This post also appeared on Travel. Write. Repeat. I hope you enjoy it!

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"All the World is a Stage", so get thee to a Shakespeare festival!

It is that time of year again; the flowers have bloomed, the birds are singing and the sun warms your t-shirt wearing arms. Its time to pack your blankets, your wine & cheese and hop in the car to begin your road trip to the nearest (or furthest) Shakespeare festival to enjoy theatre at its best!

Now stop your internal nay-saying and hear me out.
Even if you were not an English major (as I was), Shakespeare has appealing qualities to everyone, well- except maybe my mom. When she helped me study my lines for the very amateur Shakespeare plays I took part in during my undergrad I remember her saying multiple times "how can anyone understand this"?

In retrospect, my response to her then of "Mom! It's not that hard! Just help me!" didn't add her to the number of Shakespeare fans out there. Since my future career of theatre has gone the way of Hamlet's father and my frustration of one not understanding "the craft of the language" has subsided, I can see how the complexity of the language can seem as approachable as snuggling a hedgehog.

Of course, one could buy cliff notes or watch the many movies that have been made from the plays (and I have to say, Mel Gibson's Hamlet is not bad), but I suggest instead to try taking in a live show in a true festival format. In my opinion, seeing the actors express the words make them easier to grasp and gives an unanticipated appreciation of this old language full of modern day messages.

Nearly every major city in the US and Canada have a Shakespeare Festival--as well as in Europe, but here are the ones that make the top of my list:

1. The Globe Theatre, London, England
The original Globe Theater was opened in the 1570's and here, Shakespeare got his start. After a few tragedies, namely the Bubonic Plague, a demolishing fire, the English Civil War and finally the destruction of the Globe (and theaters in general) by the Puritans, The Globe laid dormant for 350 years before a man named Sam Wanamaker had it rebuilt in the early 1990's.

Today, Shakespeare's Globe is THE Shakespeare festival to attend and their 2010 schedule is packed with some of the Bard's greatest hits.
With the gorgeous setting, the history and the nearby sights of London--this festival is hard to beat.

Plus, you can buy these cool mugs at the gift shop.

2010 Schedule
Macbeth until June 27, 2010
Henry VIII thru August 21, 2010
Henry IV Part 1 (my favorite) from June 6- October 2, 2010
Henry IV Part 2 from July 3- October 3, 2010
The Merry Wives of Windsor August 14-October 2, 2010

2. Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, Oregon
When I was last in Ashland, a town near the border of California, for this festival, 2 friends and I camped at the local campground was fun and saved us quite a bit of money--as the bed-n-breakfasts and hotels here can get pricey and fill up quickly. The campground was great and truly added to the wonderful memories I have of Ashland.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has always been known for having cutting edge plays showing alongside the most popular Shakespeare plays in their 3 theaters.

This year 'Hamlet' is featured and the last time it was featured here was 10 years ago (when I was there)!

'Henry IV, Part 1' must be a big one this year because its showing here too (as well as in London) and other than 'The Merchant of Venice' and 'Twelfth Night', the rest of the line-up is non-Shakespeare. Here are my recommendations playing through the end of October (and 'Hamlet' also playing through the end of October, is a given):
'Pride and Prejudice'

After seeing some shows and strolling amongst the other Shakespeare buffs in Ashland-- drive just 90 miles away and see the truly take-your-breath-away vision of Crater Lake. The blue in this picture has not been doctored. The lake is seriously that blue.

3. Santa Cruz Shakespeare Festival, Santa Cruz, CA

Ahhhh, Santa Cruz: my favorite city in Cali. Close to San Francisco, but such a beach town with awesome surfing waves, boardwalk amusement parks (with the country's OLDEST working wood roller-coaster) and a very cool Shakespeare Festival!

the author & her brother with the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk in the background

Although a short season and with only three plays each summer, the festival on the campus of University of California at Santa Cruz ("UCSC") is quite popular and always sells out. My favorite showing here was the classic 'Romeo and Juliet" played out in the UCSC outdoor theatre surrounded by a canopy of evergreen trees and complete with 2 story stage so you could really see Juliet searching for "Romeo, Romeo..." as intended, from her second story balcony.

photo of the outdoor theatre during a showing of Julius Caesar in 2009. courtesy R.R. Jones

The 2010 Festival Season runs from July 20 - August 29 and the shows featured this year are:
Love's Labour Lost
and The Lion in Winter (a non-Shakespeare play)

4. Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Stratford, Ontario

My Aunt, a University English Professor, travels to Stratford each year from the West Coast for this Festival--- known as the most popular in all of North America.

For more than 50 years, this festival has provided, according to their website, "stimulating, thought-provoking productions of Shakespeare’s plays, to examine other plays from the classical repertoire, and to foster and support the development of Canadian theatre practitioners".

Stratford is just outside of Toronto and aside from reaching here by train or plane, the festival has round trip bus rides for just $30 Canadian from Toronto to the Festival.

The festival here runs from April through October (but check individual plays for their running time). There are a dozen plays this year and including Peter Pan that has an emphasis on an all-ages audience and Evita, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber (both running through October), the key Shakespeare plays are:

'As You Like It' through Oct 31, 2010
'The Tempest" June 11- September 12, 2010
'The Two Gentlemen of Verona' July 12-September 19, 2010

See the entire playbill here.

Hopefully you can get to one of these festivals or many of the others that are going on around the country this summer!
Have any Shakespeare recommendations? Please leave a comment and let me know!


  1. Captain Key said...

    You would also be happy to know that there is also a Starbuck's right across the street from the Globe. ;)  

  2. Stratfordfest said...

    Thank you so much for mentioning the Stratford Shakespeare Festival! It's always exciting to read about the ways we have become a part of peoples lives, like your aunt. You didn't mention any trips you made to our little part of the world. Have you even made the trip to Stratford?
    I also wanted to add that this season we have "The Winter's Tale" June-September 25.
    Thank you once again for including us in this great post celebrating those that celebrate Shakespeare.  

  3. sheryl said...

    Ahh Diana, Ashland was so much fun (even though I am not a good camper....little kids and a tent are not the ideal situation Ha Ha) Thanks for the memeory :-)
    -Remember the blair witch scare?
    Wonder how Barry is doing?
    I still have my Shakespeare crown!

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