Great Shakes 

Tennessee Shakespeare Festival plans inaugural season.

Dan McCleary gets evangelical about Shakespeare.

And why shouldn't he? The Bard has been good to this 1985 graduate of Germantown High School who has carved out a niche for himself as an actor and director specializing in the classics.

Over the past 20 years, McCleary has taken on roles ranging from Hamlet and Macbeth (in Hamlet and Macbeth) to playing Sly Stallone's holographic father in the intolerable superhero flick Judge Dread. Now, it would appear that the next phase of McCleary's career has begun.

His ambitious five-year plan to create the Tennessee Shakespeare Company, a resident professional theater company in Germantown, is moving forward. Initial fund-raising has been strong, plans for temporary signage and outdoor lighting have been approved by the city of Germantown, and auditions for Shakespeare's pastoral comedy As You Like It are scheduled for Monday, May 12th, and Tuesday, May 13th, at Rhodes College's McCoy Theatre.

"We are now an official 501(c)(3)," McCleary boasts by phone. He's currently in Atlanta directing a production of the classic Servant of Two Masters, adapted by playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, whose Compleat Female Stage Beauty is currently enjoying a successful run at Midtown's Circuit Playhouse.

"We've put a board together. We're about to launch a website ... And we've got enough operating capital to get started," McCleary says.

The director's Atlanta gig is a free-to-the-public, city-subsidized event performed on the dock of Lake Clara Meer in Piedmont Park and, although McCleary doesn't make any direct comparisons, it's clear that this is the sort of event he envisions for Germantown.

"The city really supports this thing," he says of the Atlanta production. "It's free. It's on the lake. It's beautiful. And it brings in about 1,000 people a night."

McCleary says his ultimate goal is to create an arts park behind Germantown's Morgan Woods Theatre, with stages for dance, music, and theater. The city of Germantown votes on whether or not to proceed with plans for the arts park on May 12th.

"Germantown Parks and Recreation has been incredibly supportive," says McCleary, who expects the vote will be positive.

Although the city has yet to approve the complete Morgan Woods plan and McCleary's not met all of his fund-raising goals, he says the production of As You Like It has been a go since Germantown approved his signage and lighting proposals.

"We're using as few instruments as possible — just enough to light the show and to light up the verticality of the trees," McCleary says. "We've got enough light for security and to make sure everyone is safe walking in the dark. But even with all of that, we'll be using a generator that's only about half the size of a conventional generator."

The signs will be hung on the grounds of St. George's Episcopal Church where the first act of As You Like It will be performed. The second act of the play will occur outdoors on an adjacent parcel of land owned by arts patron Barbara Apperson.

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