Five questions for Marilyn Spirt

BY PATRICIA CORRIGAN, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Marilyn Spirt, a field archaeologist by trade, has yet to dig in Forest Park for the remains of the 1904 World’s Fair Ferris wheel, but her other job keeps her plenty busy. Spirt, of Creve Coeur, is the managing director of Shakespeare Festival St. Louis.

“My duties include largely everything that is not to do with the production, such as development and marketing,” said Spirt, who has held her current job since 2004. She joined the Festival staff in 2001 as director of development and marketing after working as assistant to the director of Edison Theatre at Washington University.

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A native New Yorker, Spirt also has co-founded and developed an automotive parts business, served as business development manager of an internet start-up company and is two courses short of completing her coursework in archeology at the University of Pennsylvania toward a Ph.D. in the Archaeology of Israel. She has three grown children and one grandchild.

The idea for a free outdoor Shakespeare festival here was first put forth in 1997, by founder R. Crosby Kemper, III, former Chief Executive Officer of United Missouri Bank.

Romeo and Juliet was the first show, presented in 2001. Between 33,000 and 54,000 playgoers have attended each season, and the Festival’s year-round educational programs are said to reach more than 25,000 students each year. The festival’s artistic director recently resigned and it is now seeking an executive director.

In between last-minute meetings and photo shoots for The Merry Wives of Windsor, Spirt made time to answer five questions.

Many Jewish individuals are involved with the Shakespeare Festival. What is the connection?

Shakespeare’s works are timeless and universal, the basis for the literacy of the western world. In the Jewish community, there is enormous interest in theater and the arts, especially classical theater. Besides being people of the book, we are very much a cultured people.

In addition to your job with the Shakespeare Festival, you are chair of the board for the New Jewish Theatre. How did your personal interest in theater develop?

I am a product of European parents, and growing up in New York, I went to the theater all the time. On Sundays, we would go ice skating in the morning and to the theater in the afternoon. My mother grew up in London, and we went there summers. From early on, I saw the best of the best, wherever it was.

What is your favorite Shakespearean play?

Julius Caesar, for the words. We quote Shakespeare every day, and often don’t realize it. For instance, in The Merry Wives, a character says, “The world’s mine oyster.” Shakespeare’s words are part of our vernacular.

What will audience members especially enjoy about ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor?’

First of all, it’s outdoors in Forest Park, and there have been several improvements to our home there to make audiences more comfortable. Also, the show is a comedy, which is particularly appropriate for this year, which has been so difficult for so many. It’s fun — a domestic comedy, full of feminine wisdom that triumphs over jealous husbands, confused lovers — and there is Falstaff, a great character.

Anything else?

We have set the play in the 1920’s — in Windsor, Mo. And that Ferris wheel you mentioned? We have a visual reference to it in the set.

‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’

WHEN: 8 p.m. nightly (except Tuesdays) May 20 through June 14

WHERE: Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park

WHAT ELSE: The Green Show, with strolling performers, begins at 6:30 p.m. nightly. Israeli soprano Yael Handelman will perform May 23 and May 27.

MORE INFO: 314-531-9800 or www.shakespearefestivalstlouis.org