To Leave A Legacy

17 three geeseLinda Burton posting from Montgomery, Alabama – The Spanish moss hanging in the trees is a southern give-away. Otherwise, you’d think you were wandering the fields near an English village, complete with geese on the pond and cobblestone paths and, of course, a Shakespearian theater. But you’re really in the Wynton M Blount Cultural Park in Montgomery, Alabama, location of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival (ASF), the sixth largest Shakespeare festival in the world. Bringing in more than 300,000 visitors from all 50 states and over 60 countries every year, the performing arts complex in the park has been a part of the Montgomery scene since 1985, thanks to the generosity of a certain Mr and Mrs Blount. What a gift! The park itself is 250 acres of landscaped paths and ponds, trees and open space; there’s a wooden bridge with 17 shakespeare buildinga stone structure atop, perfect for a sit as you watch the ducks swimming below. Montgomery’s Museum of Fine Arts is on one side of the park; meandering roads take you to the Shakespearian edge on the other side. Thatched-roof restrooms? An English garden? You’ve reached the Carolyn Blount Theater, which houses the 750-seat Festival Stage; there is a 225-seat Octagon Theater too. You’ll find Shakespeare here, and more.

17 ASF signAlthough the season typically includes three works of William Shakespeare, ASF puts on about 400 performances annually, in nine productions. Other plays may be classical or modern; ASF’s Southern Writers Project nurtures the creation of new plays that reflect Southern themes. The ASF began in 1972 as a summer stock theater project in Anniston in an old high school auditorium; eventually it garnered critical acclaim, but lacked financial support. Then everything came together in Montgomery in 1985, and the rest is artistic history, providing some serious bragging rights for the city of Montgomery, and the state of Alabama. So, who was the catalyst that made it happen?

17 wynton statue goodWynton Malcom Blount (1921-2002) was an internationally known industrialist and philanthropist who had a deep love for his family, his city, and his state, and contributed his personal resources towards improving quality of life for people everywhere. Born in Union Springs, Alabama, and educated at Staunton Military Academy and the University of Alabama, he and brother Houston co-founded Blount Brothers Corporation in 1946, a construction company noted for building some of the most complex projects of the century, such as the first intercontinental ballistic missile base in Wyoming, the moon and space shuttle launch pads at Cape Canaveral, and the New Orleans Superdome. In 1968 he became president of the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC; in 1969 he became Postmaster General of the United States as a member of Richard Nixon’s cabinet. In 1973 he rejoined the company he founded, now more diversified, and served as chairman of Blount International, headquartered in Montgomery with operations and distribution in more than 130 countries around the globe.

17 wynton and carolynA tireless supporter of the arts, he helped bring the Vatican Art Collection to the US, and served the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC and the National Actors Theatre in New York. He was on President Ronald Reagan’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, a member of the Court of Governors for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon, and a board member of Americans for the Arts. When he built the theater complex in Montgomery the Washington Post drama critic called it “the most beautiful theater building I’ve seen on five continents.” His gift was the largest ever made to an arts company at the time.

17 blount dedication plaqueWynton Blount was a friend of world leaders and everyday citizens. Gerald Ford and Tony Randall came to his funeral. Vice-President Dick Cheney presided over the Blount Cultural Park dedication in 2002. He received the Gold Medal award from Pope John Paul II in 1981 and was cited for Distinguished Service to Alabama in 1984. He received the Cornerstone Award from the Association of Builders and Contractors in 1996 and the Special Recognition Award from the National Actors Theatre in 1998. He was named Montgomery’s Citizen of the Century in 2000 and recognized for his lifetime contributions to the State of Alabama in 2001. He received honorary doctorates from numerous colleges, including Birmingham-Southern, Rhodes College, Seattle Pacific, University of Alabama, Troy State, and Samford University. And when he died his devoted wife Carolyn, and his children, were at his side.

There is no way to count the lives that he touched. But sit in the packed theater during the next Shakespearian performance and look at the faces in the crowd; feel the electricity. You’ll see; his legacy continues, just like that of the Bard.

17 statue inside theaterNote: William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was an English poet and playwright; called the “Bard of Avon” his works include 38 plays and 154 sonnets; his plays have been translated into every major language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright. His early plays were mainly comedies and histories; his tragedies include Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, and Macbeth, considered some of the finest works in the English language.

Macbeth begins a run at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival January 25.  17 macbeth billboard

Alabama Shakespeare Festival, 1 Festival Drive, Montgomery, Alabama 36117, 334.271.5353, 1.800.841.4273,