Shakespeare in the Park festivals

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The Delacorte Theater in New York City's Central Park

Shakespeare in the Park is a term for outdoor festivals featuring productions of William Shakespeare's plays. The term originated with the New York Shakespeare Festival in New York City's Central Park, originally created by Joseph Papp. This concept has been adapted by many theatre companies, and over time, this name has expanded to encompass outdoor theatre productions of the playwright’s legendary works performed all over the world.

Shakespeare in the Park started as an idea to make theatre available to people of all walks of life, so that it would be as readily available as library books.[1] The performances are more often than not free admission to the general public, usually presented outdoors as a summer event. These types of performances can be seen by audiences around the world, with most festivals adapting the name for their productions, such as Vancouver's Bard on the Beach. Many festivals incorporate workshops, food, and other additions to the performances making this type of theatre experience an interactive community event.

Shakespeare in the Park in the United States[edit]

Central Park Festival[edit]

The original Shakespeare in the Park was founded in 1954 by American producer and director Joseph Papp as the New York Shakespeare Festival. Its beginning was a series of free workshops in New York, which eventually led to free public performances in Central Park.[2] In 1961 an outdoor amphitheatre was built to accommodate these productions, and to this day the festival is performed at the outdoor stage of the Delacorte Theatre. Over the years many celebrity actors have graced the stage at the Delacorte.[3] A portion of highly sought after tickets are made free to the general public, so many people line up as early as 6 a.m. to ensure they reserve tickets for the evening performance.[4] While the festival is called Shakespeare in the Park, many seasons have featured works by other playwrights, including Bertolt Brecht and Samuel Beckett.[5]


The Baltimore Shakespeare Festival is the region's home for professional, classical theatre and exciting educational programs. The festival is currently celebrating its sixteenth season. They present exceptional productions outdoors each summer in the Meadow at the Evergreen Museum & Library.[2]


Cincinnati Shakespeare Company originally was incorporated under the name Fahrenheit Theatre Company. Beginning with a small grant in 1993, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is a professional theatre company in the heart of downtown Cincinnati's Backstage district. They perform the classics, the great works, and the works you rarely get a chance to see. The staging of these plays is thoughtfully crafted to create an engaging experience that will resonate with you. The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company annually presents the Shakespeare in the Park summer tour.[6]


The Cleveland Shakespeare Festival offers the only free outdoor Shakespearean performance in Cleveland, and is going into its thirteenth season.[when?] It is dedicated to bringing plays of professional quality to audiences in the Greater Cleveland area in an effort to encourage the community to experience the Shakespeare atmosphere. This is accomplished by performing outdoors in numerous locations. Throughout years of performances, Cleveland Shakespeare Festival has entertained and enlightened over 35,000 people in four counties.[7]

Kansas City[edit]

The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival was founded by Tony winning Broadway producer Marilyn Strauss in 1993 at the urging of Joe Papp[8] with a production of The Tempest in Southmoreland Park. In 1998, they began to produce two productions per year, with a total of 23 production at the start of the 2011 season.[9]

Louisville, KY[edit]

Kentucky Shakespeare Festival is a non-profit, professional theatre company in Louisville, Kentucky that produces and performs the works of William Shakespeare. The main productions offered are the annual summer series of plays presented free to the public at Central Park. This series, commonly called "Shakespeare in Central Park", sprung from an initial production in the park by The Carriage House Players in the summer of 1960. They also perform shows in other venues, as well as conduct educational programs related to acting and other theater-related skills.


The Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre was founded as the Red Heel Theatre in 1989, initially focusing on classic works of English theatre. In 1993, Carmen Khan became the Artistic Director of Red Heel and in 1996 focused the company's efforts on the works of Shakespeare, renaming it the Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival. Engaging in intensive planning with their board of directors and cultural and community leaders, they decided to re-brand and rename the company to better reflect their programming. The festival has recently added several new programs for adults and students including a lecture series featuring world-renowned Shakespeare Scholars.[10]


Jennifer Tober founded Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks in 2005. Their performances are free and utilize various public parks in the Pittsburgh area.[11][12]

Portland, OR[edit]

Founded in 1970, Portland Actors Ensemble performs free Shakespeare-in-the-Parks in the Portland area. Each summer they present two productions, a "Twilight Tragedie" in the evenings and a touring comedy in the afternoons.[13]

Shakespeare in Clark Park[edit]

Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet production in Clark Park

This Philadelphian theatre company offers and promotes free outdoor production of Shakespeare’s plays, creating a cultural event accessible to the greater Philadelphia area. While engaging the community and expanding Philadelphia’s summertime cultural scene, Shakespeare in Clark Park re-imagines the world of the park through the works of Shakespeare. Celebrating their 5th anniversary season in 2010, Shakespeare in Clark Park was formed in the fall of 2005 by Marla Burkholder, Maria Möller, Tom Reing and Whitney Estrin. In their inaugural season, Shakespeare in Clark Park presented four performances of Twelfth Night, drawing an audience of over 2,000 people.[14]

Shakespeare in Delaware Park[edit]

Shakespeare in Delaware Park is the United States' 2nd largest Shakespeare festival (following New York Shakespeare Festival). It is held in Buffalo, New York's Delaware Park.

