Sets are near completion, actors are occupying stages in Conway for rehearsals, and costumes are coming together for the sixth season of the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre.

The summer festival kicks off June 7 with William Shakespeare’s "Twelfth Night." The debut performance for the production and the professional theatre season is slated for the green space at The Village at Hendrix.

The Village is one of three venues to be used for four productions this summer.

"Twelfth Night" will debut outdoors in an informal, picnic-type setting, with a "pay-what-you-can" entry fee.

Spectators should take blankets and chairs, and feel free, organizers said, to have dinner with the show.

"Twelfth Night" will have eight performances; five at The Village and three at Wildwood Park for the Performing Arts in Little Rock.

"Big River," which is not a Shakespeare original, will debut at Reynolds Performance Hall at the University of Central Arkansas June 8. "Big River" is a musical based on Mark Twain’s classic tale of Huckleberry Finn. Music is by Roger Miller.

The production will play nine times at Reynolds until the season ends July 1.

Shakespeare’s drama, "Richard III," will play five times at Reynolds. Performances begin June 16.

"The Tempest" is this year’s children’s show, according to AST Director Rebekah Scallet.

Scallet said the festival typically conforms to producing one children’s play, a Shakespearean comedy and tragedy, and a musical.

"We’ve done a kid’s show each year, but not a Shakespeare kid’s show. Young people will get to know Shakespeare in a more informal setting than their classrooms. They’re first introduced in English class, but this is something more fun for them. Hopefully we can turn children on to Shakespeare at an early age," she said.

"The Tempest" shows six times at Reynolds this season.

"The plays for this season will compliment each other well. The first choice is my favorite. "Twelfth Night" brought the possibility to get Nisi Sturgis. She plays a great Viola," Scallet said.

Scallet, who hails from Little Rock, will direct that production starring Nisi Sturgis, of Conway, as Viola; Chad Bradford, of Little Rock, as Orsino; and Paige Reynolds, also of Little Rock, as Countess Olivia.

"Richard III" is relevant, Scallet said, because of the election year.

"In this play we follow an evil but likable character. You get to follow a person with great political ambitions to the top. This seemed appropriate," she said.

"Big River," she said, is loved for its "Bluegrass, gospel and area connection."

Forty-five actors are associated with this year’s festival, according to Scallet. She said several are Arkansas originals, though some have come from Illinois, Massachusetts, Oregon, neighboring Texas, and Utah.

"Each show in this season is a journey - for the character and I hope it’s a journey for the audience - that they’ll fall in love with the characters, and become engaged and delighted with the productions. That’s our goal with this series," said Scallet.

For tickets and a full calendar of the season, visit www.arkshakes.com.

(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by email at courtney.spradlin@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)