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Edmund from King Lear / Photo: Anthony Topper, Feature photo: Randy OHC

The North American summer offers no shortage of Shakespeare festivals, most celebrated on outdoor stages. Here are five of our favorites.
1. Shakespeare by the Sea
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
[Editor's Note: This festival recommendation comes to us from blogger Kimberly Walsh.]

Set within Halifax’s historic Point Pleasant Park, Shakespeare by the Sea offers a unique extension to the cultural scene in the city. Now in its sixteenth season, the troupe has been performing the bard’s tales among historic military buildings. All the shows take place at the Cambridge Battery, the ruins of which make for a fine backdrop for the productions.

“Enjoy the 15-minute walk through the forest before settling down for the show.”

Although located in the downtown core, Point Pleasant is the largest forested park on the peninsula and offers stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. Enjoy the 15-minute walk through the forest before settling down for the show. Later in the season, performances finish after sunset, so come prepared with a light sweater and a flashlight.

The 2009 season features “Love’s Labours Lost” (opens July 5), starring Amos Crawley, Caitlin Stewart, and the award-winning local actor Jeremy Webb, as well as “Macbeth” (opens August 15), with David Flemming and Genevieve Steele.

2. Shakespeare in the Park
New York City, New York, United States

New York City’s Shakespeare in the Park has been a summer tradition for more than 50 years.

Photo: chadmiller

City dwellers and visitors alike brave hours-long lines for their chance to pick up free tickets, but even if they’re not among the lucky folks who will get to see A-list stars interpreting the bard underneath the stars, the camaraderie of the wait has become an event in its own right (bring a lawn chair and a picnic or a phone number for pizza delivery).

This year’s festival features Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” with Raul Esparza and Anne Hathaway among the cast’s big names (June 10-July 12), and Euripides’ “The Bacchae,” starring Andre De Shields and original music composed by Philip Glass (August 11-30).

Both plays are staged in the Delacorte Theatre, a semicircular outdoor venue that’s so insulated from the city noise that you’ll forget where you are.

3. Colorado Shakespeare Festival
Boulder, Colorado, United States

TIME Magazine ranks the Colorado Shakespeare Festival as one of the best in the U.S. Performed by a professional troupe based out of the University of Colorado at Boulder, the university’s outdoor theater could hardly be a more inspiring setting for the series of plays offered each summer.

Like New York’s Shakespeare in the Park, the CSF has a tradition of putting on plays for over 50 years. Yet it may be even more fun than the NYC festival; check out all these pre-play activities, including picnics and backstage tours.

This year’s festival starts on June 15 and runs through mid-August. Featured plays include “Hamlet,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and “The Two Gentleman of Verona.”

4. Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Ashland, Oregon, United States

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is one of the oldest Shakespeare festivals in the United States.

Beyond its exceptional reputation — drawing accomplished Shakespearean actors who view performing in this series as a feather in their cap — a visit to the 2009 Shakespeare Festival can kick off a longer trip: Ashland is the gateway to Oregon’s Rogue Valley, home to Crater Lake National Park.

For a full list of this year’s plays, click here.

5. Bard on the Beach
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Bard+beach+BBQ. Sounds like a winning combination to us. Add fireworks and a mountainous backdrop on top of all that, and we’re sold on Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach.

It may not have the longevity of some of these other festivals, but it sure sounds like fun. Plus, we love the nonprofit theater company’s mission: to make all of Shakespeare’s plays, performed in non-traditional stagings, affordable and accessible to a diverse audience.



About The Author

Julie Schwietert

Julie Schwietert Collazo is a writer, editor, researcher, and translator currently in New York, formerly of Mexico City and San Juan.

  • Marieke

    So happy to see Halifax up there! They do an amazing job every season, its well worth seeing.

    • Hal Amen

      I can’t attest to the Shakespeare at Point Pleasant, but I certainly enjoyed exploring the park for a few hours. Everyone kept on telling me how sad they were at how many trees were lost in the hurricane that hit a few years back, but I thought there were plenty!

