UPDATE: Since we first posted this story on June 29 and reached out to TCU for a response, we have received an official statement from the school administration, sent in the late afternoon on Monday by the office of Strategic Communications Management.
"Trinity Shakespeare Festival was created in 2009 and originally funded through a generous grant from the Vision in Action initiative at TCU. The university has been proud to provide performance and rehearsal spaces, scenic and costume studios and major underwriting for the festival these last 10 years. As TCU moves to a new stage of growth, we look forward to exploring new opportunities for future professional theatre festivals hosted on our campus."
Below is the original story, and we've added more appreciations of the festival.
Fort Worth — For 10 years, Fort Worth's Trinity Shakespeare Festival has been nothing short of a marvel, not only in the quality of the work. It is an Actor's Equity Association Small Professional Theatre that offers well-paid (by local theater standards) jobs to performers, directors, designers, stage crew and technicians for six weeks each summer. It also gives TCU theater students the opporunity to work with professionals in two shots, performed in rotating repertory using the same actors.
This year, for the first time, TSF is repeating two Bard plays that it has already produced: Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night, the shows it staged in its first year, 2009.
The festival is made possible by Texas Christian University, via funding and the use of two theaters on the campus. It is led by founding artistic director T.J. Walsh and managing director Harry Parker, both faculty at TCU (the theater department is run by Parker).
We asked people who have been involved with the festival over the years to write about why TSF is so important to the DFW theatrical ecosystem, to theater training, and to lovers of Shakespeare and great theater.
Below are some of the responses from actors, directors, designers, interns and admirers. If you would like to send your thoughts and reflections, send them to Mark Lowry at email@example.com.
J. Brent Alford
TSF Artistic Associate
Director of Theatre, Tarrant County College NW
38 Year Member, Actors’ Equity Association
Well… I’ll start by saying that is impossible to express in a few words what the Trinity Shakespeare Festival has meant to me as a member of the DFW theatre community and as an educator. It would be easy enough to go on and on about the opportunities it has provided to me as an actor, about the extraordinary critical acclaim the festival has garnered over the years, about the wildly enthusiastic response from our audiences, or about the exceptional quality of the productions and the remarkable artisans that have contributed to the immeasurable success of the festival over these 10 glorious seasons.
But for me personally, the festival’s greatest and most significant contribution to our community has been in providing TCU theatre students the opportunity to work alongside some of the finest professional actors, directors, designers and technicians in the country. I am a product of The University of Houston, which produces the Houston Shakespeare Festival, now in its 43rd season. Those summers that I spent with HSF as a young drama student working alongside professionals in all areas of production were transformative for me. That sort of experiential learning simply cannot be captured in a classroom; it is learning by living it, it is important, it is life changing, and it is vital to the development of young theatre artists.
The possible defunding of the Trinity Shakespeare Festival by the TCU administration is profoundly sad to me. The loss to our community of artists, students and theatregoers is truly tragic. I can only hope that the powers that be at one of the finest educational institutions in the country fully understand the impact that this decision has had on our community.
Trinity Shakes gave me a home to hone my craft in classical works. Shakespeare, Greek theatre and musicals were all I knew from middle school to college. It was all my small school in Kansas City could afford, royalties-wise. It was easy to produce in our minimal stage. Each play we’d do, our literature class would study the historical context, the history of when and why Shakespeare was thought to write the play, and the meaning behind each double entendre and historical trend or turn of phrase. I fell in love.
I wanted to be a part of somewhere his plays could be produced with the delicate care and bold fervor his plays deserved. Trinity Shakes gave that to me. Trinity Shakes gives that to this area. It one of the reasons I stay in DFW. The veteran talents that I learned from as a 19-year-old TCU freshman have changed my life forever. To watch, learn, absorb, and play with such intelligent actors who cared about the same thing I did will forever leave a mark on me. I find myself most beautifully imprinted by the actors I’ve had the honor of playing with onstage. We’ve always been in this festival for the right reasons: to tell beautiful, heartbreaking, messy stories through the gorgeous poetry of Shakespeare. Our audiences know it. They understand it. They feel the electricity in the room. To deprive them of that would be true tragedy.
Actor, Director, Playwright, Educator
Hackler is directing this year's Twelfth Night, and is also playing the role of Olivia, in a last-minute turn after the original actress, Jessica Turner, was injured. This development has not gone without controversy in the DFW theater community, because it could have been work for another actress.
