Shakespeare Venues in Chicago and Across North America

These are a few of the theaters or festivals reviewed elsewhere on the site. Congratulations to all of them for bringing Shakespeare to the community.

American Players Theatre. Photo by Justin Shaltz.

American Players Theatre

American Players Theatre was founded in 1978 at Spring Green in south central Wisconsin. The company's first show was produced at an outdoor theatre in July 1980. In 1985 the company expanded to include the work of playwrights other than Shakespeare. The large outdoor theatre space, seating 1,100 patrons, was revamped in 2001, and for 2009 an indoor studio space was opened. The company boasts an annual attendance of approximately 100,000, an amazing number for a town of just 1,444 citizens, but a thoroughly charming venue, deep in the lush green woods "up the hill," with ample picnic tables and grills, a pair of gift shops, and a plentitude of friendly people.

American Shakespeare Center

The American Shakespeare Center (ASC) in Staunton, Virginia - about 100 miles south-southwest of Washington, D.C. - produces classical theatre year-round in Blackfriar's Playhouse. Productions are authentic indoor experiences with only universal theatre lighting and no scenic design other than occasional props, the emphasis heavy on performance and costumes. An ensemble of twelve plays all the roles of plays in demanding repertory, and each individual show features a half hour of contemporary songs sung and played by the cast with a variety of instruments - guitar, banjo, cello, violin, bass, even trumpets and a saxophone - and accompanied by an off-stage drummer/percussionist.

The company was founded by Jim Warren and Ralph Alan Cohen in 1988 as the traveling company Shenandoah Shakespeare Express, and opened its permanent theatre in 2001. The company became ASC in 2005, expanding to 15 plays per year by 2009. The play going experience is communal and fresh, with six audience members on each side of the stage and up to eight more invited to watch from the elevated musicians' box behind the stage. A hostess sells raffle tickets for a cast-autographed production poster before each performance, and a vendor sells refreshments from a rolling cart right onstage.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Photo by Steinkamp/Ballogg.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Founded as Shakespeare Repertory in 1986, the company's first show was produced on the rooftop of a Lincoln Park pub in Chicago. The company moved to the Ruth Page Theatre on Chicago's Gold Coast before a mammoth new $24 million state-of-the-art performance facility was constructed on Navy Pier - with a fabulous view of Lake Michigan - for the launch of the 1999 season. The company was renamed Chicago Shakespeare Theater and performs on the 500-seat Jentes Family Auditorium as well as the Carl and Marilynn Thoma Theater, a 200-seat black box space. Chicago Shakespeare Theater boasts 225,000 audience members annually, including 20,000 subscribers. An amazing success story for a jewel of Chicago theatre, with brilliant acting and superb leadership and direction (right from the beginning) from the tandem of Barbara Gaines and Criss Henderson.

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival is a professional theatre associated with the University of Colorado. The Festival was founded in Boulder during 1958. A rotating repertory of plays are performed in the Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre or at the indoor University Theatre. Timothy Orr is the current artistic director of the Festival, which attracts more than 30,000 patrons each summer.

Court Theatre

Court Theatre was founded on the University of Chicago campus in 1955, and has become a national center for classic theatre. The company incorporated as a professional not-for-profit entity in 1983 and still performs in the 251-seat Abelson Auditorium on campus. Yet another venerable Chicago jewel with a long and distinguished history of classical productions staged with vibrancy and imagination, nestled within the storied University neighborhood of Hyde Park.

The Goodman Theatre

The Goodman Theatre was established in July 1922 in Chicago. The company performed in its theatre behind the Art Institute of Chicago from 1925 until 2000, when a new facility - featuring the 856-seat main stage Albert Theatre as well as the smaller 468-seat Owen Theatre space - opened in December. The Goodman is Chicago's oldest and largest not-for-profit theatre company, a venerable company with a rich history of theatrical excellence just off Lake Michigan and now in the bustle of Chicago's downtown theatre district.

The theater at Ewing Manor. Photo by Justin Shaltz.

