeare Festival at the University of Saint Joseph this month. The organization’s production, marketing, and sponsorship teams are busy preparing William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. While the scene at Capital Classics may seem hectic, however, after nearly 30 years of summer Shakespeare the organization certainly knows how to put on a good show.
In 1991, Geoff and Laura Sheehan moved to Connecticut in the hopes of starting a family and contributing to the art community, but they soon noticed a hole in the local theater scene – outdoor summer theater. Originally centered in Bushnell Park, Capital Classics focuses on producing “affordable, accessible, and engaging” classical entertainment, serving the Greater Hartford Community with cultural and educational programming, and providing job opportunities and training to the state’s professional theater artists, according to Mr. Sheehan, who is also the director of The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Since its founding, the organization has presented the Shakespeare Festival annually, focusing on one of the illustrious playwright’s works each year. Recently, they have produced Pericles (2018), Love’s Labour’s Lost (2017), Othello (2016), and Romeo and Juliet (2015).
This year, The Merry Wives of Windsor will play July 11-28 and will feature various Greater Hartford arts organizations as part of their pre-show entertainment. Some of these include local student groups in the Youth in Community Art series (Thursday), singing by the Elizabethan Consort (Friday), performances by Ballet Hartford (Saturday), and lectures by local professors and authors (Sunday).
One of Capital Classics’ most important goals is diversity. According to the organization’s website, multicultural casting is of primary importance, as it “brings greater truth and dimension to a production and accurately reflects the reality of the community.” Mr. Sheehan reiterates the importance of diversity, saying that a rewarding result of the festival has been seeing the audience expand to include people of all races, ages, and genders. “We believe the arts are important as a way to connect our inner, individual humanity to the larger collection of humanity and our common experiences living together on this planet,” he said. “Art, especially theater, brings us together in a group for the very purpose of a shared lived experience.”
As the calendar gets closer to the start of the event, everyone at Capital Classics is focused on preparing the best possible show for the audience, which is expected to surpass 2000 attendees. While volunteers have been working out logistics to ensure a smooth event, the artistic team is busy building sets, sewing costumes, composing original music, and choreographing imaginative dances. The excitement for the festival is strong, according to Mr. Sheehan. “We love what we do,” he said. “It’s a joy to see audiences of all ages enjoying Shakespeare every summer.”
Besides the festival, Capital Classics works on a few additional projects throughout the year. In the fall, they will present their annual Halloween radio-theater performances of a work of classic literature at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, and over the course of the year they host monthly Shakespeare book club talks at the Noah Webster Public Library in West Hartford.
While some may consider the study or presentation of Shakespeare to be tired or overdone, Mr. Sheehan disagrees. “We find that performing Shakespeare allows us to connect to humanity throughout time, to see our common experiences well before we lived,” he said, “giving us perspective on our own time, and quite likely that of the future as well.”
Supporting organizations like Capital Classics is part of our mission to improve lives and transform communities through the arts. Your support for the Greater Hartford Arts council helps us make it possible.