  • Pete Rodrigues

    The best place I’ve seen Shakespeare performed was in my 9th grade class room at Banana Kelly High School in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. The students modernized the scenes from Romeo and Juliet, made costumes, and presented from behind a curtain made of red picnic tablecloths. Sword fights, boys playing Juliet, and hilarious tragedy ensued.

  • Authentic Seacoast Resorts

    Great to see Halifax, Nova Scotia lead the list of Shakespeare festivals! Great introduction to the festival, Kimberly!

  • Valerie

    Watching The Taming of the Shrew at the Globe Theatre in London, played by an all-female cast, was certainly an experience that can’t be rivaled. I’ll be checking out the Colorado Shakespeare Festival next month!

  • joshywashington

    I def plan on making it out to Ashland this summer for a bit of the ol theatre in the round!

  • Tim Patterson

    Best Shakespeare I’ve seen is performances by students at the annual summer Take Thee To A Funnery workshops in Vermont’s NE Kingdom.

  • Dawnielle Castledine

    The best place I ever saw a Shakespeare Play was at the Shakespeare Festival in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. The stage was beautifully designed for Hamlet, with very believable bits of the castle that allowed stunning views of the lake, mountains and forest behind it. There were tall Pine trees all around the hill where seating was and everyone who was working there was dressed in period costumes with an accent and vocabulary to match. All of this along with vendors selling Renaissance fair type food and the sunset that evening, and in my mind it will forever be my favorite place to see any play.

  • Turner

    I just missed a good one at Zilker Park in Austin – Romeo and Juliet with a Mexican twist.

  • Steve

    My most memorable Shakespeare experience was seeing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” performed at The Mount in Lenox, MA.
    The production seamlessly incorporated the woodsy backdrop of Edith Wharton’s estate. No need for scenery.
    Not only did you get to see a high-quality performance of Shakespeare’s funniest play, you didn’t have to mention the scene the play on paper would attempt to describe; it was already there for all to see — and enjoy.

    • Hal Amen

      Congratulations, Steve is our randomly selected WINNER!

      We’ll be in touch soon to get your address so we can send you two tickets to the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival!

  • Emma

    My favorite Shakespeare show I’ve ever seen was A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Mount at Shakespeare and Company. There’s nothing like seeing this magical play outside in the beautiful berkshires.

  • Mae

    I traveled from the East Coast to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, and it was fantastic. I have seen a good amount of theater, shakespeare in particular, but this was leagues above everything else. I would also recommend taking a train down the West Coast to get there, it was beautiful!

  • Jonathan

    I’ve always wanted to see Shakespeare in the Park. There is nothing better than central park on a great summer night.

  • Snufkin

    Sand Harbor on the north shore of Lake Tahoe for the Tahoe Shakespeare festival. Didn’t have tickets, but day at the beach turned into getting to see part of “12th Night”

  • Tommy Hensel

    All of these are great festivals and worth visiting. Of the five, I especially love Oregon. Wonderful work!

    I would, however, like to point out that the great photo at the top of this article is from none of those. It is a photo from the Harrisburg Shakespeare Festival in Harrisburg, PA and the pictured actor is Patrick Siler. I would have hoped they would have given credit to the company for that shot.

    In full disclosure, I must admit that I was the Founding Artistic Director of that company back in 1993 so I’m prejudiced. I left in 1996, but they are still doing amazing work there in Central PA!


  • Sean Adams

    The picture of Edmund at the top of the page is from Harrisburg Shakespeare Festival’s production of “King Lear”.

  • Zachary

    It would be really nice if the Shakespeare Theatre where the main photo is from was credited in any way… While I agree that all of these are fantastic Shakespeare Festivals, Gamut Theatre/Harrisburg Shakespeare Festival is the theatre responsible for the fantastic shot of Edmund above of an AMAZING actor Patrick Siler. Credit where credit is due, please…

  • Hal Amen

    Hey guys,

    Thanks for expressing your concerns about the lead-in photo. We found this shot for use under a Creative Commons license, and we’ve provided a link to the photographer’s Flickr photostream, per our standard operating procedure here at Matador.

