St. Louis Shakespeare Festival Brings Theater to Audiences Across Our Region

St. Louis Shakespeare Festival is a theater of, by, and for St. Louis that brings the joy and entertainment of Shakespeare to Forest Park and far beyond to the neighborhoods, communities, and people of the region—completely free of charge. 

Shakespeare in the Park is a beloved summer tradition for many, with over one million audience members since 2001 and an average attendance of over 50,000 guests each year. The performances are completely free, and certain dates each season include audio descriptions and ASL interpretation. It’s no wonder Shakespeare in the Park has become so deeply ingrained in the fabric of a St. Louis summer. The experiences of viewing a classic theater production picnic-style, the sun setting on the Saint Louis Art Museum behind you and the lush expanse of Forest Park Before you, are truly unique. 

The 2022 mainstage production of Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park. Credit: Phillip Hamer Photography

“Shakespeare in the park has always been free, and always will be,” said Tom Ridgely, Producing Artistic Director. “But we knew that for these plays to truly belong to everyone they had to be seen and enjoyed not only in St. Louis’s biggest and most beautiful park, but in the smaller neighborhood parks that are the heart and hub of so many of our communities.” 

Enter, TourCo. Now in its second year, TourCo is staging a 90-minute adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 24 sites across the metro area from August 2–27. This modern production features six actors in multiple roles creating rich theater of the imagination. TourCo is our region’s first outdoor theater tour offering free performances to dozens of communities across the bistate area, over half of which are hosted in low- to middle-income neighborhoods. 

“Last year, when we took TourCo to 24 sites for the first time, I was struck by the number of people who had heard of but had never been to St. Louis Shakespeare Festival,” said Austin Skinner, Development Director, St. Louis Shakespeare Festival. “TourCo felt like a Shakespeare Fest created just for them.” 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most joyful and beloved comedies. The central characters fall in and out of love while lost in a magical forest where mischief runs wild.  This year’s production is directed by Tre’von Griffith and features a highly musical, afro-futurist adaptation of the play. “I am so excited to bring Midsummer to all of St. Louis,” says Griffith. “Midsummer is about pursuing what you love most. Disorder and confusion run wild, but love and joy win out in the end—as they should.” Learn more here. 

Opening night of TourCo: Othello in Tower Grove Park on August 4, 2021. Credit: Phillip Hamer Photography

This September, the community takes center stage during Shakespeare in the Streets (SITS), a grassroots theatrical experience that invites St. Louis neighborhoods to tell their stories. Since 2012, Shakespeare Festival has embedded a creative team in local neighborhoods for year-long residencies which culminate in an original play based on the community’s stories and inspired by one of Shakespeare’s works. Residents contribute to all aspects of the production, from story development to live performance. The result is a three-day performance event in the city streets which introduces the neighborhoods of focus, and their residents, as a creative force to our region. 

This year’s SITS production will be in Bevo Mill on September 22–24, featuring a new play called Winds of Change, inspired by Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. Bevo Mill is home to one of St. Louis’s most culturally diverse communities—from its roots as a German neighborhood to its more recent history as a vital immigrant portal for St. Louis’s Bosnian population, recent Afghan refugees, and so much more. 

“I’ve gathered stories from long-time residents and business owners, and I’ve had the honor of connecting with many recent refugees. Winds of Change celebrates the rich history of Bevo and the unique stories of its people,” says St. Louis playwright Deanna Jent. 

You can support St. Louis Shakespeare Festival by attending an upcoming performance or by becoming a member to support their year-round programs across the city. 

Pictured at top: The audience at Shakespeare in the Streets: Old North, “The World Begun” in 2015.  Credit: J. David Levy