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The Three Best Shakespeare Festivals in America


The world has changed significantly since Shakespeare’s time, but basic human nature hasn’t really changed for centuries. Joy, sorrow, greed, lust, hate, love, ambition — the basic human emotions are at the heart of every Shakespeare play and are what make the bard’s works relevant today. Innovative stagings keep them fresh and attract new audiences, but even faithful renderings of Shakespeare plays will be pulling in audiences for centuries to come, unless humans undergo some dramatic metaphysical transformation, which doesn’t seem likely.

The Adventures of Pericles at the Utah Shakespearean Festival
The Adventures of Pericles at the Utah Shakespearean Festival

Theater companies devoted entirely to Shakespeare are found all over the country. Even in places without one, you’d be hard pressed to find a major city, or even smaller town, that doesn’t put on at least one play a year, but for a really immersive experience, nothing beats a good Shakespeare festival. From outdoor amphitheatres to an entire town dedicated to the experience, there’s a Shakespeare festival for you out there somewhere. The following festival descriptions are taken from the Shakespeare Resource Center, where you’ll find links to theater companies as well as exhaustive resources, including information about the Globe Theater, Elizabethan England, the language of Shakespeare and a bio of the bard among other things.

Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Ashland, OR
“…the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is the largest rotating repertory company in the US, operating since 1935.” 11 plays in three theaters take over the town of Ashland for over eight months. And those are just the main events.

Illinois Shakespeare Festival
Bloomington-Normal, IL
“The Illinois Shakespeare Festival is known nationally in the theatre community as one of the top Shakespeare Festivals. The Illinois Office of Tourism nominated the Illinois Shakespeare Festival as one of the top 120 attractions in the country.”

Utah Shakespeare Festival
Cedar City, UT
“The Utah Shakespearean Festival, which won the 2000 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre, presents nine plays each year from June through October.”

For those who might be burned out by Shakespeare (yes, hard to imagine, but it happens), you should know that while the main focus of the festivals is on the works of the master, there are always other plays offered, including contemporary and original works.

Need more? Can’t make it to one of the big three? There are plenty of other acclaimed festivals around the country. Here are a few:

North Carolina Shakespeare Festival
High Point, NC

Michigan Shakespeare Festival
Jackson, MI

Freeport Shakespeare Festival
Freeport, ME