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

2005, 2010, 2013

AS YOU LIKE IT

1996, 2001, 2006, 2011, 2014, 2018

THE COMEDY OF ERRORS

1992, 1996, 2002, 2005, 2009, 2011, 2014, 2018/2019

CYMBELINE

2008, 2012, 2019/2020 (as Imogen)

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, 2019

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

1990, 1991, 1993, 1997, 2001, 2004 (spring), 2004 (summer/fall), 2007, 2009, 2012, 2015, 2019/2020

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

1994, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2015, 2017, 2020

PERICLES

2007, 2014

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW

1989, 1994, 1998, 2003, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2015, 2018

THE TEMPEST

1995, 2003, 2006, 2011, 2016

TROILUS AND CRESSIDA

2013

TWELFTH NIGHT

1991, 1995, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2020/2021

THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA 

2004, 2012, 2017

THE WINTER’S TALE

2001, 2007, 2012, 2015, 2018/2019

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA 

1993, 2007, 2015, 2019

CORIOLANUS 

2003, 2017

HAMLET 

1995, 1999, 2001, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2015, 2018

JULIUS CAESAR

1990, 1996, 2002, 2007, 2013, 2016, 2019

KING LEAR

2003, 2008, 2016

MACBETH

1992, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2014, 2018

OTHELLO 

1994, 2000, 2006, 2010, 2014, 2020

ROMEO AND JULIET 

1993, 1998, 2001, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2013, 2017

TIMON OF ATHENS

2014

TITUS ANDRONICUS 

2009

KING JOHN

2012

RICHARD II

2000, 2008, 2018

HENRY IV, PART 1

1997, 2004, 2009, 2014, 2019, 2020

HENRY IV, PART 2

2010, 2020

HENRY V 

1996, 2002, 2008, 2011, 2016

HENRY VI, PART 1

2009, 2015

HENRY VI, PART 2

2010, 2016

HENRY VI, PART 3

2011, 2017

RICHARD III

1988, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2012, 2018

HENRY VIII

2013

FALSTAFF 

2004

THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN

2013

THE ALCHEMIST

2001, 2010

ANTONIO’S REVENGE

2018

THE BLIND BEGGAR OF ALEXANDRIA

2009

ARDEN OF FAVERSHAM

2019

THE CUSTOM OF THE COUNTRY

2013

THE CHANGELING

2009

A CHASTE MAID IN CHEAPSIDE

2020

THE DEVIL IS AN ASS

2007

DIDO, QUEEN OF CARTHAGE

2012

DOCTOR FAUSTUS

2000, 2010, 2015

THE DUCHESS OF MALFI 

2007, 2013

EASTWARD HO! 

2006

EDWARD II

2014

EPICENE, OR THE SILENT WOMAN

2014

EVERY MAN IN HIS HUMOUR

2015

THE FAIR MAID OF THE EXCHANGE

2017

THE FAIR MAID OF THE WEST

2010

THE JEW OF MALTA

2008

A KING AND NO KING

2005, 2020

THE KNIGHT OF THE BURNING PESTLE

1999, 2003, 2010

LOOK ABOUT YOU

2011

A MAD WORLD, MY MASTERS

2012

THE MAID’S TRAGEDY

2014

THE MALCONTENT

2011

MOTHER BOMBIE

2015

PHILASTER

2012

THE REVENGER’S TRAGEDY

2009

THE ROARING GIRL

2000

THE ROMAN ACTOR

2010

TAMBURLAINE THE GREAT, PART 1

2011

THE TAMER TAMED

2005

‘TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE

2006, 2012

A TRICK TO CATCH THE OLD ONE

2011

THE SEA VOYAGE

2016

VOLPONE

2008

THE WHITE DEVIL

2015

THE WITCH

2008

WOMEN BEWARE WOMEN

2016

THE BELLE’s STRATAGEM

2019

THE COUNTRY WIFE

2013

LOVE FOR LOVE

2016

THE MAN OF MODE

2018

THE REHEARSAL

2009

THE ROVER

2015

THE SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS 

2014

THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL

2017

SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER

2005, 2013

TARTUFFE 

2003

THE WAY OF THE WORLD

2018

WILD OATS

2010

ARMS AND THE MAN

2016

CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA

2019

CYRANO DE BERGERAC

2007, 2014

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST

2004, 2011, 2016

SAINT JOAN

2002

BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON 

2016

THE COMPLEAT WRKS OF WLLM SHKSPR (ABRIDGED)

2005

EQUIVOCATION

2018

EVERY CHRISTMAS STORY EVER TOLD (AND THEN SOME!)

2017

GOODNIGHT DESDEMONA (GOOD MORNING JULIET)

2017

THE GRAPES OF WRATH

2019/2020

GREATER TUNA

2006

LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES

2004

the LIon in winter

2012

OUR TOWN

2017

PETER AND THE STARCATCHER

2017

ROSENCRANTZ & GUILDENSTERN/DEAD

1995, 2001, 2009, 2018

RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET

2006, 2013

THE SANTALAND DIARIES

2004–2016

THE THREE MUSKETEERS

2005

WITTENBERG

2015

An American CHRISTMAS CAROL: 1852

2001

THE BRATS OF CLARENCE

2006, 2007

Emma

2018

SENSE AND SENSIBILITY

2018

SHAKESPEARE’S SISTER

2017

THE TWELVE DATES OF CHRISTMAS

2010–2016

THE WILLARD SUITCASES

2019

ANNE PAGE HATES FUN

— Companion to The Merry Wives of Windsor
2019

16 Winters, or the bear’s tale

— Companion to The Winter’s Tale
2019

THE DEFAMATION OF CICELY LEE

— Companion to Cymbeline
2020

KEENE

— Companion to Othello
2020