NEA Arts Magazine

Shakespeare in American Communities Continues with Shakespeare for a New Generation

As the lights of the theater dim, the audience settles down. The curtains rise to reveal a world of love, tragedy, and comedy. The audience is enthralled by the words of William Shakespeare and finds the play's themes are relevant to their lives today.

This stage isn't located in New York or Chicago. It's the stage of a local high school in a rural town. And the audience isn't your typical dinner-and-a-show crowd. Instead, middle and high school students are experiencing live Shakespeare, some for the first time.

This is the scene in many towns across America as the National Endowment for the Arts, in partnership with The Sallie Mae Fund and Arts Midwest, a regional arts organization based in Minneapolis, launches Shakespeare in American Communities Phase II: Shakespeare for a New Generation. Shakespeare for a New Generation will provide middle and high school students—many of whom have never seen a professional play due to geography, economic conditions, disabilities, or other difficulties—the opportunity to experience a professional production of the greatest playwright in the English language.

Representatives Cass Ballenger, Louise Slaughter and Jim Leach performing in the Shakespeare skit at the Shakespeare in American Communities celebration on Capitol Hill

Representatives Cass Ballenger, Louise Slaughter and Jim Leach performing in the Shakespeare skit at the Shakespeare in American Communities celebration on Capitol Hill. Photo by Stephen Purcell.

Shakespeare for a New Generation builds on the success of Shakespeare in American Communities, which is bringing Shakespeare's plays produced by seven noted professional theater companies to communities and military bases across the country. Most Americans under the age of 18 have never seen a live professional play. Through the two phases of Shakespeare in American Communities, the NEA expects to reach up to one million students.

"The unqualified success of the first phase of Shakespeare in American Communities resulted in many more communities eager to participate in this program. With Phase II, we will bring the finest new productions of Shakespeare to hundreds of additional schools and communities," Dana Gioia, NEA chairman, said at the project's Phase II announcement on January 8, 2004. "We've received letters and e-mails from teachers and students who've taken part in Phase I, saying it opened up a whole new awareness of theater and of language for them."

As part of the program, 21 professional theater companies, selected by a panel, will receive matching funds, ranging from $10,000 to $30,000, to support activities for students from at least 10 schools in their community, state, or region during the 2004-05 school year.

Representatives Adam Schiff, Jack Quinn, and Thomas Petri performing in the Shakespeare skit at the Shakespeare in American Communities celebration on Capitol Hill.

Representatives Adam Schiff, Jack Quinn, and Thomas Petri performing in the Shakespeare skit at the Shakespeare in American Communities celebration on Capitol Hill. Photo by Stephen Purcell

The non-profit theater companies participating in Shakespeare for a New Generation were announced on April 23, 2004, in celebration of Shakespeare's 440th birthday and the first anniversary of Shakespeare in American Communities.

  • Alaska Theatre of Youth, Eccentric Theatre & Edgware (Anchorage, AK) - A Midsummer Night's Dream & others
  • Perseverance Theatre (Douglas, AK) - Macbeth
  • San Diego Repertory Theatre (San Diego, CA) - King Lear
  • Shakespeare Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz, CA) - Henry IV, Part I
  • Hartford Stage Company (Hartford, CT) - Othello
  • Yale Repertory Theatre (New Haven, CT) - The Comedy of Errors
  • The Shakespeare Theatre (Washington, DC) - Macbeth, Pericles, & Julius Caesar
  • Asolo Theatre, Inc. (Sarasota, FL) - A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • Atlanta Shakespeare Company (Atlanta, GA) - Several productions
  • Idaho Shakespeare Festival (Boise, ID) - The Tempest or The Merry Wives of Windsor
  • Indiana Repertory Theatre, Inc. (Indianapolis, IN) - A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • The Shakespeare Festival at Tulane (New Orleans, LA) - Macbeth
  • Shakespeare & Company (Lenox, MA) - Julius Caesar
  • The Theater at Monmouth (Monmouth, ME) - The Merry Wives of Windsor
  • Montana Shakespeare in the Parks (Bozeman, MT) - A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • The Shakespeare Theatre of NJ (Madison, NJ) - Hamlet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth, & Henry V
  • Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park (Cincinnati, OH) - Twelfth Night
  • The People's Light & Theatre Company (Malvern, PA) - A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • Utah Shakespearean Festival (Cedar City, UT) - The Taming of the Shrew
  • Tacoma Actors Guild (Tacoma, WA) - The Comedy of Errors
  • American Players Theatre (Spring Green, WI) - Twelfth Night & Othello