OAK BROOK, ILL.: First Folio Theatre’s board of directors has announced that founding executive director David Rice will step down from his position in the spring of 2024, and accordingly First Folio will cease operations at the end of the 2023-24 season.
First Folio Theatre was founded by Rice and his late wife Alison C. Vesely in 1996 as First Folio Shakespeare Festival with a production of The Tempest, and they produced Shakespeare-Under-the-Stars for the next seven years. Over the two-and-a-half decades since that first show, First Folio has mounted over 80 productions, including 25 outdoor Shakespeare productions, and 14 world premieres, six of them commissioned for First Folio by Rice.
In 2004, the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County completed renovations to allow First Folio to open the historic Mayslake Hall mansion to the public, expanding offerings to mount shows indoor for a full four-show, year-round season. After Henry V in August 2019, the outdoor summer stage was razed and First Folio chose to limit itself to the three-show indoor season.
First Folio’s mission came to include a focus on developing opportunities for women in the theatre over the years, with more shows directed by women in the past 25 years than at almost any other Equity theatre in the Chicago area.
Many women designers who worked at First Folio received Jeff nominations and awards, including Angela Weber Miller for scenic design (10 nominations); Cassy Schillo, Wendy Huber, and Margaret Garofalo for props design (3 nominations and 1 award); Rachel Lambert and Elsa Hiltner for costume design (3 nominations); and many women designers in lighting, projections, and stage violence design.
Although he primarily served as executive director and as a playwright, Rice was also seen onstage as Feste in Twelfth Night, H.C. Curry in The Rainmaker, and Sandor Turai in Rough Crossing. Rice’s own plays include The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe, a site-specific production taking audience members through five different rooms of Mayslake Hall as they experienced scenes from both the life and the works of the great American author. Poe earned Rice his first Jeff Award Nomination for New Adaptation in 2007. First Folio remounted Poe five more times, and it has since been produced elsewhere. He also wrote a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, which earned him two Jeff Awards in 2013, for New Adaptation and Original Music with composer Michael Keefe.
Following the death of his wife in 2016, Rice continued to guide First Folio with the help of managing director Kate Danziger and associate artistic director Melanie Keller, as well as the board of trustees. Upon retirement from First Folio, Rice intends to go on writing plays, saying in a statement that he will also continue to trod the boards “if there are any theatres out there who will hire an old codger like me!”
First Folio will be announcing its 2022-23 season this coming spring, then announce its final three-show season in early 2023. Following the end of the 2023- 24, First Folio’s board and staff will take the necessary steps to liquidate the company’s assets and dissolve the not-for-profit corporation.
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