Trinity Shakespeare Festival has been such a big part of my life since coming to Dallas. In six short weeks every summer, Trinity creates beautifully realized, fully thought out versions of Shakespeare’s plays that are approachable, accomplished, and air-conditioned! As an actor, Trinity has given me the opportunity to work with and learn from some of the best actors in the area year after year, and since actors keep coming back, it gives all of us a little taste of what it’s like to be in a company. We’re able to jump right in with each other every summer, and there’s a wonderful shorthand that has developed over time. I can't think of another place where I would have gotten to play Don Armado, Puck and Richard III, and also direct. T.J. Walsh’s belief and trust in me has been a gift to my development as an artist and a person.
There are so many moments of performances remember over the years, but what will always stay with me are the countless times I’ve shared the stage with David Coffee and watched him work his magic on any/every role he plays. It’s a masterclass in craft, and I look forward to it every year.
Director: Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice, Julius Caesar, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Richard III
In the late fall of 2009, I got a call from someone I had never met named T.J. Walsh. He was calling from a state I had never been to called Texas to tell me about the Shakespeare Company he had created in Fort Worth called Trinity Shakespeare Festival which had recently completed its inaugural season. The director he had intended to hire for Season 2 had backed out, and he wanted to know if I might be interested in directing a production of Much Ado About Nothing. Beatrice and Benedick were already cast and the design team was set. I would be housed in a college dormitory and have roughly three weeks of rehearsal (as opposed to the more common four), but I would only get the cast on alternate days, as they would simultaneously be in rehearsals for his production of Hamlet. I said sure, and then went on the internet to find out if there was a rodeo in Fort Worth.
Little did I know that I was about to connect with a company that would have a profound impact on my development, and on the development of so many other artists.
Much Ado would be the first of six productions I would direct with TSF over the following eight seasons. Over the course of those summers, I would work with actors, designers, and technicians who would become some of my most cherished colleagues. What made those Trinity seasons special was the outrageous dedication and diligence they required in order to occur. Actors memorized and inhabited language at an incredible pace; teams of scenic artists built magical worlds overnight, and the infamous TSF costume shop would produce an unbelievable array of bodices, breeches, and gowns — most of which were accompanied by the endless trains for which designer Aaron Patrick DeClerk and draper Jeremy Bernardoni were famous (there were rumors that it took actress Trisha Miller several months after a Trinity season to remember that she could turn with less than a six foot radius).
The cumulative artistic dedication surrounding Shakespeare’s plays each summer at TSF released an energy I have not experienced elsewhere. Among the beneficiaries of this energy were TSF’s audiences, artists, and of course the TCU students, whose involvement each summer as actors, technicians, and artisans was central to TSF’s purpose as a training ground where student artists could work alongside professionals. The great successes of these students over the years is testament to the power of TSF’s model.
Eight years after that phone call from T.J., I now find myself about to start rehearsals for the most ambitious project I have ever attempted — a six-hour adaptation of Shakespeare’s three Henry VI plays with a 16-person cast that will perform off-Broadway. Attempting this would have been unthinkable for me had I not experienced those six summers at Trinity. Only now do I understand that, just as those summers provided training for the students, they also provided it for me. There is not another theatre or ensemble of artists that could have had the impact on me that TSF had, and for that impact, I am extraordinarily grateful.
My first shows with TSF were Richard III/Measure for Measure in 2017 (Catesby/Claudio), and this year is Romeo and Juliet/Twelfth Night (Paris/Sebastian).
I cannot begin to tell you how quickly this theatre has turned into a home for me. Even though I haven't been involved in this festival nearly as long as Kelsey, Richie, Brent, Garret, or David, but this new, cozy family has unabashedly become one of my favorite parts of my summer. I anxiously look forward to it every year.
TSF has a certain reputation for putting on extremely professional and exceptional work—consistently. Whether it's set design, costumes, props, lighting, directing, acting—everything is top notch. As an actor, it has challenged me in more ways than I could possibly name. Doing two big Shakespeare shows in rep, already fully memorized coming into the first day of rehearsals (not to mention the DAYS of research for characters and geography and culture on top of that), is monumental to say the least. Yet somehow, our team of legendary actors and directors are able to pull off an amazing retelling of Shakespeare's stories that are talked about years after it's been done. It's extremely humbling to be working with such experienced, talented people, and is most definitely a badge of honor to say, "Yeah, I worked at Trinity Shakes." If they see Trinity on your résumé when you walk into an audition, they KNOW you mean business and can get the job DONE.
