Our History

We began in 1988 when Jim Warren and Ralph Alan Cohen formed the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express, a traveling troupe that used Shakespeare’s staging conditions to perform his plays. By 2000, we had performed in 47 states, one U.S. territory, and six foreign countries. Partnering with the City of Staunton and aided by private donors and generous help from Augusta County and the Commonwealth of Virginia, we built the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor playhouse in 2001. With one troupe at home and one on the road, we expanded our educational offerings and created America’s first MFA program in Shakespeare and Performance at MBU. We also established an international biennial conference for scholars, and we became the American Shakespeare Center. In 2009, to honor our achievement of turning Staunton into a world Shakespeare destination, the Commonwealth recognized us with the Governor’s Arts Award. By our 30th year, in 2018, we had played to nearly two million people, produced all 38 of Shakespeare’s plays (many of them more than twice), 36 plays by his contemporaries, and a grand total of 286 different productions in 5,506 performances.

Our Future

We begin our next era with Ethan McSweeny as new Artistic Director. Believing that the joys of theatre and of language are most alive in the works of Shakespeare, we’re putting his plays in conversation with today’s playwrights through our Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries competition. This season and next we will premiere the first two winners of that competition—Anne Page Hates Fun, by Amy E. Witting, and 16 Winters, or The Bear’s Tale, by Mary Elizabeth Hamilton. This fall, we will welcome hundreds of scholars from around the world to our biennial Blackfriars Conference. In this, as in all our programming, our mission is to make good our claim to be Shakespeare’s American Home.

Timeline

2018

ASC hires internationally acclaimed director Ethan McSweeny as Artistic Director and announces the first winning titles of the Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries competition: Amy E. Witting’s Anne Page Hates Fun and Mary Elizabeth Hamilton’s 16 Winters, or the Bear’s Tale.

2017

ASC launches the Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries playwriting competition to develop and produce a new canon of plays inspired by and in conversation with Shakespeare’s work.

2016

ASC celebrates 15 years in the Blackfriars Playhouse.

2013

ASC celebrates 25 years, during which it performed in 47 states, 5 foreign countries and one U.S. Territory. The ASC hosts the Seventh Blackfriars Conference, welcoming more than 200 scholars from around the world.The ASC awarded the 2013 Shakespeare Steward Award, presented annually by the Folger Shakespeare Library in recognition of outstanding contributions to the innovative teaching of Shakespeare in American classrooms.

2011

The Blackfriars Playhouse celebrates its 10th Anniversary. The ASC hosts the Sixth Blackfriars Conference, welcoming more than 200 scholars from around the world.

2010

The ASC adds another holiday title to the December rotation, bringing our total of yearly plays up to 16.

2009

Due to popular demand of rarely (or never) performed Renaissance plays, the ASC adds an early modern title to the Fall Season, bringing our total of yearly plays up to 15. This year the Actors’ Renaissance Season expands to run into April while the Spring Season stretches further into June. The New York Post names Staunton as number 42 in its Top 100 Summer Destinations. The New York Times again plugs the ASC and the Blackfriars in its Summer Stages-Theatre section. Terry Teachout returns to the Blackfriars and praises the ASC again in the Wall Street Journal.

2008

ASC Board of Trustees approves a five-year strategic plan which includes careful and deliberate planning for Globe II in Staunton, VA, a re-creation of Shakespeare’s second Globe theatre. The Virginia state legislature supports ASC’s vision of creating a national Shakespeare campus by awarding grant seed funds for Globe II planning. Due to popular demand, the Actors’ Renaissance Season expands to five plays.

2007

After eleven years at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and serving two terms as the President of the Shakespeare Theatre Association of America, David Dreyfoos joins the ASC as Managing Director. The ASC partners with Shakspeare’s Globe in London for a year-long conference (2008 at the Globe, 2009 at the Blackfriars) celebrating the work of Andrew Gurr, who was the chief academic advisor in the rebuilding of the Globe. ASC hosts our fourth NEH Summer Institute for university professors. “Shakespeare’s Playhouses Inside and Out” takes place over five weeks in July and August at the Blackfriars Playhouse. VA Governor Tim Kaine awards Ralph Cohen and Jim Warren the Virginia Governor’s Award for the Arts.

2006

The second Actors’ Renaissance Season draws even larger audiences than the previous year and includes performances of a new play written for the Blackfriars, The Brats of Clarence, which picks up after Richard III ends. Terry Teachout praises ASC, the Blackfriars, and Staunton as a Shakespeare destination in The Wall Street Journal.

