2023 was a big year for Shakespeare—it marked the 400th anniversary of the First Folio, the first collected edition of the Bard’s works and our sole source for sixteen of his plays. So, before we dive into 2024, let’s take a moment to look back at the past Shakes-year. We wrote to our Shakespeare theater partners across the United States to see how they spent the past year. Here are some of their highlights.
Folger Theatre began 2023 with The Reading Room Festival, a weekend of staged readings of new works inspired by, in response to, or in conversation with the plays of William Shakespeare. The festival returns in January 2024 for its eagerly-awaited second outing, with readings and conversations with Austin Dean Ashford, Sarah Mantell, Jacob Ming-Trent, Carmen Pelaez, and John Proctor III.
As our renovation continued, so did the Folger roadshow. In April, we celebrated Shakespeare’s birthday month with Searching for Shakespeare, a month-long, city-wide festival that featured a new exhibition (with a First Folio!) at DC’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, a city-wide scavenger hunt, and performances of new Shakespeare-inspired play Our Verse in Time to Come at DC Public Library neighborhood locations across the city.
Folger Theatre finished the year by returning to its historic home on Capitol Hill for The Winter’s Tale directed by Tamilla Woodard. Audiences were thrilled to get a sneak peek of the Folger’s newly renovated lobbies and public spaces. Coming in 2024: Madeline Sayet’s one-actor show Where We Belong; Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation of Metamorphoses, directed by Psalmayene 24; and, in June, the Folger’s full reopening.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company
In November, the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company presented a sensory-friendly performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Sensory-friendly performances are uniquely adapted for individuals with autism and/or those with developmental and/or sensory differences to enjoy with their families. This was Cincy Shakes’s first sensory-friendly performance, Communications and Engagement Manager Kyrié Owen told us. “After a year of planning, working with doctors and organizations that work with the disabled community, it was a huge win to see everyone have fun during the performance. We’re looking forward to continue presenting sensory friendly performances every season and continue bringing Shakespeare to life for all!”
This fall, Jersey City’s Shakespeare@ relaunched itself as The Curtain and returned to stage performances with a jazz-age Romeo and Juliet, featuring Aria Shaghasemi and Anita Pomario as the titular lovers. “I am beyond thrilled to announce our return to stage performance, bringing Shakespeare@ to a new life as The Curtain,” Producing Artistic Director Sean Hagerty told BroadwayWorld in August, “Romeo and Juliet strikes me as the perfect story for our time… All of us feel very grateful and fortunate to make our return with this show and this incredible international cast. We are excited to bring our vision back to Jersey City and our devoted audiences.”
Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival
This summer, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival staged Henry V, directed by Artistic Director Davis McCallum. HVSF veteran Emily Ota played the charismatic warrior king, bringing swagger, grace and gravitas to the role. With Ota’s boldness and fire on display, it was clear to see how Henry led his forces to a miraculous victory. “Henry V lent itself especially beautifully to the HVSF tent,” says the festival’s Sarah Soliman, “We transformed our thrust into a theater-in-the-round, and with the sand floor and the outdoor terrain surrounding our tent, audiences could more easily imagine themselves as part of Henry’s band of brothers in the ‘vasty fields of France.’”
San Francisco Shakespeare Festival
It was a year of firsts for the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival. This summer, the festival added a fourth venue for its Free Shakespeare in the Park production of Cymbeline. In addition to its regular venues in San Francisco, Cupertino, and Redwood City, the festival partnered with California Shakespeare Festival and performed for the first time (to capacity audiences!) at Orinda’s Bruns Amphitheater.
In November, SF Shakes partnered with Berkeley Shakespeare Company, Cal Shakes, Marin Shakespeare Company, SPARC, and Vallejo Shakespeare in the Park to hold group general auditions. “One audition slot, one location, multiple companies,” writes the festival’s John Western, “As you may imagine, audition slots filled quickly!”
