About Shakespeare in American Communities


The National Endowment for the Arts, in cooperation with Arts Midwest, is bringing professional theater productions of Shakespeare and related educational activities to Americans in small and mid-sized communities throughout the country. Shakespeare in American Communities is the largest tour of Shakespeare in American history. The initiative launched in September 2003 with a nationwide tour of seven professional theater companies, including performances at 18 military bases. A second phase, Shakespeare for a New Generation, began with the 2004-05 school year and has grown annually. During the 2009-10 school year, 37 theater companies in 25 states and the District of Columbia will conduct performances as well as artistic and technical workshops, symposia about the productions, and educational programs in local middle and high schools.

By May 2009, having concluded the nationwide tour and five years of Shakespeare for a New Generation, the initiative has:

  • Reached more than 2,300 communities and visited all 50 states,
  • Given more than 5,400 performances to audiences of more than 1.5 million people,
  • Enabled students from more than 3,600 schools to see a professional production of Shakespeare,
  • 65,000 free multimedia teacher toolkits that will impact millions of school children.

Nationwide Tour

Seven professional theater companies were selected to tour Shakespeare plays to venues including military bases from September 2003 to November 2004. In addition to performances, the tours include artistic and technical workshops, symposia about the production, and educational programs in local schools. Additional support for this phase was provided by The Sallie Mae Fund. The participating companies were:

  • The Acting Company (New York, NY) – Richard III
  • Alabama Shakespeare Festival (Montgomery, AL) – Macbeth - touring military bases (see below)
  • The Aquila Theatre Company (New York, NY) – Othello
  • Arkansas Repertory Theatre (Little Rock, AR) – Romeo and Juliet
  • Artists Repertory Theatre (Portland, OR) – A Midsummer Night's Dream – performing with actors from the Central Dramatic Company of Vietnam
  • Chicago Shakespeare Theater (Chicago, IL) – Romeo and Juliet
  • The Guthrie Theater (Minneapolis, MN) – Othello

Military Base Tour

In an unprecedented partnership, the National Endowment for the Arts collaborated with the Department of Defense to bring the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and their production of Macbeth to 13 U.S. military bases. With $1 million from the Department of Defense, the Arts Endowment served military personnel and their families from all four military branches. The tour took place in September and October 2004.

Shakespeare for a New Generation

See the complete list of companies selected to participate 2004-2012.

Educational Components

  • Educational outreach is an integral component of the initiative.
  • The audio CD features interviews and recitations by James Earl Jones, Michael York, and Jane Alexander among other noted actors.
  • Shakespearean actors Wallace Acton and Noel True host a 25-minute video,Shakespeare in Our Time, that explores the Bard, his work and his times with clips from many films based on his plays.
  • The 20-minute video Why Shakespeare? features students as well as actors including Tom Hanks, Martin Sheen, Christina Applegate, and Michael Richards reciting favorite Shakespearean passages and speaking about the impact of theater and Shakespeare on their lives.

Americans Talking About Shakespeare in American Communities

  • "The most exciting, insightful, and wise conversation I have ever had the class engage in. No class I have ever taught has understood the play this well, or been this emotionally engaged with the characters. Truly Shakespeare was meant to be seen!" - Jo Ellen Aspinwall, high school teacher, Waycross, GA
  • "I have used the education materials. Over half of the students chose to memorize and perform monologues for the unit's final project. All of the materials have come in very handy and I anticipate using them again with our Shakespeare units in the coming years." - Terry Coffey, middle school teacher, Columbus MS
  • "I would argue that the students have been changed by this - their close encounter with vivid art. Their field of vision has been broadened. The tickets they were provided free of charge bought them admission to the performance, and admission to a newly-richer world." - Kathy Hassall, Presenter, University of North Florida

June 2008