Southern Shakespeare Festival[edit]

American serial entrepreneur Michael J. Trout and Dean Emeritus Richard G. Fallon Founded the Southern Shakespeare Festival Shakespeare festival and Renaissance Fair in 1996. It is held in Tallahassee, Florida's Kleman Plaza Tallahassee before it became the location of a parking garage. Currently, being organized for re-launch. Fan page

Joe Penczak in Act 5 of the Troupe of Friends 2011 production of Richard 2

Westfield, NJ[edit]

Troupe of Friends offers free outdoor Shakespearean performances in Westfield, NJ. The troupe is dedicated to bringing plays of high quality to audiences in the Union County area. The shows are typical staged at Mindowaskin Park on Labor Day weekend. The company was formed in 2006 by Artistic Director Joseph Penczak. Among the shows they have produced are The Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night, Henry IV Part One, Julius Caesar, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Richard 2, The Taming of the Shrew, King Lear, Waiting For Godot, and Endgame.


The Australian Shakespeare Company (Melbourne)[edit]

The Australian Shakespeare Company was founded in 1987 by Glen Elston, the man responsible for pioneering outdoor theatre performances of William Shakespeare’s plays in Australia. Since its creation, the Australian Shakespeare company has performed for more than a million people across all the different regions of Australia. They make it a mission to draw audiences of all age groups to their shows.[15]

The Sydney Shakespeare Festival (Sydney)[edit]

The Sydney Shakespeare Festival is one of the largest Shakespeare festivals in Australia. It takes place on Sydney Harbour’s foreshore at the Bicentennial Park. The Festival runs from early January through until about mid February. Though it was only founded in 2007, it has quickly grown to be one of Sydney’s premiere summer attractions, and one of the best places for outdoor performances of Shakespeare in the country. The goal of this festival is to entertain, challenge and inspire audiences. They also look to provide a festival that is free to children, seniors, and people with disabilities while still offering affordable pricing for the rest of society. The last goal of this festival is for it to be a relaxed, family-friendly environment.[16]

Shakespeare in the Park Festival at Toowoomba (Toowoomba)[edit]

The Shakespeare in the Park Festival at Toowoomba is another location for top notch al fresco Shakespeare performances in Australia. Originally presented in Toowoomba’s Queen’s Park (2004-2011), this festival recently moved (2012) to the University of Southern Queensland's Toowoomba campus. Audiences have viewed a variety of plays on the open-air mainstage since the festival's inception in 2004 including The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Comedy of Errors, Taming of the Shrew, Hamlet, Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night's Dream. This festival showcases Creative Arts students from the University of Southern Queensland and also includes a variety of other events to compliment the mainstage offering each year.[17][18]

Shakespeare WA (Perth)[edit]

Western Australia also holds a large Shakespeare in the Park festival in Perth at King’s Park Botanical Gardens. The plays for this festival are set to be performed by the same company (Shakespeare WA) through 2014. This festival is usually held from mid January to mid February, and is the largest single theatre event in Western Australia. A real benefit to this Shakespeare festival is the breathtaking surroundings of King’s park and the magnificent view of the stars during the performances.[19]


The Dream in High Park (Toronto)[edit]

The Dream in High Park is the oldest annual outdoor theatre event in Canada, currently entering its 28th season. Since its inception in 1983, an estimated 1.3 million people have enjoyed the tradition of theatre under the stars. The Canadian Stage Company, who performs the Dream, is nationally and internationally acclaimed, and is Canada's leading not-for-profit contemporary theatre company. It was founded in 1987 with the merger of CentreStage and Toronto Free Theatre, and is dedicated to programming international contemporary theatre, and to developing and producing landmark Canadian works.[20]

Shakespeare by the Sea Festival (St. John’s)[edit]

Shakespeare by the Sea Festival Inc., a community-based organization, produces and promotes artistic works with a focus on William Shakespeare. It unites seasoned and developing talent and aspires to excel in all aspects. The festival is the longest running outdoor summer theatre event in the St. John's area. Since 1993, the Shakespeare by the Sea Festival has been performing the works of the famous Bard all around the St. John's area – from the cliff-top meadows of Logy Bay to the historic World War II bunkers at Cape Spear – from the cobblestoned courtyard of the Murray Premises to the lush landscapes of Bowring Park. Since that time, the Festival has grown into a much-anticipated annual event.[21]

