Alabama Shakespeare Festival Aims to Update Southern Canon

Posted November 21, 2018 5:40 p.m. EST

The Alabama Shakespeare Festival will commission 22 plays in the next five years, with more than half of the commissions set to go to female playwrights and playwrights of color.

Rick Dildine, the artistic director of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the state’s largest professional theater, announced the initiative Wednesday. He emphasized that the plays will focus on “transformative moments in the South that caused important and lasting changes to its people, culture and land.”

This comes on the heels of Dildine’s first major project as artistic director, the revitalization of the Southern Writers’ Project, the company’s program for developing new plays that was founded in 1991 and is now known as the Southern Writers Festival. Last summer, Dildine took a group of Southern playwrights including Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder and David Lee Nelson on a 10-day tour to seven states to interview local residents about how they experience life in the South.

At the writers festival in October, Dildine reported on the group’s findings: “One of the themes we heard from this trip is ‘stories matter.'”

“And stories ‘steeped in specificity’ are actually more relatable,” he added.

These principles are guiding the commissioning initiative, the aim of which is to “grow the Southern theater canon with stories steeped in specificity that are reflective of the diversity of the region yesterday, today and tomorrow.”

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music” is running at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, in Montgomery, Alabama, through Dec. 30.