NEA Launches Largest Tour of Shakespeare in American History

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two actors, a man and a woman with bloody hands strike dramatic poses

Macbeth (Remi Sandri) and Lady Macbeth (Kathleen McCall) after killing the king in the Alabama Shakespeare Company's production of Macbeth. Photo by Phil Scarsbrook

2003On the occasion of William Shakespeare's 439th birthday, National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Dana Gioia announced a gift of immeasurable value to the American people: a nationwide, 100-community tour of Shakespeare by six of the nation's finest theater companies. The tour is made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts in cooperation with Minneapolis-based Arts Midwest. The centerpiece of Shakespeare in American Communities was performances by six professional theater companies that toured the country from September 2003 through November 2004. In addition to performances, the tours included artistic and technical workshops, symposia about the productions and educational programs in local schools. The Arts Endowment also provided hugely popular support materials that included "teacher toolkits" for use in schools. So far, more than 25,000 tool kits have been given out, for use by more than seven million students across the country. The six original participating theater companies and the works they performed were:

  • The Acting Company (New York, NY) - Richard III
  • Aquila Theatre Company (New York, NY) - Othello
  • Arkansas Repertory Theatre (Little Rock, AR) - Romeo and Juliet
  • Artists Repertory Theatre (Portland, OR) - A Midsummer Night's Dream performed with actors from the Central Dramatic Company of Vietnam
  • Chicago Shakespeare Theater (Chicago, IL) - Romeo and Juliet
  • Guthrie Theater (Minneapolis, MN) - Othello

When the program was first announced, Chairman Dana Gioia said, "Through Shakespeare in American Communities, the National Endowment for the Arts will revitalize the longstanding American theatrical touring tradition that harkens back to the 18th century, bringing high-quality arts experiences to a broad audience." In subsequent years, the NEA produced Shakespeare for a New Generation, a program that supported 21 additional theater companies in 2004, and 35 in 2005-06, to perform for students from at least 10 schools in their communities, states or regions. The Arts Endowment also engaged in an unprecedented partnership with the Department of Defense to support the tour of 14 military bases by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival with its production of Macbeth. Since its 2002 inauguration, Shakespeare in American Communities has reached more than 550 communities with more than 1200 performances in areas as diverse as Monmouth, Maine; Douglas, Arkansas; and San Diego, California.