If TSF is to be discontinued after this year, that will leave MAYBE one other Equity Shakespeare festival nearby (Texas Shakespeare Festival in Kilgore), the professional Shakespeare Dallas and the non-Equity Stolen Shakespeare Guild in Fort Worth. That will leave the occasional professional Shakespeare show at Stage West or Amphibian, but no dedicated Shakespeare in Fort Worth! How does that not scare the community?
There are barely any professional companies doing the classics, like Shakespeare, so why can’t we keep it? People say it's due to money. It's not about making money! Theatre isn't about money! It's about the art and the telling of a story—the creativity of collaboration. TSF was/is on par with many of the longstanding festivals such as Oregon, Alabama, Illinois, and Chicago. We are so close to becoming a staple in Texas, and now it's being torn away, while football gets their brand new stadium every other year.
I implore every person who cares about theatre to make your voices heard on social media. Send TCU a letter, a petition, anonymously donate if you so choose, but we can’t let this festival go. Any time an Equity festival/theatre closes, it's a DEVASTATING blow for the theatre community. We need to make sure the new Provost and the new Dean of Fine Arts at TCU know that TSF is worth keeping.
I have much more to say, but I should probably stop. Know that this theatre makes every actor’s dream come true. It gives aspiring actors examples of excellence, and fulfills not only an actor's evolution of their art/craft, but also leaves the audience in awestruck wonder, wanting more and more every year.
In 2009, Harry Parker approached me about a new project that TCU was starting: The Trinity Shakespeare Festival. And, he wanted me to be a part of it. I told him that I had not played in Shakespeare since I was a graduate student at TCU in 1982! I told our Artistic Director, T.J. Walsh, that I was depending on him to truly guide me through the process because I was going to be working so hard just learning the roles. We even attempted a read-through of the shows, but didn’t make it through the first script. There was just NO time. In three weeks, we rehearsed, teched and opened two full-length Shakespeare shows. Then we wondered about our audiences. Would anyone show up? We thought we might have decent audiences the first week of the three-week run because of publicity and curiosity, but didn’t hold much hope for the second and third week.
To our surprise, we got GREAT critical notices and the audiences continued to come. In fact, we were blown away by the box office having waiting lists to get in and experience these 400 year-old stories.
Through TCU’s financial support, the Festival continued to grow both in size and enthusiasm by our audiences and supporters and artistically through our gifted directors, designers, casts and staff.
Everywhere I go, I meet fans of our Festival. When I was in Houston earlier this year performing at the Alley Theatre (founded by another TCU alum, Nina Vance), a couple came up to me at a restaurant and told me they had a daughter who was involved with the Festival and they returned every year in anticipation of what we would conjure. I also met a mother and her son who came every year to the PianoTexas Festival [which happens at the same time]. They lived in Arizona, but were originally from Russia. They told me how attending Trinity had become part of their annual pilgrimage to TCU.
That is what being a part of this project has meant to me: being part of a Festival. Truly, a celebration of the human spirit as revealed through the plays of a man of theatre who lived in a different time and a different country but still speaks to what it means to love and be human.
Before I joined the Trinity Shakespeare Festival, I had performed in four Shakespeare plays. Through the festival, I’ve played 22 roles in 18 plays! I’ve played kings and clowns. I’ve been married and murdered. I have laughed and cried both in and out of character. I’ve lost a mother and found a new family of friends. I’ve watched young artists grow while seeing “seasoned” ones renew their enthusiasm for their craft. I’ve seen audiences moved by what they were experiencing on the stage. Some of them got a little too involved as blood flew everywhere during Julius Caesar (I believe we paid some dry cleaning bills for that one). I’ve enjoyed working with and cheering on the kids who’ve been a part of our youth program, Camp Willy.
I’ve been so impressed with this project that I actually became a member of TCU’s Britain Society, which means I have put the Trinity Shakespeare Festival in my will.
This season, for the first time, I was not a member of the company. My old friend Joel Ferrell made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: I’m playing Edna in Hairspray at the Winspear Opera House for the Dallas Theater Center. The Festival’s schedule overlapped the run of the show. So, I bowed out knowing that I will not be getting into heels many more years — and I could double my donation to the Festival this year.
