The American Shakespeare Festival Theatre

Come tour the historic Shakespeare Festival Theatre during Festival! Stratford

Stratford’s Shakespeare Festival Theatre is now open to the public for viewing, during our Festival! event. Following in the theatrical footsteps of Stratford, Connecticut’s namesake and William Shakespeare’s hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon, England, the Connecticut General Assembly established the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre as a nonprofit educational corporation in June of 1951.  With its storied past full of artistic and educational successes, the Theatre had been closed since 1989.  But in conjunction with Festival! Stratford, the Stratford Arts Commission opens the doors for the public to view and reminisce about the historic Theatre.

Ground was broken in 1954 and the theatre officially opened its doors in 1955.  The 1,500+ seat theatre, with its elegant grounds overlooking the picturesque Housatonic River, has featured such distinguished actors as Katharine Hepburn, James Earl Jones, Paul Newman, Jessica Tandy, Jane Alexander, Hal Holbrook, Roddy McDowall, Nina Foch, Christopher Plummer, Christopher Walken, and Will Geer. Also of note, John Houseman served as its artistic director during the late 1950s.

In addition to classical works, a variety of performing arts events filled the auditorium over the years.  In 1959, the theatre began to serve as an educational forum for children and young adults and, since then, more than 1.5 million students have been exposed to Shakespearean works there. 

Fred Curchack’s one-person show of The Tempest was the last production on the Stratford stage in September of 1989.

In February 2005, the Town of Stratford received the deed for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival Theatre from the state of Connecticut.  In late 2007, the town issued a request for proposals for an architectural assessment of the needs of the theatre building. In October of 2010, the Town of Stratford selected The Arts Consulting Group, a national arts and cultural organization management firm with offices in Los Angeles and New York, to assess the theatre’s potential future.

For the first time, eight years ago, the grounds of the theatre played host to free outdoor Shakespeare and entertainment, as organized by concerned Stratford citizens.  The summer festival,  called Festival! Stratford, has maintained quality arts and entertainment in the grove of the historic theatre property ever since. 

In October of 2010, Timex Group USA gifted to the Town a beautiful replica, an exact copy of the original sundial the company created 50 years ago for the theatre.  A rare sundial of its stature, it reflects Daylight Savings Time, and is accompanied by seven colorful crests along the theatre front.  Volunteers have shown their enthusiasm for theatre awareness throughout summer and fall by helping to clean out and touch up the inside of the old theatre, preserving archives, covering graffiti, planting flower beds, painting, and much more.

So, we welcome one and all to “Come tour the historic Shakespeare Festival Theatre during Festival! Stratford”