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.