Alabama Shakespeare Festival Celebrates 35 Years in Montgomery
This week marks the Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s 35th anniversary in Montgomery. The first performance at the Carolyn Blount Theatre was December 7, 1985.
ASF was founded as a summer theatre festival in Anniston in 1972. Even after several successful seasons in Anniston, ASF found itself facing ever-rising expenses tied to the performance season, which was limited to four to six weeks.
Well-known Montgomery philanthropist and businessman Wynton ‘Red’ Blount offered to financially support the company and build a $21.5 million state-of-the-art theater complex for year-round use if ASF would move to Montgomery.
On December 7, 1985, Alabama Shakespeare Festival opened its doors in Montgomery with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In attendance among Blount’s invited guests were theatre legend Olivia de Havilland, actor and devoted theatre archivist Tony Randall and statesman Casper Weinberger.
Last month, Alabama Shakespeare Festival was awarded $5 million in grants for renovations and repairs. The money is a portion of the over $298 million Gov. Kay Ivey awarded to 20 Public School and College Authority (PSCA) projects across the state and is the largest gift to ASF since Blount’s initial investment in ASF.
“This money is for capital improvements, and since this building was built in 1985, as you can imagine, there are lots of things that need to be updated,” said ASF Executive Director Todd Schmidt. “We’re very grateful for this support. We look at ourselves as a great teaching institution as well as a great performing arts institution.”
“Since our founding in Anniston in 1972, Alabama Shakespeare Festival has produced 491 plays and musicals, developed over 100 new scripts through the Southern Writers Festival, and completed the entire Shakespearean canon. The relocation to Montgomery in 1985 propelled the theater to national status and gave it the capacity to produce at a level unseen in the South,” said ASF Artistic Director Rick Dildine.
Throughout its history, ASF has created community among the many artists who’ve worked at the company, and it has garnered support and championship from leaders and influencers in the region and the state. Many of them have shared their reflections about their time with ASF and what it’s meant to them and their communities, which ASF is sharing at ASF.net/35.
— Information from Alabama Shakespeare Festival