I have heard that this is the last year of the Trinity Shakespeare Festival. I certainly hope not. I hope that the administration at TCU will not allow such a treasure to “…disappear into thin air.” Not only for its student artists, but for the citizens of this little corner of the world and we “seasoned” show folk, I pray the Trinity Shakespeare Festival won’t become just a memory: “…a little life rounded with a sleep.”
Aaron Patrick DeClerk
Trinity Shakespeare festival has been one of the most transformative experiences of my life. Over the course of a decade, I have been privileged with the task of creating costumes for 13 of the 20 productions. The collaboration with the directors, designers, actors, technicians, and students has been the most rewarding work I’ve been involved with. Our shared backgrounds and respect for each other’s talents allows the unique opportunity to build large volume shows, in a condensed timeframe, with high standards and results. This is one of the few places in this region to get to produce this quality of Shakespeare.
Directors T.J. Walsh and Stephen Brown-Fried have had the biggest impact on my design process and aesthetic. They’ve taught me how to visually communicate through impactful storytelling and to push past conventional expectations of the worlds we could create. Their guidance, humor, and trust have shaped how I approach my work as an artist.
Then, of course, there’s the costume studio. Throughout 10 seasons we’ve hand-crafted hundreds of garments and accessories. We’ve mentored close to 40 interns, of which many have gone on to become successful artists in this field. Jeremy Bernardoni has been my assistant designer and master draper since the first year. Our partnership is the true key to the success of my designs. I think we have a shared aesthetic, sense of scale, and appreciation for couture garments. We’ve built a shorthand over the years, which is jokingly referred to as “Jaron,” that allows us to communicate in the preliminary stages of the build through technical rehearsals in a rapid pace. We’ve worked with five shop managers and four designers during our history with Trinity. I have countless fond memories of my time, and eternally thankful for the hard work, dedication, and friendships that I’ve made during my time spent with the festival.
Mother of Kelsey, Andrew, Mackenna and Delaney Milbourn, all of whom went to TCU and have appeared in Trinity Shakes
My heart sank when I learned from the Theatre Jones article that TCU may discontinue funding for Trinity Shakespeare Festival. I empathize with the posts by actors and directors of Trinity Shakes expressing their deep concern and dismay for this disappointing possibility. This festival has become a glittering jewel of classical theatre in Fort Worth. All four of my children attended TCU as theatre majors (as did I). They grew as actors and as artists whose love for the craft of theatre has made them more empathetic and better citizens of this world. Two of my children started acting with the TSF company in 2009, and at least one of them has performed and been privileged to continue through each season including the 2018 season.
Trinity Shakespeare Festival breathes life into the heart and soul of the Fort Worth and DFW theatre community. What a tragedy to lose that breath. We need to implore the TCU administration to continue funding for Trinity Shakes!
Trinity Shakespeare Company is a program that allows students the rare opportunity to work, to learn, and to hone their craft under the incredible guidance and artistic minds of professional actors and designers involved.
Not only this, but it gives a unique opportunity for community to be built within the familiarity of the TCU stages, faculty, and fellow students surrounding.
As a student, I interned with Trinity for all four years and stayed on two years after that as a “hired artist.” In all those six years, I gained such irreplaceable experience and credits to my resume. Not only in my stage craft, but in my costuming skills as well.
Trinity has always opened doors for me in costuming jobs, casting, Equity membership program, and even in my understanding of Shakespeare. And because of the high quality that Trinity brings every year, I am constantly inspired as an artist to meet that level in every performance.
I have since moved out to LA and continue to do Shakespeare and Trinity is a reference many casting directors have inquired after.
All in all, if the question is whether or not it would behoove TCU to keep Trinity Shakespeare, the answer is yes one thousand times over. Not just for TCU, but the theatre community of DFW and, most of all, it’s very own students.
Camp Director, Camp Willy
Trinity Shakespeare Festival
For the past seven years, I have been the Director of Camp Willy, the educational component of the Trinity Shakespeare Festival initiated by Claire Parker. The impact of this festival and this camp on our young thespians cannot be understated. We perform cuttings of the Trinity season, allowing our 8-18 year old students a chance to shadow the phenomenal performances of the Trinity actors who visit camp each year. One memorable student rushed into camp after seeing a Trinity performance and exclaimed, “David Coffee has MY part!”
