Add Shakespeare to the list of things Kansas Citians just can’t seem to get enough of.
Final numbers are in, and with more than 28,000 recorded visitors for the 18-date run of “Hamlet,” starring Nathan Darrow — the Shawnee Mission North graduate known for “House of Cards,” “Gotham” and “Wizard of Lies” — the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival is calling 2017 its most successful event to date.
“Last year we had a really popular show (“Twelfth Night”) and we had just over 21,000 attendees,” says Sidonie Garrett, the festival’s executive artistic director. “This is a very successful season for us, all the way around.”
Over the years, average attendance has been 22,000 to 25,000 when the festival has presented one play, she said. (Years ago, two plays in rotation was the norm.) The number dipped below average last year because of performances canceled due to inclement weather.
There was no such bad luck this year; in fact quite the opposite. This year, a few performances were canceled at intermission because of rain — after attendance had been tabulated.
In addition to no canceled shows from June 13 to July 2 and a homegrown celebrity, the festival enjoyed an extra jolt of buzz when actor Kevin Spacey announced on Twitter that he’d secretly attended a Saturday performance. Spacey had starred with Darrow in a stage production of “Richard III” and recruited him for “House of Cards.”
“I was the only one who knew,” Garrett says of the Academy Award winner’s visit to the June 17 performance. Garrett says she smuggled Spacey into the production tent in the back of Southmoreland Park for incognito viewing: “He’s really good at being inconspicuous. He’s perfected that skill.”
Darrow, on the other hand, couldn’t be missed: “Nathan felt very welcomed by the public,” Garrett says. “Certainly the acting community and people involved in our show were happy to have him back. He felt good to be home.”
Attendance for the Shakespeare festival is tabulated by a team of festival volunteers who use hand-held tally counters to record patrons as they enter the grounds up to 15 minutes after the show begins.
“The response to this show,” Garrett says, “I think we definitely changed some hearts and minds on how they view and appreciate Shakespeare.”
In a subscriber newsletter, festival organizers said they would announce their 2018 production in September. Learn more about the festival at kcshakes.org.