American Shakespeare Center

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"Blackfriars Playhouse" redirects here. For the original theatre, see Blackfriars Theatre.
American Shakespeare Center
American Shakespeare Center logo.jpg
Official Logo of the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA

1988 as Shenandoah Shakespeare Express 1999 renamed Shenandoah Shakespeare

2005 renamed American Shakespeare Center
Type Theatre group
Purpose Shakespeare, his contemporaries, and related plays
  • The Blackfriars Playhouse
    10 S. Market Street
    Staunton, VA 24401
Artistic director(s)
Jim Warren

The American Shakespeare Center (ASC) is a regional theatre company located in Staunton, Virginia, in the United States. The theatre company focuses on the plays of Shakespeare; his contemporaries Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, Christopher Marlowe, and more; and works related to Shakespeare in other ways, like James Goldman's The Lion in Winter and Bob Carlton's Return to the Forbidden Planet.

The American Shakespeare Center performs 16 different titles in five distinct seasons, 52 weeks a year at the Blackfriars Playhouse, as well as travelling the country through ASC on Tour and providing a year-round laboratory for students and scholars through education programming in Staunton and on the road.


The American Shakespeare Center recovers the joys and accessibility of Shakespeare's theatre, language, and humanity by exploring the English Renaissance stage and its practices through performance and education.[1]

The American Shakespeare Center—through its performances, theatres, exhibitions, and educational programs—seeks to make Shakespeare, the joys of theatre and language, and the communal experience of the Renaissance stage accessible to all. By re-creating Renaissance conditions of performance, the ASC explores its repertory of plays for a better understanding of these great works and of the human theatrical enterprise past, present, and future.


  • The American Shakespeare Center was founded as the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express in 1988 by Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen and Jim Warren. The first show performed by the newly fledged company was Richard III.[2][3][4]
  • In 1990, the company started performing multiple shows in rotating repertory with a season of Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night's Dream. This tradition continues today, but the number of titles per year has grown from two to sixteen (as of 2013).[5]
  • Shenandoah Shakespeare Express grew quickly during its first five years,[6] moving from a single touring show in Virginia in 1988 to a three-show tour in 1992 that included the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington and an overseas leg in London and Edinburgh. Three years later, the company tours the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, and Scotland as well as starting to build the Education arm of the company with a six-week NEH institute.
  • In 1997, SSE introduces the Young Company Theatre Camp, a three-week intensive summer program for high school students.
  • Shenandoah Shakespeare Express become Shenandoah Shakespeare in 1999 and moves to its new home in Staunton, VA.
  • September 2001, the Blackfriars Playhouse - at that time, the world's only re-creation of Shakespeare's indoor theatre - opens in Staunton, VA[7][8] and ASC Education hosts the first Blackfriars Conference.
  • In 2005, Shenandoah Shakespeare changes its name to the American Shakespeare Center, reflecting its growing status as a center for performance and research. Also in 2005, the first Actors' Renaissance Season debuts. The Actors' Renaissance Season uses Shakespeare's rehearsal conditions (self-directed, self-designed, short rehearsal period) as well as his staging conditions to delve deeper into the plays. The Actors' Renaissance Season is also an opportunity to explore rarer titles of the early modern period.
  • The Blackfriars Playhouse celebrates its 10th Anniversary in 2011.[9]
  • In 2012, the Blackfriars Playhouse appeared in BBC's documentary "Shakespeare Uncovered," which aired in the U.S. in early 2013.[10]
  • The American Shakespeare Center celebrates its 25th Anniversary starting in 2013.

Blackfriars Playhouse[edit]

The Blackfriars Playhouse

In Staunton, the ASC has constructed the Blackfriars Playhouse, a re-creation of Shakespeare's original indoor theatre, the Blackfriars Theatre.[11] As no reliable plans of that theatre are known,[12] architect Tom McLaughlin based the design on plans for other 17th-century theatres, his own trips to England to view surviving halls of the period, Shakespeare's stage directions and other research and consultation.[13] The chosen dimensions of 50 feet (15 m) by 70 feet (21 m) were derived from the research of theatre historian Irwin Smith.[14]

Construction began on the playhouse in early 2000, as part of a three-building construction plan that would also include a re-creation of the 1614 Globe Theatre and a Center for Research and Education.

