KILGORE, Texas (KETK) – An East Texas institution is bidding farewell to the man who put Kilgore on the map as a summertime cultural destination.
Raymond Caldwell will step down August 31 after 35 years of leading the Texas Shakespeare Festival as founder and artistic director.
Caldwell announced last year that he would be retiring on his 78th birthday.
With the spread of COVID-19 preventing any real-life extravaganza to bid farewell to the man who gave it life, TSF has launched a virtual event called “Celebrating Raymond” on its website, offering those who have worked with Caldwell or otherwise been touched by his work with TSF to leave messages of farewell remembrance.
TSF was just one of countless theatre groups across the country that had to cancel its 2020 summer season – and Caldwell’s final one – due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was a sad note for an organization that has become so much a part of East Texas culture and that made Kilgore an arts destination.
The festival launched in June 1986 as Kilgore College’s contribution to the Texas Sesquicentennial celebration with performances of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Daisy Bradford 3 by Gifford Wingate.
Since then, it has produced more than 28 of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as such other classic works as The Glass Menagerie, Cyrano de Bergerac, Harvey, and Blithe Spirit, and such musicals as 1776, Man of La Mancha, Camelot, and Into the Woods.
It also has expanded to include children’s theatre productions.
Billing itself as “East Texas’ only professional theatre,” TSF showcases both local talent and professional actors, designers, and directors from across the country.
Yet, housed on the Kilgore College Campus in the Van Cliburn Auditorium, it also has maintained a strong educational focus, offering a variety of programs to serve students and teachers throughout the state.
Caldwell himself is an educator.
He worked for Kilgore College for 42 years, serving as the chairman of the Theatre Department for 25 of those years and as Director of the Fine Arts Division from 1983-1990. In 1992 and 1995, he was the Kilgore College nominee for the Minnie Stevens Piper Outstanding Professor Award, and in 1995, he was the first recipient of the Hamilton F. and Kathryn G. Beeson teaching award.
Before joining the faculty at Kilgore College, he taught drama, speech, French and English at Kilgore High School, and from 1970-1976 he was an Assistant Professor of Speech and Drama at Ouachita University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, his undergraduate alma mater.
He has directed more than 100 productions, including the TSF première of The Daisy Bradford 3 in 1986, Tartuffe in 1989, The Glass Menagerie in 2004, The Miracle Worker in 2005, which was invited by the World Institute of Theatre and Film to perform at Peking University in Beijing, China, in 2005, The Foreigner in 2013, Noises Off in 2014, and The Belle of Amherst in 2014 and 2015.
From 2008 to 2011 he served as one of the international adjudicators for the Chinese Universities Shakespeare Festival held in Hong Kong.
In 2007 he retired from teaching to work full-time as the director of the Festival. He has been honored as an “outstanding graduate” by both Benton High School and the University of North Texas. In 2012 he directed a reprise of his adaptation of The Book of Luke as a TSF fundraiser starring Meaghan Sullivan and Matthew Simpson.
He holds a master’s degree in theatre from the University of North Texas and has studied with Kristin Linklater and Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, Massachusetts.
His ambition for the Texas Shakespeare Festival was simple, but never modest:
“Our only goal is to provide you with high-quality professional productions–a caliber of theatre that is seldom found outside major cities. All of us hope your experience with us, whether it is your first or the latest of many, is not only satisfying but also uplifting, inspiring, and memorable.”Raymond Caldwell, TSF Founder and Artistic Director