The 4th July is upon on us, and I’ve just landed in Kansas City for the start of Shakespeare on the Road, an epic road trip all around North America which aims to tell the story of the extraordinary phenomenon of the Shakespeare festival. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has teamed up with the University of Warwick and Misfit, Inc. and together we will visit 14 Shakespeare Festivals, across 25 states and 10,000 miles. A dedicated site launches during 4th July and you can sign up for updates here.
The line on the map shows our journey, from the middle of the States to the south, across to the west, up to the north west, back across the centre to the east, up north in to Canada, and then back down south and finally finishing in Washington DC.
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 here. Shakespeare on the Road aims to portray Shakespeare’s place in contemporary American culture through the voices of artists and audiences across the continent. It’s a reverse pilgrimage, celebrating the USA’s astonishing range of Shakespearean performance. 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. During the next two months we will be gathering together material for a radio documentary, a book, and the international collections of the Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive.
I’m joined by my excellent friends and colleagues Dr Paul Prescott (University of Warwick) and AJ and Melissa Leon (Misfit Incorporated and Honorary Fellows of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust). We will be doing talks at each of the festival venues, telling the story via social media and presenting a 450th birthday gift to each of the festival partners in the form of a plaque from a cedar tree that used to grow in the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace (it had to be felled because it was becoming a danger to public safety). We are delighted that Greg Wyatt (Sculptor in Residence at St John the Divine Cathedral, New York) has designed, made and donated these beautiful objects.
In his generous endorsement of the project, Professor James Shapiro of Columbia University (and author of 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.”
Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, Kansas City, MO 4 – 6 July 2014
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, 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 29 Aug – 1 Sept