The playhouse was completed at a cost of $3.7 million,[15] and opened in September 2001.[14] Built inside a brick shell, it is a wood-pegged, post-and-beam structure,[13] made of Virginia oak,[12] with a hammerbeam roof.[14] The seating capacity is 300.[13] Raked benches in a pit and two levels of galleries place the audience close to the actors,[14] and even seating on the stage is possible.[15] Unlike the original Blackfriars, the theatre has no painted decorations except at the back of the stage, and no windows in the auditorium. Electrical lighting reflected off the ceiling is used to simulate daylight,[14] and lights simulating candles are mounted on sconces,[13] and on wrought-iron chandeliers.[16]

Shakespeare's Staging Conditions[edit]

The American Shakespeare Center gives its audiences some of the same experiences that an Elizabethan playgoer would have enjoyed by following the basic principles of Renaissance theatrical production - including Universal Lighting (audience and actors share the same pool of light), Doubling (one actor playing multiple roles in a show), Cross-Gender Casting (men playing female characters and vice versa), and Minimal Sets.[17]

Current Season Productions[edit]

For resident theatre companies "repertory is destiny" - a theatre company acquires its audience by the productions it presents.[18] Most of The American Shakespeare Center's 's productions are from Shakespeare's canon. However each year, several productions are works by his contemporary playwrights or more modern plays that relate directly to the Shakespeare canon or work well using Shakespeare's Staging Conditions.

Blackfriars Playhouse Productions[edit]


Touring Productions[edit]


Educational Programming[edit]

ASC Education offers workshops, performances, staged readings, lectures, a bienniel international conference, teacher training, archival materials for scholarly research, and summer programs for teens and adults.

Partnership with Mary Baldwin College[edit]

ASC partners with Mary Baldwin College in the one-of-a-kind MLitt/MFA Shakespeare and Performance graduate program for actors, directors, teachers, and dramaturgs. The program's graduates have gone on to doctoral work, tenure-track faculty positions, and professional theatre careers.[21]

Notable people[edit]


  • Ralph Alan Cohen, ASC Co-Founder and Director of Mission, Shakespeare scholar
  • Jim Warren, ASC Co-Founder and Artistic Director
  • Amy Wratchford, Managing Director

Board of Trustees

  • Curtis J. Smith, Chair - Hampden-Sydney, Virginia
  • Mary McDermott, Vice Chair - Waynesboro, Virginia
  • Dan Layman, Immediate Past Chair - Staunton, Virginia
  • Carol Adelman - Arlington, Virginia
  • Paul G. Beers - Roanoke, Virginia
  • Jeffrey Brown - Orange, Virginia
  • Ralph Alan Cohen, Co-Founder and Director of Mission - Bridgewater, Virginia
  • Jaymie Scotto Cutaia - Middlebrook, Virginia
  • Rory J. Cutaia - Middlebrook, Virginia
  • Howard Dobin - Lexington, Virginia
  • Pamela Fox - Staunton, Virginia
  • Paul Gladd - McLean, Virginia
  • Christopher C. Grisanti - New York, New York
  • Don Harrell - New York, New York
  • Kerry D. Kisa - Virginia Beach, Virginia
  • Joseph S. Kraemer - McLean, Virginia
  • Chris Little - McDowell, Virginia
  • David Mowen - Staunton, Virginia
  • Rachel Nicoll - Orange, Virginia
  • Rickard F. Pfizenmayer - Stuarts Draft, Virginia
  • A. Lawrence Rose - Penn Laird, Virginia
  • Celia Rutt - Staunton, Virginia
  • Gregory St. Ours - Harrisonburg, Virginia
  • Steven Urkowitz - Portland, Maine
  • Jim Warren, Co-Founder and Artistic Director - Staunton, Virginia
  • Amy Wratchford, Managing Director - Charlottesville, Virginia

