Geoffrey Sherman has been the Producing Artistic Director at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival since 2005. A native of London, Sherman has been in Montgomery for almost 13 years, and will soon retire, his last directorial production being Mary Poppins, scheduled to run through July.
As Geoffrey looks back on his time at ASF, he’s nostalgic. While he may be best known for bringing plays like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to the stage year after year, he’s steadfast that what he is most proud of, the legacy he hopes to leave, is his commitment to educating children on the arts – inspiring young adults to know the theatre and helping them to foster their creative spirit.
“I really value what the theatre has done with respect to education in the state,” Sherman says. “We’re giving affordable seats to young people to see the plays, and we’ve developed a touring company that takes shortened Shakespeare plays throughout the Southeast, and it’s been extremely successful. With our youth theatre, we’re passing the torch to younger generations where they’re nurtured, leaving them with the ability to communicate so well that they end up in journalism or other careers.”
Beyond this, Sherman also recognizes that throughout the last 12 years, ASF’s audience has expanded, its productions bringing in new faces of all ages. While Sherman counts King Lear, Hamlet, and Othello as his most rewarding Shakespearian productions, he notes that the addition of Disney musicals has helped the theatre grow, welcoming in hundreds of new fans who might not otherwise venture to ASF.
“We have broadened our audience over the past decade in quite a wonderful way,” Sherman explains. “Our audience has become diversified, and I’m proud of that. I love directing Shakespeare, I really do, but in the same breath, I also love directing Disney. The Disney musicals have been more a joy for me than I thought they would, and the way they’re put together is extraordinary. It’s totally organic and works beautifully. I’ve loved doing Disney almost as much as I’ve loved doing Shakespeare.”
Without a doubt, Sherman has made his mark in Montgomery. People know his face, know his name, and know his work. Yet, as Sherman leaves the role he has assumed for more than a decade, he has few hopes – that people came, and that they left with something to remember – a memory they can’t erase, that they were seated in the midst of something magical – an artistic production that will stay with them well after he’s retired.
“I hope people remember that they saw really good art,” Sherman says. “I hope that they were entertained, moved, and that they wanted to come back. What they remember about me is irrelevant. Theatre is transitory; it’s not something we do for posterity – it’s something we do for, and in, the moment. If the audience got that, if they went away changed, left with a memory of something that was important for them, that’s what is important.”
As for what he’ll miss, his answer corresponds to what he considers his finest work – the impression he and ASF have made on the young children of Alabama.
“Of course, I’ll miss the staff and the audience,” Sherman says. “But I think I’ll most miss standing in the lobby, watching hundreds and hundreds of schoolchildren come in to see the shows. We have around 40,000 children who come in to see plays on an annual basis. What we do with these young people is one of the most important things I’ll be sad to leave behind.”
Mary Poppins will leave many Montgomerians sentimental, perhaps a little homesick for the days when Sherman stood on stage to welcome them to the theatre. But as he gears up for his last production, he’s not saddened. He’s proud, and happy.
“I’ve found the South fascinating, and it’s been interesting living in Montgomery where everyone knows everyone,” Sherman says. “Mary Poppins has turned out to be one of the most important plays I’ve ever had the pleasure to stage on any theatre in this country. It makes me smile, and I smile broadly.”
For more information on Mary Poppins, visit www.asf.net or call (334) 271-5353.