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 Mary Baldwin University. 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.
Following Ethan McSweeny’s resignation, we begin an exciting adventure in 2021 with a corps of our actor-managers undertaking artistic planning, in keeping with Shakespeare’s tradition of the actor-led company, and with ASC’s tradition of its annual Actors Renaissance Season. In outdoor and indoor performances, we will complete our Henriad with a new production of Henry V; enter the realm of darkness with Macbeth, and find joy in All’s Well That Ends Well. In this, as in all our programming, our mission is to make good our claim to be Shakespeare’s American Home.
The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic shuttered the Blackfriars Playhouse, but we were able to reopen safely for patrons and actors with our SafeStart Season in summer 2020, performing outdoors at the Blackburn Inn and in socially-distanced seating at our beloved Blackfriars. When tightening restrictions prohibited further live performances, we produced a virtual version of the fan-favorite, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, with streaming for home viewing and screenings at an area drive-in and movie theatre.
ASC hires 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. In 2019, we premiered 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. In fall 2019, we welcomed scholars from around the world to our biennial Blackfriars Conference.
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.
ASC celebrates 15 years in the Blackfriars Playhouse.
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.
The Blackfriars Playhouse celebrates its 10th Anniversary. The ASC hosts the Sixth Blackfriars Conference, welcoming more than 200 scholars from around the world.
The ASC adds another holiday title to the December rotation, bringing our total of yearly plays up to 16.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Washington Post and The Boston Globe print rave reviews of SSE shows. The company performs at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston, SC.
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.
The Shakespeare Association of America invites the SSE to perform at its annual convention.
The SSE travels to New England and plays on Cape Cod and at Dartmouth College
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.