Shakespeare Festivals celebrate 450 years.
Performance of Illyria, the musical based on the comedy, Twelfth Night.
Forty-three years before the birth of English-speaking America at Jamestown in 1607, another portentous English birth took place—William Shakespeare at Stratford-upon-Avon, England. The world’s preeminent dramatist, regarded by many as the greatest writer in the English language, turns 450 this year—probably on April 23, which happens to be the same day he died, in 1616.
Fast-forward to 2014 in Virginia, and you’re sure to hear wordplay and enjoy slapstick, mistaken identities and court jesters if you head to annual Shakespeare festivals around the state.
36th Annual Virginia Shakespeare Festival, Williamsburg
June 25-July 6 and July 10-20
Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall at the College of William and Mary celebrates the Bard with a comedy and a tragedy. Late June will see a revival of its 2006 production of Illyria, combining much of Shakespeare’s language from the Twelfth Night comedy with Disney-caliber musical numbers. In early July, the festival gets back to basics with Julius Caesar. Ticket prices range from $12-$28 (child/adult). Season tickets and group discounts available. VSF.WM.edu
March 27-August 3
Formed through a merger with Henley Street Theatre, Richmond Shakespeare performs appropriate contemporary plays such as the clever and waggish Wittenberg featuring the young Prince Hamlet (through April 19) in addition to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (June 12-July 6) and Richard III (July 10-Aug 3) at venues including Center Stage and Agecroft Hall. The latter will host a free birthday event for the Bard April 26. The party includes free admission to the grounds and gardens, refreshments, and chats with high school Shakespearean actors from The Young Company. Ticket prices $15-$30 (student/adult) with senior and group rates available. HenleyStreetTheatre.org
American Shakespeare Center, Staunton
American Shakespeare Center hosts its annual, free Shakespeare birthday party at 4:30 p.m. April 20 at Blackfriars Playhouse with cake, punch and games based on the season’s plays. The year-round theater company marked 2014 with ASC’s first completion of Shakespeare’s canon of 38 plays, ending with Timon of Athens last January. A true rotating repertory theatre, the ASC showcases its actors as multi-talented Renaissance people as they perform multiple roles each week during the spring season (April 7-June 15). For instance, Stephanie Holladay Earl will perform Desdemona in Othello, Mistress Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor and Lady Percy in Henry IV, Part 1. Ticket prices range from $24 to $50. Group, youth, student and senior discounts are available. 540-885-5588, ASCStaunton.com