“It started with a passion project — me wanting to do Twelfth Night — and finding some means to make it happen,” explains Ken Knight who, with the help of co-producer Bonnie Allen, has formed Knights of Allentown, a new theater company with an enthusiastic approach to the arts. The group’s first production is of the aforementioned Shakespeare comedy, opening Thursday, March 6, at Toy Boat Community Arts Space.
Knight, who’s acted everywhere from Portland, Maine, to San Francisco to Asheville, had Twelfth Night in his sights for some time. “I planned on doing this for about six years, and I just hadn’t gotten to it yet, and the opportunity hadn’t arisen because no company was doing it locally,” he says. “Life is short. If there’s something that’s really on your bucket list, go do it.”
This personal vision appears to be creating a singular take on Shakespeare’s comedy. Twelfth Night is the story of a complicated love triangle that is further complicated by a woman disguised as a man, and a long-lost twin appears on the scene to add to the high jinks. Knights of Allentown has added a revisionist spin, transplanting Twelfth Night into the swinging London of the 1960s. The play’s setting of Illyria — an ancient city in the Western Balkans — is recast as an artist colony, explains Knight. He says the soundtrack will be half Kinks songs, half original music, and the tone of the play will be acutely tuned to the era it’s inhabiting. “It’s lovingly poking fun at Andy Warhol and The Factory and artists. It doesn’t take itself too seriously,” he says.
Although its inaugural production looks to the Bard, Knights of Allentown isn’t a Shakespeare company, exclusively. Both founders have ties to the Montford Park Players — Allen was a stage director and one-time board member for the group, while Knight has performed in past productions. Because of this, the duo are the first to admit that Montford Park Players has Asheville covered when it comes to Shakespeare. Instead, Knights of Allentown’s aims are much different, perhaps loftier, and — in many respects — more personal. The end result will be the creation of dream projects. “We’d like for people to pitch to us and for us to help make it happen for them, and not just our theater friends,” says Knight. “We want to make your artistic visions happen. That’s the main philosophy behind this.”
He continues, “If someone wants to do something by Tennessee Williams or Sam Shepard, they can. They say, ‘Hey, we haven’t seen this show in the Asheville area, we want to bring it,’ or ‘This is something I wrote, it’s an original,’ we want to help. We’re not really limiting ourselves.”
Knights of Allentown will assist not only with production, but with mentoring and experience, too. The theater company will help in areas like direction and stage management. “A lot of the time in the theater community here in Asheville, it’s hard to get your foot in the door,” says Allen. “We just want to give more of a path for people who don’t really have any connections in the theater world in Asheville and give them a place to go to so they can get on their feet and start something.”
Beyond Twelfth Night, Knights of Allentown has early plans for sketch comedy and an as-yet-unnamed podcast that will launch in the summer. That project will celebrate the past and present of Asheville’s theater scene. “It wouldn’t be reviews, it’d be people talking about the history of the theater community in Asheville,” Knight says. “It’s pretty rich and deep and goes back pretty far. There are a lot of war stories to tell.”
He adds, “We’re celebrating each other, because one of the great things about the theater community and the artistic community in Asheville is that people really look out for each other and help each other out, and that’s a beautiful thing. You don’t necessarily see that everywhere.”
what: Twelfth Night
where: Toy Boat Community Arts Space
when: Thursday-Saturday, March 6-8 and Thursday-Friday,
March 13-14, at 7:30 p.m. $10