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Thespian tradition marks a milestone in Kilgore, Texas

Texas Shakespeare Festival website.

The 30th season of the Texas Shakespeare Festival is underway on the Kilgore College campus.

In 32 days, this professional company stages 54 Shakespearian performances.

Artistic director Raymond Caldwell started the festival. He never imagined it would be so successful. Caldwell and his small staff sift through more than 3,000 resumes to fill 22 summer acting jobs. They go to New York and Chicago to hold auditions. Most of the actors, he says, are fresh out of college.

“You have all of these new faces and new people, and they’re all excited about being here and about doing the work,” Caldwell said. “They’re certainly not coming here for the money. They’re doing it because they love theater. That’s very contagious. It’s hard to be jaded when you’re surrounded by those people.”

Deb Alley is back for a second year. She’s directing “Twelfth Night.” The Texas State University theater professor used to run the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. This one, she says, is remarkable because of its founder.

“Raymond Caldwell is very good at hiring people who respect the work, who want to do the work, and who are eager to learn,” Alley said. “When you stop wanting to learn about your craft I think is when you start to die a little bit as an artist.”

Alley thinks Caldwell has a knack for finding actors who are up for a challenge. The actors are cast in three of the plays, and assume multiple roles in each. She says that, as a director, she comes to Kilgore uber-prepared.

“Kilgore is a small, little community, and I think there’s not an expectation that a tiny place like this can create the kind of art that’s created here,” Alley said. “I saw ‘A Midsummer [Night’s Dream]’ last night. I’ve seen a lot of ‘Midsummers’ in my life, and it was probably the most magical experience I’ve had watching that show.”

The festival resumes Wednesday with “Man of La Mancha” and ends July 26 with “Twelfth Night.” Last year, Caldwell says, patrons came from 44 states and a dozen countries. Hotel room bookings in Kilgore topped 600 for the five-week festival.

Tickets and more information can be found at http://www.texasshakespeare.com/.

Chuck Smith brings more than 30 years' broadcast and media experience to Red River Radio. He began his career as a radio news reporter and transitioned to television journalism and newsmagazine production. Chuck studied mass communications at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia and motion picture / television production at the University of California at Los Angeles. He has also taught writing for television at York Technical College in Rock Hill, South Carolina and video / film production at Centenary College of Louisiana, Shreveport.