Shakespeare on the Road


An epic journey around Shakespeare Festivals in North America.


23 June 2014

On 4 July the Shakespeare on the Road team will embark on an epic road trip all around North America in a unique project to discover and document the untold story of the Bard in the USA in the 450th anniversary of his birth.

The project aims to capture, for the first time, a comprehensive picture of Shakespeare’s place in contemporary American culture through the voices of artists and audiences across the continent. It will also be a reverse pilgrimage, celebrating the USA’s astonishing range of Shakespearean performance in classic road trip / travel writing fashion online.

Shakespeare on the Road is a collaborative venture by The University of Warwick and The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which is based in the playwright’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon. Project leaders Dr Paul Prescott, Associate Professor at the University of Warwick, and Rev. Dr Paul Edmondson, Head of Research and Knowledge at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, explain their ambitions below.

The amount of Shakespearean theatre-making in America dwarves that of any other country, the UK included. Every summer from sea to shining sea – from spit-and-sawdust performances in local parks to slick professional productions in reconstructed Elizabethan playhouses – the Bard busts out all over the USA. Nearly every state (including Hawaii and Alaska) has its own seasonal festival devoted to the playwright: there are more dedicated Shakespeare companies in California alone than there are in the whole of the UK. Shakespeare may not have been born in the USA, but from the founding of the republic to the present day, he appears to be immensely at home there.

We will be visiting fourteen Shakespeare festivals across the length and breadth of North America starting on the 4th July in Kansas City and ending in Washington DC in early September. Over 60 days, we’ll travel roughly 10,000 miles, see dozens of Shakespeare productions and meet hundreds of the people who – year in, year out – give fresh life to Shakespeare across the country. Our ambition is to take the pulse of Shakespeare’s presence in American culture in the 450th anniversary of his birth.

Along the way, we speak to actors, audience members, creatives, community organizers, philanthropists and hot-dog sellers about what Shakespeare means to them and their community. Why, in the face of patchy funding and an often indifferent mainstream culture, do they keep doing Shakespeare? What does the ubiquity of Shakespeare in the USA say about American attitudes to Britain and British culture? All too often, Americans are expected to make the pilgrimage to the UK – and especially Stratford-upon-Avon – to pay homage and to learn how Shakespeare ‘should be done’. We want to reverse the direction of pilgrimage and showcase how much the rest of the world has to learn from the rich and varied versions of Shakespeare produced annually in North America.

No web site or on-line resource fully captures the scale and diversity of Shakespeare’s cultural presence across the States. Entrepreneurial social media company Misfit Inc will also be part of the team, developing the project’s dedicated web site.

www.shakespeareontheroad.com will document the journey as it unfolds, through the familiar cinematic/travel writing genre of the road trip. (Please note this site is scheduled to go live from 23 June.)

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Professor James Shapiro (author, 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare) writes:

I'm thrilled to hear of your undertaking the strenuous and brilliant idea of Shakespeare on the Road. The Shakespeare festivals that stretch across my homeland are, and for many decades have been, at the heart of Shakespeare in America. Yet their story remains untold and for the most part unknown. Your project will not only be a boon to scholars (all too few of whom are aware of what is going on around them in big towns and small across the USA), but also a major contribution to public awareness, on both sides of the Atlantic. This is a perfect project for 2014.

Partner Festivals and tour dates:

  • Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, Kansas City, MO: 4 - 6 July
  • New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane, New Orleans, LA: 9 - 11 July
  • Shakespeare at Winedale, Winedale, TX: 13 - 15 July
  • Utah Shakespeare Festival, Cedar City, UT: 17 - 19 July
  • Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, Topanga, CA: 24 - 26 July
  • [Livermore Shakespeare Festival, Livermore, CA: 27 July
  • Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, OR: 29 - 31 July
  • Montana Shakespeare Festival, Bozeman, MT: 1 - 5 August
  • Door Shakespeare Festival, Door, WI: 7 August
  • Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Chicago, IL: 8 - 9 August
  • Harlem Shakespeare Festival, NYC, NY: 10 - 14 August
  • Shakespeare and Co., Lenox, MA: 15 - 17 August
  • Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Stratford, ON: 19 - 21 August
  • Nashville Shakespeare Festival, Nashville, TN: 23 - 25 August
  • American Shakespeare Center, Staunton, VA: 27 – 29 August
  • Shakespeare Theatre Company, Washington DC: 31 August

At each festival the project team will give presentations about Shakespeare on the Road and the work of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the charity that cares for the world’s greatest Shakespeare heritage sites and collections in Stratford-upon-Avon, and promotes the appreciation of Shakespeare worldwide. Festivals across North America will be invited to deposit material in the Trust’s archives to represent their activities in the festive period 2014-16. Drs Edmondson and Prescott will also compile a book about their experiences.

For further information and interviews with project leaders please contact:

Dr Susan Brock, Project Manager, Shakespeare on the Road Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies, University of Warwick E: s.l.brock@warwick.ac.uk T: 01608 682409 M: 07704 584117

Lynn Beddoe, PR & Public Affairs Manager, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust E: lynn.beddoe@shakespeare.org.uk T: 01789 207134 M: 07887 661770

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Appendix: A short introduction to four of our fourteen partners:

Montana Shakespeare in the Parks, Bozeman MT Press contact: Susan Dickerson, Managing Director, susan@montana.edu

The only Shakespeare company in the USA to reach extensively into under-served rural areas. MSIP travels to 60 communities every summer with 75 performances throughout Montana, northern Wyoming, eastern Idaho, western North Dakota and eastern Washington. Over 40% of the communities served by MSIP have a population of less than 2,000. This year’s production of As You Like It is set in 1917 Montana.

Stratford Festival, Stratford Ontario Press contact: Ann Swerdfager, Publicity Director, aswerdfager@stratfordfestival.ca

The largest classical repertory theatre in North America. Its thrust stage inspired the design of more than a dozen other major venues around the world, including the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, the Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center NY and, in England, the Chichester Festival Theatre, the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield and the Olivier Theatre at the Royal National Theatre. The opening of the 62nd season in May 2014 was marked with the presentation of a lifetime pass to the Festival’s 26 millionth patron.

Will Geer’s Theatrum Botanicum, Topanga CA Press contact: Michael Price Nelson, Marketing Director Marketing@theatricum.com

Founded in 1973 by actor Will Geer, best known as Grandpa in TV series The Waltons. The 2014 production of King Lear undertakes a daring reversal of genders: actress Ellen Geer assumes the title role as an aging Queen Lear who divides her kingdom to test the loyalty of her three loving sons. Her daughter Willow Geer-Alsop will play Edgar. Queen Elizabeth and Shakespeare will attend Shakespeare’s 450th birthday tea party to receive a commemorative plaque from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Utah Shakespeare festival, Cedar City UT Press Contact: Nikki Allen Koontz, Media and Public Relations Manager, nikki@bard.org

In 2012 it announced its commitment to produce all of William Shakespeare’s thirty-eight plays over twelve years in a new program called Complete the Canon The Adams Shakespearean Theatre (also known as the Adams Memorial Theatre) is a reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe; the BBC used it as a filming location in 1981 for a documentary series on Shakespeare The Festival is within a day’s drive of seven national parks and numerous national and state forests, monuments, and recreation areas. In a 2012 study by Neil Abercrombie and Kelly Matthews, the total economic impact of the festival was estimated at more than $35 million annually.