Students gain a working knowledge of each play (often explaining plot lines and character motivations to parents) as well as experience memorizing the original language and becoming the iconic characters. This year, our 14-year-old Romeo turned to me during intermission of Trinity’s R&J and asked why we couldn’t do the whole thing as well—he was hanging on to every word, barely restraining himself from joining the adults onstage. The deepest tragedy for me in regards to the ending of the festival is the fact that the dreams of these campers will reach an end as well. We are finally old enough to graduate some students-two of whom are joining the Theatre TCU department this fall-and after seven years of watching the greats and waiting to be old enough to join them, the opportunity to audition, to perhaps see their names alongside their mentors and idols, will die with the festival.
We hire professional theatre educators each year, and while we hope to teach our students tangible skills, we also prioritize intangible skills: confidence, kindness, empathy, how to embrace their humanness. Where better to learn these things than in the shadow of a festival that celebrates the great spectrum of humanity? We told the campers that this could be the end of the festival on the next to last day of camp, and the news was taken with shock and sadness. On our last day, performance day, we chose to focus on the sweetness and the sorrow of parting, and a piece of Trinity will always be held in the souls of our youngest theatre artists.
My husband, Richie Haratine, has been a part of the Trinity Shakespeare Festival acting company for the past nine years. We are both products of a graduate school, which emphasized the power of words. Theatremakers were defined as "those who cause the coming together for the speaking and listening of the words of great plays, and provide an access to the eternal by causing that speaking to be listened." This is a quotation by Sanford Robbins, who is himself a pioneer in bringing professional theatre to a college setting with The REP at the University of Delaware.
For the last 10 years, TCU has graciously and wisely given Fort Worth and surrounding communities access to stories which have withstood the test of time because of the mirror they hold up to humanity — our love & friendship, our foolishness, our pain and suffering. TCU has been a house where we as a North Texas community can come to be moved by language which is not heard often in today's fast paced world with our texted abbreviations and emphasis on spectacle, which is sometimes, not always, absent of deep and meaningful content. TCU has been home to the Trinity Shakespeare Festival which has given our community the gift of Shakespeare — beautifully produced, truthfully spoken and touching on the eternal.
When Richie began with the Festival in 2010, we had one child. We now have four sons, and this year was the first time I brought our 9 and 6 year olds to the shows. After seeing both shows, our 9 year old woke up the next morning, put on his newly purchased TSF T-shirt and said, "I'm ready to see the shows again." This is a 9 year old — with ADHD, I might add —wanting to see two-and-a-half hours worth of Shakespeare. Again. And again. "And every time they play." That is simply amazing. And wonderful. Imagine — when these kids get to high school, they might actually have an affinity for Shakespeare. They will understand that he is a playwright first, to be seen and heard rather than simply read to oneself. I know that Camp Willy, the educational program affiliated with TSF, provides students this opportunity for students as well. I am so very sad that my boys, their friends and students of the community may not get the chance to see and learn from Shakespeare done locally, professionally, without microphones, in air conditioning and in a contained seat next summer. And the next and the next as I had hoped they might.
As a theatre educator myself, I have created two summers of a Shakespeare Practicum course at the community college where I work (Tarrant County College, Southeast Campus) because I knew that even acting students reticent to study Shakespeare, upon seeing it done well, would be moved to consider it not only a challenge and something they "had to do as actors" but also a profound joy. I have had students go on to work as backstage interns at TSF, have callback auditions for the company, and even transfer to the TCU theatre program. Most importantly, they received an appreciation for what it is to engage their entire bodies, voices and minds in this kind of text which demands no less. Having seen professionals do this with such skill has driven many of them to keep honing their crafts.
I sincerely cannot understand why the TCU administration does not seem to see the value and importance of giving their students access to this kind of education and opportunity. I can only imagine that the Festival — a professional company on their campus which employs their students every summer and gives them professional credits for their résumé — is a big draw for possible incoming students. All local theatres are a huge investment in community, and the Trinity Shakespeare Festival is no exception. I hope that the University might reconsider this decision. You have an incredible thing going, TCU. Thank you for enabling theatremakers to do their work for 10 years, but please, we need things we can count on in this crazy world. You are taking one away from our community.
REMAINING PERFORMANCES in TSF 2018
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 3: Twelfth Night
7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 5: Romeo and Juliet
7:30 p.m. Friday, July 6: Twelfth Night
7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 7: Romeo and Juliet
2:30 p.m. Sunday, July 8: Twelfth Night
7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 8: Romeo and Juliet