Advisory Board


On September 12, 2013 the Staunton Virginia City Council passed a resolution honoring the 25th Anniversary of the American Shakespeare Center, acknowledging its growth from a touring troupe performing Richard III fourteen times in rural Virginia into an international Shakespeare center that has:

performed in 47 U.S. states and five other countries,
built the world's only re-creation of Shakespeare's indoor theatre,
become the hub of scholarship on early modern performance at the biennial Blackfriars Conference,[23][24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "What We Do". 
  2. ^ "On the Road with William Shakespeare". Staunton News Leader. December 14, 1988. Retrieved 3.4.13.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  3. ^ Virchow, Tory Talbot (19 August 2012). "You are here: Home / Entertainment / Shedding Light on the American Shakespeare Center: A Few Highlights of a Remarkable Weekend Shedding Light on the American Shakespeare Center: A Few Highlights of a Remarkable Weekend". Shenandoah Press. Retrieved 5 March 2013. 
  4. ^ "History". American Shakespeare Theatre Web Site. American Shakespeare Theatre. Retrieved 5 March 2013. 
  5. ^ Cook, Hardy M. (1 July 1992). "The Shenandoah Shakespeare EXPRESS at the Folger". Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 3, No. 157. Retrieved 5 March 2013. 
  6. ^ Gowen, Anne (July 10, 1992). "Shakespeare Express speeds to success". The Washington Times.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help);
  7. ^ Nash, Eric P. (October 21, 2001). "A Virginia Theater true to Shakespeare". The New York Times.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help);
  8. ^ Francisco, Dr. Virginia (October 11, 2001). "Here's the scoop on our new theatre". The Staunton News Leader.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help);
  9. ^ Longley, Maria (September 17, 2011). "The stuff of dreams: A theatrical vision transforms a town". Staunton News Leader. Retrieved 3.5.13.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  10. ^ "Shakespeare Uncovered". Retrieved 3.4.13.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  11. ^ Blackfriars Playhouse, American Shakespeare Center, retrieved 2009-06-20 
  12. ^ a b Skinner, David (November–December 2007). "Shakespearetown". Humanities (National Endowment for the Humanities). Retrieved 2 February 2014. 
  13. ^ a b c d Lebovich, William (14 November 2001). "Blackfriars Shakespearean Playhouse". Architecture Week. Retrieved 2 February 2014. 
  14. ^ a b c d e Cohen, Ralph Alan (2005). "Shenandoah Shakespeare and the Building of the Third Blackfriars Playhouse". In Radulescu, Domnica; Stadter Fox, Maria. The Theater of Teaching and the Lessons of Theater. Lanham: Lexington Books. p. 155. ISBN 0-7391-1033-0. 
  15. ^ a b Klein, Michael (14 July 2002). "There's much ado about the Bard in Virginia". Philadelphia Media Network. Retrieved 2 February 2014. 
  16. ^ Clayton, Sarah (14 October 2001). "Virginia: In the historic town of Staunton, the stage is set for a Shakespearean renaissance". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2 February 2014. 
  17. ^ "Shakespeare's Staging Conditions". 
  18. ^
  19. ^ "ASC - ON STAGE AT THE BLACKFRIARS". American Shakespeare Center. Retrieved 6 March 2013. 
  20. ^ "2012/2013 Tempt Me Further Tour". American Shakespeare Center. Retrieved 6 March 2013. 
  21. ^ "MBC Shakespeare Program". 
  22. ^
  23. ^ "It’s Shakespeare Week all over Staunton". Augusta Free Press. Retrieved 19 September 2013. 
  24. ^ "Staunton City Council Proclamation". Retrieved 19 September 2013. 
  25. ^ Moore, Rowan (12 January 2014). "Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – review". The Observer. Retrieved 21 January 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 38°8′58.1″N 79°4′13.8″W / 38.149472°N 79.070500°W / 38.149472; -79.070500