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Alison C. Vesely, Artistic Director and Co-Founder of First Folio Theatre, died Friday afternoon following a battle with ovarian cancer at age 59.
Vesely directed over forty productions at the Oak Brook-based institution she founded in 1997 with her surviving husband, David Rice.
“I hope folks realize how huge a loss this is. To her family, her friends, and to Chicago theater,” said Chicago actor/writer and frequent First Folio artist Ronald Keaton. “She had a real clarity and strength in her vision of sharing Shakespeare with her First Folio audience. She was prepared and professional, a real joy to work with.”
A graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University, Vesely was the former Classics Project Director for Footsteps Theatre, where she worked as the Folio Director and Dramaturge on many all-women Shakespeare productions, including Romeo and Juliet, A Midsommer Night’s Dreame, and Macbeth, which she performed the title role in, earning an After Dark Award.
In 1996, Vesely and Rice began planning a suburban theater focused on classic plays — particularly Shakespeare, utilizing the “folio method” which concentrates on the original folio text of Shakespeare’s plays. Vesely would be the Artistic Director, and Rice, the executive director. They made arrangements to build a custom-designed outdoor stage at the historic Mayslake Peabody Estate and opened the then titled “First Folio Shakespeare Festival” with The Tempest. As the company grew, the duo opened two additional indoor performance spaces at the estate, expanding the summer theater into a year-round operation.
In her years at First Folio, Vesely helmed the world premieres of The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story, Will Rogers: An American Original and The Castle of Otranto. Other highlights of her prolific tenure include Laughter on the 23rd Floor, The Gravedigger, Salvage, Rough Crossing, The Rainmaker, Underneath the Lintel, Jeeves Takes a Bow, The Merchant of Venice, Shylock and His Daughter, The Turn of the Screw, Unnecessary Farce, Tea at Five, The Woman in Black, and Blithe Spirit, as well as the Chicago premieres of Jeeves in Bloom, Jeeves Intervenes, and The Passion of Dracula. In 2009, Vesely was nominated for a Jeff Award for her direction of A Moon for the Misbegotten, which also garnered First Folio a nomination for Best Production.
Vesely served as an adjudicator for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival and the Irene Ryan Awards, and a three-year term on the Theater Program Grants Panel for the Illinois Arts Council. She was a founding member of the Joseph Jefferson Awards Committee Arts and Technical Team, and a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society.
Rice shared that, “The blessings she gave me include 35 years of marriage, the raising of our wonderful daughter Hayley, and the joy of spending 20 years creating great theater filled with love for all of our theater artists as well as for our audiences.” He stressed that moving ahead First Folio Theatre will continue to offer exceptional opportunities to female artists, as this has always been and will remain an important part of First Folio’s goals.
A visitation will be held Monday, November 28th 3:00 PM – 8:00 PM, with a small service at 7:00 PM, at Sullivan Funeral Home, 60 S. Grant St. Hinsdale, IL. Interment Private. In lieu of flowers, donations to The Alison Fund for Growth at First Folio Theatre, 1717 31st, Oak Brook, IL 60523 are appreciated.
A larger memorial service is being planned for February.