Repercussion Theatre (Montreal)[edit]

Repercussion Theatre has been touring parks throughout Montreal for 22 years, bringing the classics to people where they live, for free.[22] They are experienced in providing Shakespeare in the Park across the city, entertaining people who may otherwise not be exposed to the Baird’s work.[23] Repercussion Theatre was founded in 1988, when they played four shows in front of 800 people. Now, they are the only touring Shakespeare-in-the-Park company in North America, and faring better than most.[24] They are the only company in Montreal that has consistently produced a Shakespeare production year after year. Repercussion Theatre has recently found a lasting and secure niche in Westmount.[25]

A Company of Fools (Ottawa)[edit]

In 1990, Margo MacDonald and Heather Jopling, rooted in the belief that Shakespeare should be seen and not read, recruited almost a dozen young performers and took to the streets. They derived inspiration from the rogue Elizabethan players that once entertained audiences outdoors at the Globe theatre, named themselves A Company of Fools, and began performing for crowds on the streets of Ottawa. In 1998 the Fools began performing in Ottawa City Parks with college shows, and in 2002 the Fools launched the Torchlight Shakespeare series. Besides mounting an average of two productions a year, the Fools hold three annual events (Twelfth Night Celebration, Valentine's Day Sonnet Delivery, and the Ottawa Theatre Challenge) and are active in the Ottawa community.[26]

Shakespeare in the Ruins (Winnipeg)[edit]

Shakespeare in the Ruins (SIR) is Manitoba's only professional Shakespeare company. In the fourteen years since its inception, SIR has developed a well-deserved reputation for presenting Shakespeare's plays in ways that clarify and demystify Shakespeare, and evoke the life force at the core of his works. It is a company that prides itself on using "non-traditional" casting and staging. [27][28]

Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan (Saskatoon)[edit]

Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan festival tents south of the Mendel Art Gallery on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River

Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan is an award-winning festival which is renowned for both its traditional and cutting edge styles in its presentation of Shakespeare's works. The plays are staged on the banks of the beautiful Saskatchewan River, and take place from July to August.[29] It was founded in 1985, and the festival's activities include: medieval feasts; workshops; tours; art displays; special matinees; and a free community stage. It is a major Canadian tourism summer destination.[30]

Freewill Shakespeare Festival (Edmonton)[edit]

The Freewill Shakespeare Festival, formerly known as the River City Shakespeare Festival was founded in 1989. It is produced by the Edmonton, Alberta-based "Free Will Players" every summer from late June to mid July. The Festival includes full-scale professional productions of two plays by William Shakespeare, as well as Camp Shakespeare - a summer drama camp for youth ages 8–16. All Festival activities take place in the 1,000-seat Heritage Amphitheater in Edmonton's beautiful Hawrelak Park. In 2008, the festival was renamed the Freewill Shakespeare Festival.[31]

The Bard on the Beach (Vancouver)[edit]

Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival was established in 1990 with a mandate to provide Vancouver residents and tourists with affordable, accessible Shakespearean productions of the finest quality. A fully professional, not-for-profit theatre company, Bard on the Beach now engages thirty actors each season as well as a team of exceptional directors, designers, and technicians; it is also supported by more than 200 volunteers. The productions consistently receive both critical and audience acclaim and repeatedly play to sold out houses. The plays are staged in Vanier Park on Vancouver's waterfront, in open-ended tents against a spectacular backdrop of mountains, sea and sky, from the end of May through September. Over the years Bard on the Beach attendance has grown significantly from 6,000 patrons in 1990 to more than 90,000 patrons in 2009. The programming has of course expanded from one play to four, and from 34 performances to 215 two decades later.[32]


One of the Globe Theatres located in London, Great Britain

Shakespeare in the Park currently takes place throughout many European countries. In Europe, ever since the Elizabethan period, theatre has been a crucial part of their cultural heritage and history.[33] The Shakespearean performances take place mostly all over Europe from the East to Central Europe. One of the three Globe Theatres is located in Germany and is called "The Globe Neuss". It was founded in 1991 and is famous for its annual International Shakespeare Festival, where companies from all over the world come to perform.[33]