    If there are any further questions I can answer, please email me directly at hal[at]matadornetwork[dot]com. Thanks!

  • Guy S. Tanzer

    It still wouldn’t kill y’all to give some small credit to the theater where the photo was actually shot, would it? It’s not as though that photo was actually taken at any of the theaters you mentioned in your article. I stipulate you are likely well within your rights to use the photo. We’re just asking you to be nice and give a tip of the hat to a theater that wasn’t good enough (for reasons not easily understood) to make it into your article but somehow good enough to have a picture at the top of your article. Legal, yes, but is being legal all that counts in life?

    And yes, the people who run that theater are old friends, twenty years now, and I can say with certainty from having worked closely with them that their Shakespeare productions are overwhelmingly likely the equal of or superior to any this article has listed. C’mon, give them some sort of recognition

  • Henry

    Thank you for including the lead-in picture of Harrisburg Shakespeare Festival’s production of “King Lear.” I am very surprised, however, and a bit disappointed that the festival itself did not make your top five list. I would encourage anyone interested in seeing Shakespeare brought to life onstage to attend one of their productions (which I believe run year-round). I teach high school English at a private school a few hours away, and I am always willing to venture to Harrisburg in the summer for a refreshing look at Shakespeare!
    I do see the Shakespeare in the Park in Central Park every year, and I can honestly say that the talent of the performers, the scenery, the sound and the lighting of the Harrisburg Shakespeare Festival give it a run for its money!

  • Gail Hutchison

    Wow! What a great article…however, as I was reading through the article, waiting for the Harrisburg Shakespeare Festival to be mentioned (since that is the photo of their fabo production of King Lear at the top of the article) I became woefully aware that three great mistakes had been made by the time it finished.

    One. No mention whatsoever about the best, if not one of the best, Shakespeare Festivals to be seen and heard

    Two. No mention that the photo was taken of the Harrisburg Shakespeare Festivals production of King Lear…in which the production and amazing set blew many away…


    Three. That actor Patrick Siler was not credited either….

    Now, I will just hope that the author was under a deadline and was not able to get to Harrisburg before her deadline, and that number Two and Three were oversites of the layout crew.

    Keep up the fabo work, but please, an attention to detail would be greatly appreciated! Many thanks! Gail

  • Martha

    Having collaborated for many years with Harrisburg Shakespeare Festival and being an independent artist myself, I like to see credit given for any artistic endeavor when it is due. Regardless of the fact that HSF was not actually selected as a participant in this article, documentation of an HSF production should be correctly cited if used in this manner. This is an oversight which would never been acceptable in print media. Using HSF publicity photos is misleading and very bad form. HSF is a well-established and highly credible organization which works tirelessly to make Shakespeare’s work both entertaining and, more importantly, accessible to their audience members. Surely, they are worth the mention!

  • Hal Amen

    I’m happy to see that the Harrisburg Shakespeare Festival is such a large and organized body. Thanks again to everyone who has expressed concerns in this comments forum.

    As stated, the photo in question was found for use through a Creative Commons Attribution license, which is defined as the following: “Attribution means:
    You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work – and derivative works based upon it – but only if they give you credit.” For more information, please visit this site:

    Nowhere did the photographer specify anything further regarding attribution of the work. Matador’s policy is to link to the photographer’s Flickr photostream, which is what we’ve done.

    If the photographer himself would like to contact me to request further attribution or removal of the photo, I would love to hear from him.

    All the best,

    - Hal Amen
    Co-editor, Matador Trips

  • Cornelia

    The BEST place?????GAAAAHHHHHH! you didnt even LIST it!

    Hello????!!!!! its at STRATFORD, ONTARIO….it will ruin you for seeing Shakespeare anywhere else!!!!!!!!!!

  • Guest

    Are you serious? How…HOW could Stratford, Ontario not even be mentioned? That alone makes me question all the rest of your choices. 

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