As Forest Park Theatre company gears up for its second season, Artistic Director Richard Corley said they want to do more in the community, such as offering readings, working with local school districts and eventually getting enough funding to land a permanent physical location.
The company made its debut in 2021, staging free outdoor performances of William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” at the Roos Pavilion, 7329 Harrison St. This year, they will stage free performances of “Innogen,” an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline,” at The Grove at Altenheim, 7824 Madison St., on Aug. 5 to 7 and Aug. 12-14, at 5 p.m.
A special preview show will be held at the Forest Park Public Library, 7555 Jackson Blvd., on July 23 at 3:30 p.m.
And the theater doesn’t plan on slowing down. Corley said they plan on doing readings at Forest Park American Legion Post No. 414, 500 Circle Ave., every second Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m., starting Sept. 13.
The company is currently working with Forest Park District 91 to set up theater lessons at Forest Park Middle School, with the ultimate goal of not only getting teens interested in a theater, but potentially offering theater camp and other acting opportunities further down the line.
Corley and his wife, Tanera Marshall, moved to Forest Park about five years ago. They are both longtime teachers in the theater department at University of Illinois at Chicago, with Corley teaching acting and theater history and Marshall teaching voice and speech.
Forest Park hasn’t had a theater company of its own since Circle Theatre moved to Oak Park in 2010. Corley said he wanted to start a company because he believes theater can bring the community together, and because he was conscious of the fact that many of his students struggled to find work and he wanted to do his part to help change that.
Out of the 12 current cast members, two of them – Freya Trefonides, who plays Pisanio, princess Innogen’s loyal servant, and Avery Fountain, who plays the villainous Iachimo – are Forest Parkers. Corley said managing director Shelley Wright and Jason Martin, one of their dialect consultants, are Forest Parkers as well.
“We got a lot of folks who are working close with us, not just actors, but also people in the community who have been very supportive,” he said.
Corley said he was interested in “Cymbeline” because, like many other plays Shakespeare wrote toward the end of his career, it didn’t fit neatly into any one genre, using elements of comedy, tragedy, romance and action-adventure.
The original play focused on the travails of Princess Innogen and her husband, Posthumus, who were torn apart because, as the only heir of king Cymbeline, she had to marry someone of a royal blood.
Corley said he wanted to stage a version of the story that puts Innogen front and center, because he believes that theater has the power to bring different perspectives to life and bridge divides.
“I’m interested in how stories are told often through a male lens, and I’m trying to shift a story and try to tell it through the lens of the woman,” Corley said.
He said the event would be a deliberately low-tech production – nothing but natural light and all the props contained within four trucks. There will be bleacher seating, and space where audience can put down blankets.
“I love the idea of summer theater being performed within daylight, without microphones – just the actors and the audience,” Corley said.
District 91 spokesperson Nurys Uceta-Ramos told the Review that discussions with the troupe were still in the early stages and said that there is nothing planned for the 2022-23 school year.
However, she said that it was something that the district was interested in pursuing, describing it as part of the broader effort to build relationships with community organizations throughout Forest Park.
In a statement to the Review, District 91 Superintendent Elizabeth Alvarez echoed that message.
“When we think about the whole child, the arts are really important,” she said. “We are looking forward to having that partnership for the student’s benefit and the benefit of families and teachers as well.”
For more information about the Forest Park Theatre, visit fptheatre.org