Are you a fan of the immortal bard? Yearning to be swept away by the timeless tales of love, tragedy, and comedy? Look no further! From coast to coast, the United States boasts a treasure trove of phenomenal Shakespeare festivals that bring the playwright’s words to life on stage. In this article, we will explore the top 10 Shakespeare festivals in the USA, delving into their history, unique offerings, and why they are must-visit events for theatre lovers.
1. Oregon Shakespeare Festival (Ashland, Oregon)
Established in 1935, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) is one of the oldest and most respected festivals in the country. Located in the picturesque town of Ashland, this festival spans eight months and features a rotating repertory of up to 11 plays, including timeless classics and contemporary works.
With three state-of-the-art venues – the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre, the indoor Angus Bowmer Theatre, and the intimate Thomas Theatre – the OSF offers a diverse range of theatrical experiences, from traditional to modern adaptations.
2. Utah Shakespeare Festival (Cedar City, Utah)
Founded in 1961, this festival is a Tony Award-winning event that takes place on the beautiful Southern Utah University campus. It boasts a variety of performances, including works by the bard himself, as well as other classic and contemporary playwrights.
The festival’s crown jewel is the Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre, a stunning replica of the Globe Theatre in London, where you can enjoy different plays as they were intended. Additionally, the festival offers educational programs, backstage tours, and nightly Greenshows, providing an enriching experience for all ages.
3. Stratford Festival (Stratford, Connecticut)
Established in 1955, the Stratford Festival is an iconic New England event that pays homage to Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. The festival is renowned for its high-quality productions at the American Shakespeare Theatre, which sits on the banks of the Housatonic River.
The theatre’s unique design allows for a seamless blend of indoor and outdoor elements, creating an intimate and immersive atmosphere. Besides Shakespeare’s works, the festival also showcases other playwrights, as well as musical and dance performances.
4. Shakespeare Theatre Company (Washington, D.C.)
This festival was founded in 1986 and is a premier destination for Shakespeare enthusiasts in the nation’s capital. The STC is committed to preserving and promoting the playwright’s legacy through the presentation of both classic and modern adaptations of his works.
With two main venues – the Sidney Harman Hall and the Lansburgh Theatre – the STC offers a diverse lineup of productions each season, including plays by other renowned playwrights. Additionally, the STC’s annual Free For All event makes Shakespeare accessible to all by offering free performances of a selected play.
5. American Shakespeare Center (Staunton, Virginia)
Located in the charming town of Staunton, the American Shakespeare Center (ASC) is home to the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor theatre, the Blackfriars Playhouse. The ASC’s commitment to authenticity shines through in their “original practice” approach to staging, utilizing the staging conditions, including universal lighting, minimal sets, and live music.
This allows for a unique, interactive experience that transports audiences back to the Elizabethan era. The ASC hosts an annual Summer/Fall and Winter/Spring repertory season featuring a mix of Shakespeare’s works and other classic plays.
6. The Old Globe (San Diego, California)
The Old Globe, founded in 1935, is a renowned cultural institution nestled in San Diego’s beautiful Balboa Park. Inspired by Shakespeare’s original Globe Theatre, the Old Globe has three performance spaces: the outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, the intimate Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, and the flagship Old Globe Theatre.
The annual summer festival features multiple productions, with a focus on creating innovative and engaging interpretations of the bard’s work. Beyond Shakespeare, the Old Globe also offers a year-round season of contemporary plays, musicals, and family programming.
7. Colorado Shakespeare Festival (Boulder, Colorado)
Established in 1958, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival (CSF) is a professional theatre company in residence at the University of Colorado Boulder. Every summer, the CSF presents a selection of various plays, as well as other classic and contemporary works.
The performances take place at the stunning outdoor Mary Rippon Theatre and the indoor University Theatre, providing a variety of experiences for audiences. The CSF also offers educational programs, such as Camp Shakespeare, to inspire the next generation of theatre enthusiasts.
8. Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (Garrison, New York)
Set against the breathtaking backdrop of the Hudson River, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (HVSF) has been captivating audiences since 1987. This outdoor summer festival takes place at the historic Boscobel House and Gardens, where the custom-built tented theatre provides a one-of-a-kind experience.
The HVSF is dedicated to creating accessible and inclusive productions, often presenting Shakespeare’s works in a modern context. Alongside the mainstage productions, the festival also features family-friendly programming, educational workshops, and special events.
9. Chicago Shakespeare Theater (Chicago, Illinois)
Located on the Navy Pier, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST) is a leading international theatre company founded in 1986. The CST offers a diverse array of programming throughout the year, including Shakespeare’s plays, new works, and family-oriented productions.
With three performance spaces – the Courtyard Theater, the intimate Upstairs Theater, and the flexible performance venue, The Yard – the CST pushes the boundaries of theatrical innovation. The annual summer event, Shakespeare in the Parks, brings free performances of the bard’s work to parks throughout the city.
10. Alabama Shakespeare Festival (Montgomery, Alabama)
The Alabama Shakespeare Festival (ASF), founded in 1972, is one of the largest festivals in the world. Housed in the Carolyn Blount Theatre complex in Montgomery’s beautiful Blount Cultural Park, the ASF offers a diverse season of Shakespeare’s works, as well as other classic and contemporary plays, musicals, and children’s theatre.
The ASF is also committed to fostering new voices in American theatre through the Southern Writers’ Project, which supports the development of new plays by Southern playwrights.
The United States is home to a vibrant array of Shakespeare festivals that showcase the enduring power and relevance of the bard’s work. From traditional productions to contemporary adaptations, these top 10 festivals offer something for everyone, whether you are a lifelong fan or discovering these works for the first time. So, pack your bags, brush up on your iambic pentameter, and embark on a theatrical journey that will transport you to the magical world of William Shakespeare.