2005

Artist Jeff Stockberger paints the frons scenae of the Blackfriars Playhouse as S2 continues its efforts to explore the conditions of the original Blackfriars. S2 changes its name to the American Shakespeare Center. The first Actors’ Renaissance Season debuts, which includes actors delving deeper into Renais­sance rehearsal practices as they mount shows with few group rehearsals and no directors or designers.

2004

S2 Advisory Board member Dame Judi Dench visits the Blackfriars Playhouse to accept an award on behalf of her late husband, actor Michael Williams. S2 hosts the annual Shakespeare Theatre Association of America conference. The NEH sponsors a second summer institute at the Blackfriars and Globe – and awards Shenandoah Shakespeare a major matching grant.

2003

The second Blackfriars Conference brings leading Shakespeare scholars and practitioners back to Staunton; keynote speakers include Stanley Wells, Tina Packer, Tiffany Stern, and Andrew Gurr. Arlo Guthrie headlines the Blackfriars Concert Series.

2002

S2 casts its first Resident Troupe to perform in the Blackfriars Playhouse. The NEH sponsors an institute for Theatre and English professors from across the U.S., “Shakespeare’s Playhouses, Inside and Out,” which is held at the Blackfriars Playhouse and in London at Shakespeare’s Globe.

2001

The Blackfriars Playhouse, the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor theatre, opens in September. The first Blackfriars Conference for Shakespeare scholars draws the world’s most prominent authorities on Shakespeare in performance, including a keynote address by Andrew Gurr, the first Academic Head of Shakespeare’s Globe in London. Partnered with Mary Baldwin College in creating the world’s only masters degree program for the teaching, acting, and directing of Shakespeare.

2000

S2 conducts a successful capital campaign and begins construction on the Blackfriars. By year’s end, S2 has performed in 46 states and D.C., 5 foreign countries, and one U.S. territory.

1999

SSE officially changes its name to Shenandoah Shakespeare (S2); moves to Staunton, VA; and begins work on phase one of a three-part plan to create an indoor theatre called the Blackfriars Playhouse, a Center for Education and Research, and a Globe Theatre.

1998

The Washington Post touts SSE for its “shamelessly entertaining Shakespeare.” The James troupe produces Shakespeare Para Todos, a bilingual outreach performance of Shrew that targets Hispanic audiences in the Shenandoah Valley. The Shubert Foundation awards general-operating support.

1997

SSE performs its fourth extended run at the Folger Shakespeare Library to sell-out crowds. The first Young Company Theatre Camp (YCTC) introduces high school students to SSE-style Shakespeare, complete with classes, workshops, and a production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

1996

A tour coordinated by the International Shakespeare Globe Centre takes SSE into primary and secondary schools in England. The Virginia Commission for the Arts features SSE in the VCA Tour Directory. The James troupe doubles its number of performances from the previous year.

1995

SSE performs in the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, and Scotland; conducts the Center for Renaissance and Shakespearean Staging (C.R.A.S.S.), a six-week institute supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities. To meet increased demand, SSE establishes an autumn tour (with the new “James” troupe) that runs concurrently with the original twelve-month (“Elizabeth” troupe) tour.

1994

SSE makes its first visit to Canada with a weeklong residency at the University of Ottawa. The Virginia Commission for the Arts awards general-operating support.

1993

The Washington Post and The Boston Globe print rave reviews of SSE shows. The company performs at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston, SC.

1992

A sold-out run on the Elizabethan stage at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. is followed by SSE’s first overseas tour: two weeks at the Shakespeare Globe Museum in London, two weeks at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. The National Endowment for the Arts awards general operating support.

1991

The Shakespeare Association of America invites the SSE to perform at its annual convention.

1990

The SSE travels to New England and plays on Cape Cod and at Dartmouth College

1988

The SSE opens its first show at Harrisonburg’s Trinity Presbyterian Church. Later has its first college gig at Mary Baldwin Colleges’ Fletcher Collins Theatre.

ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
AS YOU LIKE IT
1996, 2001, 2006, 2011, 2014, 2018
THE COMEDY OF ERRORS
1992, 1996, 2002, 2005, 2009, 2011, 2014
CYMBELINE
LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST
1997, 2002, 2007, 2013, 2017
MEASURE FOR MEASURE
1991, 1998, 2005, 2008, 2011, 2016
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE
1992,1999, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2017
THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR 
2002, 2009, 2014
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
1990, 1991, 1993, 1997, 2001, 2004 (spring), 2004 (summer/fall), 2007, 2009, 2012, 2015
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
1994, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2015, 2017
PERICLES
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW
1989, 1994, 1998, 2003, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2015, 2018
THE TEMPEST
1995, 2003, 2006, 2011, 2016
TROILUS AND CRESSIDA
TWELFTH NIGHT
1991, 1995, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2016
THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA 
2004, 2012, 2017
THE WINTER’S TALE
2001, 2007, 2012, 2015
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA 
1993, 2007, 2015
CORIOLANUS 
HAMLET 
1995, 1999, 2001, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2015, 2018
JULIUS CAESAR
1990, 1996, 2002, 2007, 2013, 2016
KING LEAR
2003, 2008, 2016
MACBETH
1992, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2014, 2018
OTHELLO 
1994, 2000, 2006, 2010, 2014
ROMEO AND JULIET 
1993, 1998, 2001, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2013, 2017
TIMON OF ATHENS
TITUS ANDRONICUS 
KING JOHN
RICHARD II
2000, 2008, 2018
HENRY IV, PART 1
1997, 2004, 2009, 2014
HENRY IV, PART 2
HENRY V 
1996, 2002, 2008, 2011, 2016
HENRY VI, PART 1
2009, 2015
HENRY VI, PART 2
HENRY VI, PART 3
RICHARD III
1988, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2012, 2018
HENRY VIII
FALSTAFF 
THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN
THE ALCHEMIST
2001, 2010
ANTONIO’S REVENGE
THE BLIND BEGGAR OF ALEXANDRIA
2009

arden of faversham
2019
THE CUSTOM OF THE COUNTRY
THE CHANGELING
2009
THE DEVIL IS AN ASS
DIDO, QUEEN OF CARTHAGE
DOCTOR FAUSTUS
2000, 2010, 2015
THE DUCHESS OF MALFI 
EASTWARD HO! 
EDWARD II
EPICENE, OR THE SILENT WOMAN
EVERY MAN IN HIS HUMOUR
THE FAIR MAID OF THE EXCHANGE
THE FAIR MAID OF THE WEST
THE JEW OF MALTA
A KING AND NO KING
THE KNIGHT OF THE BURNING PESTLE
1999, 2003, 2010
LOOK ABOUT YOU
A MAD WORLD, MY MASTERS
THE MAID’S TRAGEDY
THE MALCONTENT
MOTHER BOMBIE
PHILASTER
THE REVENGER’S TRAGEDY
2009
THE ROARING GIRL
2000
THE ROMAN ACTOR
TAMBURLAINE THE GREAT, PART 1
THE TAMER TAMED
‘TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE
A TRICK TO CATCH THE OLD ONE
THE SEA VOYAGE
VOLPONE
THE WHITE DEVIL
THE WITCH
WOMEN BEWARE WOMEN
THE BELLE’s STRATAGEM
2019
THE COUNTRY WIFE
LOVE FOR LOVE
THE MAN OF MODE

2018

THE REHEARSAL
THE ROVER
THE SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS 
THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL
SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER
TARTUFFE 
2003
THE WAY OF THE WORLD
WILD OATS
ARMS AND THE MAN
CYRANO DE BERGERAC
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
2004, 2011, 2016
SAINT JOAN
2002
BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON 
THE COMPLEAT WRKS OF WLLM SHKSPR (ABRIDGED)
2005
EQUIVOCATION
EVERY CHRISTMAS STORY EVER TOLD (AND THEN SOME!)
2017
GOODNIGHT DESDEMONA (GOOD MORNING JULIET)
GREATER TUNA
2006
LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES

2004

 

the LIon in winter

2012

OUR TOWN
PETER AND THE STARCATCHER
ROSENCRANTZ & GUILDENSTERN/DEAD
1995, 2001, 2009, 2018
RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET
THE SANTALAND DIARIES
2004–2016
THE THREE MUSKETEERS
WITTENBERG

2015

An American CHRISTMAS CAROL: 1852
2001
THE BRATS OF CLARENCE
Emma

2018

SENSE AND SENSIBILITY
SHAKESPEARE’S SISTER
THE TWELVE DATES OF CHRISTMAS
2010–2016
ANNE PAGE HATES FUN
16 Winters, or the bear’s tale