Sidonie (“Sydney”) Garrett of Kansas City is the executive artistic director of Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, KCShakes.org. Garrett is in her 12th season directing the free outdoor play in Southmoreland Park. “The Winter’s Tale” runs June 17 through July 6. Performances are Tuesday through Sunday evenings at 8 p.m. and June 30; no show July 4. This conversation took place at the festival’s offices in midtown.
“The Winter’s Tale” is not one of the frequently performed Shakespeare plays. What do you love about it?
I didn’t know it that well. I had seen it performed but didn’t love it. Now I do. Any story that’s worth telling, once you delve into it, you find things to love. I love the unpredictable nature of the story.
What is unpredictable about it?
It’s three acts of tragedy, two acts of comedy and there’s a bear and some sheep. It’s a strange play.
Universal emotions are a signature of Shakespeare’s plays. Which ones does he tackle in “The Winter’s Tale”?
The play sheds light on the nature of jealousy and how it just happens. Where does that impulse come from? Jealousy knows no reality, and it’s explored brilliantly in this play.
Audiences love the festival’s outdoor sets. What is the set like this year?
We’re doing some things we’ve never done in the park that will be exciting.
Last year we played with some new building materials; there was a transparent greenhouse material. It was painted and treated, but you could light through it. I liked the translucence so much that this year, because of the fairy tale aspect of the play, we are going to make the whole set out of that material.
Because we start at 8, it is still daylight for the first half of the show and by the second half, we are in full darkness. That really works to our advantage with this play, which is like two separate plays. We start in the severe world of Sicilia, which will be kind of a black, white and gray world, and then we go to the wild shores of Bohemia, which are pastoral and wildly colorful and the set will be lit from behind.
I heard a rumor about live music on stage.
Yes, for the first year in too many years to count, we’ll have live musicians playing an electric cello and electric violin on stage. The music is composed by Greg Mackender, who has been our composer for 22 years. There will be a dance in Sicilia and a dance in Bohemia.
And a bear.
Yes. One of the most famous stage directions in the theater world — probably the most famous — is “Exit, pursued by a bear.” It’s from Act III, Scene 3 of “The Winter’s Tale.”
One criticism of Shakespeare’s plays is that they often portray women as conniving or weak. Do you try to mitigate that in your direction?
I have never found that to be true. There are not enough women characters in his plays, that is true. But many of the female roles are strong. In this play, for example, there are three strong women characters: Hermione, the wrongly accused Queen of Sicilia; Paulina, a lady of her court who is the truth-teller throughout the play; and Perdida, the cast-off child who grows up thinking she is a shepherd’s daughter — she also has a lot of sand.
Grit. In my family, we always said, “She’s got sand” to describe a strong-willed person.
It wouldn’t be Shakespeare in the Park in Kansas City without crazy weather. Tell us a weather horror story.
For two years, because of the drought, we didn’t have a single rainout — that was unprecedented. Then last year, we had a real gully washer. I was completely drenched. Everyone was. We had a few nice patrons who had shown up who we were harboring in a tent. Even with the flaps down the water was rushing in because the creek in the park overflowed its banks. The question is always: When do you call the show? We are all looking at our smartphones to see if the rain might stop.
Would you like it if someone gave you a bunch of money to build a covered stage?
No! Because you can’t make a better roof than the night sky framed by those tall stone walls and the gnarled old trees.
I remember one night we were doing “Julius Caesar” with a very tall set with huge steps, and one of the actors playing Cassius, David Fritts, steps out of the top door wearing his toga and the wind is whipping his cape and there’s a full moon overhead and he cries out, “It’s incredible!” Because it is sometimes. To be sitting on blankets under the same moonlight the actors are bathed in, with these soaring words coming at you — there’s nothing like it.