The German city of Bremen hosts The Bremer Shakespeare Company, which features the largest Shakespearean repertoire on a German stage. Performances at Bremer Park are a huge cultural attraction each year, and the festival also offers up the opportunity for guests to participate in The Dramatikerwerkstatt - a playwright workshop – where they are given the chance to explore the theatrical process from within.[34] The Footsbarn Theatre Company based in France is a travelling troupe of thespians who perform outdoor theatre all over the world.[35] Known for breaking the language barrier with their innovative performances of Shakespeare, Moliere, and other classical writers, they blend together music, magic, and visual theatre to create a blend of truly unique theatrical experiences.[35] In Italy, The Globe Theatre is located within the museum park in Villa Borghese. The stage is a classical “wooden o” structure, reminiscent of the original Globe stage, and is perfect for staging Elizabethan style productions.[36] Brussels Shakespeare Society based in Belgium has been performing “al fresco” productions of Shakespeare’s plays since the summer of 1976.[37] Theatrum Gedanense Foundation annually organizes the International Shakespeare Festival in Gdansk, Poland. A week-long festival of outdoor plays and events, the company strives to include not only Polish adaptations of Shakespeare plays, but foreign ones as well.[38]

The British Shakespeare Company is the best-known producer of open-air Shakespeare plays in Britain. Motivated by the tradition of outdoor theatre performance in Britain, and the desire for an accessible and innovative approach to Shakespeare; this Leeds-based festival attracts 15 000 people each summer.[39] The British Shakespeare Company is also responsible for helping to initiate a government policy to send “Shakespeare Packs” to school children of all ages and backgrounds, in an effort to introduce Shakespeare at a young age.[39] London’s Regent Park is a very special place for an outdoor Shakespeare experience, as the original productions of these great works took place in this very city. The Open Air Theatre Festival has become a famous tourist location, where many locals and tourists alike gather to see the performances. Open Air Theatre was first established in 1932, and is considered one of the largest auditoria in London. The oldest outdoor theatre in all of Britain hosts over 130,000 people annually in its sixteen week season.[40]

Regent Park is the host of one of London's most magnificent summer attractions, and is a hotbed of journalists and photographers, which is indicative of the huge popularity of this festival. Since the very first production of Twelfth Night in 1932, the Open Air Theatre has been the home of many successful seasons of Shakespeare; but also has staged other classical plays, operas, musicals and family shows.[41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Smith, Olivia (15 August 2009). "Success of free Shakespeare in the Park comes with a price for audiences - but it's worth the wait". Daily News (New York). 
  2. ^ a b Free Shakespeare in the park. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  3. ^ Shakespeare in the Park. (2010). Retrieved from
  4. ^ Cross, H. (2010). Shakespeare in the park guide. Retrieved from
  5. ^ The Baltimore Shakespeare festival. (2010). Retrieved from
  6. ^ Cincinnati Shakespeare company. (2010). Retrieved from
  7. ^ The Cleveland Shakespeare Festival (2010). Retrieved from
  8. ^ "How it All Started". Heart of America Shakespeare Festival. Retrieved 23 April 2011. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ The Philadelphia Shakespeare theatre. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  11. ^
  12. ^
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  14. ^ Shakespeare in Clark Park. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  15. ^ Australian Shakespeare Company. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  16. ^ Brava Media. (2009). Sydney Shakespeare Festival Inc.. Retrieved from
  17. ^ isntmedia Australia. (2010). Shakespeare in the park festival - toowoomba. Retrieved from
  18. ^ Look at WA Perth online portal-King's Park. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  19. ^
  20. ^ BWW News Desk. (2010, February 9). Canadian stage TD dream in high park presents romeo and juliet. Retrieved from
  21. ^ Shakespeare By The Sea Festival. St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. (2009). Shakespeare by the sea festival St. John's, Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada. Retrieved from
  22. ^ Repercussion Theatre Shakespeare in the park. (2010). Retrieved from
  23. ^ Marijike, D. (2010, May 25). Help support Montreal’s repercussion theatre!. Retrieved from
  24. ^ Taylor, D. G. (1997, July 10). How to Succeed in shakespeare repercussions theatre's outrageous fortune. Retrieved from
  25. ^ C, M. (1997, July 10). Repercussion theatre returns to westmount with ‘as you like it. Retrieved from
  26. ^ The Olde history, as we know it. (2010). Retrieved from
  27. ^ Shakespeare in the ruins. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  28. ^ Coalition partners in the national effort. (2010). Retrieved from
  29. ^ Saskatoon Kiosk. (2010). Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan festival. Retrieved from
  30. ^ Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan festival. (2009). Retrieved from
  31. ^ Shakespeare festival announces lineup, new name
  32. ^ Bard on the Beach. (2010). History. Retrieved from
  33. ^ a b
  34. ^
  35. ^ a b
  36. ^
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  38. ^
  39. ^ a b
  40. ^ Regent’s Park Theatre Ltd. (2010). Open air theatre- history. Retrieved from
  41. ^, Initials. (2008). Additional information. Retrieved from

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