Also in November, the festival staged a reading of Querida Sor Juana/Dear Sor Juana at San Francisco’s Women’s Building. It was originally conceived as a dramatic reading of the letters of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648 – 1696) for the Bay Area Women’s Theatre Festival in March 2020. COVID-19 postponed the event, but like the phoenix it rose again as Querida Sor Juana: The Death of the Phoenix of México.
Seattle Shakespeare Company
Seattle Shakespeare gathered this year for a workshop of its first-ever commissioned new work! Keiko Green’s new comedy The Bed Trick is inspired by All’s Well that Ends Well, which she starred in at Seattle Shakespeare in 2018. The company read through a draft of the play, discussed the world and ideas, tried out different takes on characters and moments, and asked lots of questions. Green’s dark and hilarious new problem play will premiere in the spring.
Shakespeare in Detroit
2023 marks ten years since Shakespeare in Detroit staged Detroit’s first-ever outdoor performance of the Bard’s work in tradition of Shakespeare in the park. This year, the groundbreaking nonprofit theater performed a late ’80s/early ’90s-inspired production of The Tempest for 1,400 audience members at Campus Martius Park in the heart of downtown Detroit: the company’s portrayal of Prospero was inspired by pioneering Detroit techno artist Juan Atkins. The show was a perfect way to dance out of the organization’s first decade—glow sticks and all—and into the next one!
Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
In February, Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte announced that 2023 would be her final season after leading the company for 33 years. New Jersey Governor Thomas H. Kean, Honorary Chair of STNJ, remarked, “During her tenure, Bonnie Monte has taken The Shakespeare Theatre to new heights. She is one of NJ’s arts leaders—she will be succeeded but never replaced.” In 2024, Monte will be succeeded by Brian B. Crowe, who joined us on the Shakespeare Lightning Round in June to tell us about his hopes for the future of the company.
A Midwinter Night’s Dream, a “re-seasoning” of Midsummer adapted by Monte and Joseph Discher and directed by Crowe, is onstage through December 31.
St. Louis Shakespeare Festival
The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival hosted Lisa Portes, Head of Directing at Depaul University, to direct Twelfth Night for our 23rd-annual Shakespeare in the Park. Lisa’s ingenious interpretation of Cuban migrants shipwrecked in Miami, along with the on- and off-stage celebration of the Latino/Latiné community, was unlike anything St. Louis has seen before. “Opening night set the tone for the rest of the summer’s festivities with glorious weather, food from Havana’s Cuisine, and salsa dancing throughout Shakespeare Glen,” the festival’s Allie Magee recalls. All told, the festival welcomed back a total audience that exceeded even its pre-COVID attendance.
Utah Shakespeare Festival
Now in its 62nd season, the Utah Shakespeare Festival celebrated the enduring magic of Shakespeare alongside the vibrancy of contemporary works. The festival’s performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Coriolanus, and Timon of Athens showcased our deep commitment to Shakespeare, while productions like A Raisin in the Sun and The Play That Goes Wrong added a modern dimension to our season’s offerings. Even our production of Jane Austen’s Emma: The Musical helped illustrate our love of classic writers in a joyful, audience-pleasing way.
Looking back at The Play That Goes Wrong, one of the festival’s best-selling shows of 2023, Properties Director Ben Hohman captured the Festival’s dedicated spirit, saying, “We knew from the start that it was going to be tough to get through so many performances and keep everyone safe and the show in good shape, but with a lot of pre-planning and diligent work by the cast, crew, and staff, we pulled off one of the most technically complicated shows we have done in a really long time, and the audience really enjoyed it. That made it all worthwhile.”
The festival is incredibly proud of its 2023 season, and offers heartfelt thanks to its patrons and donors, whose enthusiasm and support inspire its blend of classic and contemporary theatre. The festival eagerly anticipates another year of enriching lives through the legacy of Shakespeare and the innovation of modern storytelling as it prepares for season 63 in Cedar City.
Tell us about your Shakes-year!
Of course, this is just a fraction of the Shakespearean activity that happened across the country in 2023. What are your favorite Shakespeare memories from the past year? What was the best production you saw or worked on? What’s the news from your local Shakespeare company or festival? Tell us in the comments!
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