Illinois Shakespeare Festival

The Illinois Shakespeare Festival was founded in 1978 as a community outreach program by Illinois State University. The Festival is located in Bloomington-Normal, about 120 miles south of Chicago, with performances within an outdoor theatre on the grounds of Ewing Manor. Until the early 2000s, matinees and rain-outs were performed at the indoor Westhoff Theatre. Three-production seasons were enhanced in 1996 with an expanded family Green Show, and a new and permanent outdoor theatre, seating 438 patrons, was constructed for the opening of the 2000 season. A beautiful college-town setting, nicely distanced from the big city, with a sizeable but still intimate performing space, a whip-smart community audience, and a wealth of excellent directors and designers from Illinois State.

The Next Theatre Company

The Next Theatre Company was founded in 1981 in Evanston IL just north of Chicago. The company signed a union contract with the Actors' Equity Association in the early 1990s and continues to perform within a 167-seat theatre, serving over 10,000 patrons each year. The Next has provided brilliant Shakespearean moments in its history, characterizing its productions with raw performance energy as well as boldly original directorial vision.

Photo by Justin Shaltz, © 2011

Oregon Shakespeare Festival

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival was founded in southern Oregon in 1935. Each year OSF presents an eight-and-a-half-month season of eleven plays in three theatres - the outdoor Elizabeth Stage pavilion, the state-of-the-art Angus Bowmer indoor facility, and the intimate black-box space at the New Theatre - plus numerous ancillary activities. The OSF also features an extensive theatre education program. Operating on a budget of more than $26 million, OSF presents more than 780 performances each year with an approximate attendance of 400,000. A wonderful small-town experience just north of the California border, within the gorgeous Rogue River Valley, within a youthful college campus atmosphere and a wealth of professional theatre expertise.

Shakespeare Theatre Company

The company began residence in 1986 as The Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library Theatre in downtown Washington, D.C. During 1992, the company became independent and moved to 451-seat Lansburgh Theatre in Penn Quarter as Shakespeare Theatre Company. Michael Kahn has served as the company's only artistic director, and the company has been awarded 81 Helen Hays awards to date, plus another 322 nominations. A second venue, the 774-seat Sidney Harman Hall, was opened in 2007, and the company was awarded the 2012 Regional Theatre Tony Award.

Photo by Justin Shaltz, © 2010

Stratford Shakespeare Festival

The Shakespearean Festival of Canada Foundation presented its first performance on July 13, 1953, with Tyrone Guthrie directing Alec Guinness in the title role of Richard III in a tent at Stratford in southeastern Ontario. In 1957, the 1826-seat Festival Theatre opened with Christopher Plummer starring in Hamlet. The Avon Theatre, a former vaudeville house, was opened as a second venue in 1963, and black-box productions were mounted at The Third Stage - since renamed the Tom Patterson Theatre, after the Festival's founder - beginning in 1971. A fourth venue, the intimate 260-seat Studio Theatre, opened for the 2002 season.

The Festival, now known as the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, runs a season from April until November each year, and operates with an annual budget just under $60 million. A national treasure for Canada and a magnet for theatre fans with its emphases not just on Shakespeare but on modern musicals, Canadian playwrights, and inventive black-box experiments, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival is an amazing experience: a tiny but friendly town of 25,000 in the heartland between Detroit and Toronto, so peaceful and quiet, but with an extraordinary wealth of fantastic restaurants and four unique theatre spaces offering a widely varied style of performance.

Photo by Justin Shaltz

Utah Shakespearean Festival

The Utah Shakespearean Festival was founded in 1961 at Cedar City, Utah, and opened its first season in 1962. The Festival is nestled within the grounds of Southern Utah University near Zion National Park, north of the Grand Canyon, four hours south of Salt Lake City, and a three hour drive northwest of Las Vegas.

The Festival boasts the 819-seat outdoors Adams Memorial Shakespearean Theatre and in 1989 added the 769-seat indoor Randall L. Jones Theatre. The company was awarded the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre in 2000. The 2010 slate of plays includes six productions on a $6 million annual budget, and almost 150,000 tickets are expected to be sold.