American Shakespeare Theatre

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The theatre exterior in 1955

The American Shakespeare Theatre was a theater company based in Stratford, Connecticut, United States. It was formed in the early 1950s by Lawrence Langner, Lincoln Kirstein, John Percy Burrell, and philanthropist Joseph Verner Reed. The American Shakespeare Festival Theatre was constructed and the program opened on July 12, 1955, with Julius Caesar.[1] The theater building burned to the ground on January 13, 2019.[2][3]


Plays were produced at the Festival Theatre in Stratford from 1955 until the company ceased operations in the mid-1980s.[4] The company focused on American interpretations of William Shakespeare's plays, but occasionally produced plays by other playwrights. Other playwrights included: T.S. Eliot, Bernard Shaw, Sophocles, Giuseppe Verdi, Thornton Wilder, and William Wycherley.

When founded in 1955, the first artistic director was Denis Carey, who had managed The Old Vic. Under Carey's reign, the results were neither impressive financially nor artistically.[5] John Houseman took over as artistic director in 1956, and his associate director was Jack Landau (director). Houseman resigned his position in August 1959 and Landau was promoted one month later.[6]

It was the home of the American Shakespeare Festival.[7]

The last full season of the festival as a producing organization was 1982.[1] The last production on the theater stage was a one-person show of The Tempest in September 1989.[1] Previous efforts had included plans to raise money to renovate the Theatre itself.

Notable actors[edit]

Notable actors involved with the American Shakespeare Theatre included:[8]


One of seven crests donated by the Timex corporation was stolen in March 2012. Each of the crests represented a different Shakespearean play. Timex has had a long affiliation with the theatre, starting with a donation of "the world's only properly calibrated sundial" in 1956.[9]

ShakesBeer Festival[edit]

In 2013, Beer Manager Steven Bilodeau of Wines Unlimited and Pete Rodrigues of Captain's Keg organized a beer festival on the grounds of the American Shakespeare Theatre called the ShakesBeer Festival in order to raise funds towards the restoration and reopening of the famed theatre. The ShakesBeer Festival held on August 23, 2014, raised over $30,000 and donated $20,000 to the restoration efforts after final expenses. This event was designed to be an annual event in order to bring in a source of revenue to the theatre and to raise awareness.[10][11]

Festival! Stratford[edit]

The 9th Festival! Stratford presented A Midsummer Night's Dream, performed by CT Free Shakespeare, on the grounds July 31 through August 1, 2013.


On Sunday, January 13, 2019, the theatre burned to the ground from a massive fire. The theatre was unoccupied at the time and had remained vacant for thirty years. No fatalities or injuries occurred, and nothing was recovered from the building.

As of January 2019, the cause of the fire had remained unknown.[12]

The Shakespeare Academy at Stratford said it plans to continue to stage outdoor performances at the property during the summer of 2019.[13]

In April 2019, three local teenagers – Logan Caraballo, Vincent Keller, and Christopher Sakowicz[14] – were charged as adults with arson, burglary, and other felonies, in connection with the theatre fire.[15]


  1. ^ a b c Rizzo 2009.
  2. ^ Flood, Bill (January 13, 2019). "Historic Shakespeare Festival Theatre burns to the ground in Stratford". Fox 61. Retrieved January 13, 2019.
  3. ^ Perkins, Julia (January 13, 2019). "Shakespeare theater in Stratford burns to ground". ctpost. Retrieved January 13, 2019.
  4. ^ Cooper 1986, p. 14.
  5. ^ Glover, William (19 June 1960). "Ryan's Turnabout to Classic Elegance". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  6. ^ "Landau Will Get Shakespeare Job; Meshken Named". Baltimore Herald. 13 September 1959.
  7. ^ Cooper 1986, p. 27.
  8. ^ Houseman & Landau 1959.
  9. ^ "Police probing theft at Shakespeare Theatre".
  10. ^ "ShakesBeer donates $20,000 to town for theater re-build". December 31, 2014.
  11. ^ "ShakesBeer Festival". Archived from the original on January 15, 2015.
  12. ^ Laura Hoydick (January 13, 2019). "STATEMENT FROM MAYOR ON SHAKESPEARE THEATER FIRE". Stratford, CT: Town of Stratford, CT. Retrieved January 14, 2019. The Stratford Fire Department responded to several calls shortly before 1:00 am Sunday [January 13, 2019] of a fire at the location of the American Shakespeare Theater. Stratford Fire, Police and EMS crews responded to the scene. They were aided by the Milford and Bridgeport Fire Departments. A large fire soon engulfed the entire building, and despite the quick actions of first responders, the building is a total loss.
  13. ^ "Fire tears through American Shakespeare Theater in Connecticut". Associated Press. January 13, 2019. Retrieved January 14, 2019. Police and fire officials said Monday that the investigation is in its infancy and that no cause, including arson, has been ruled out. Dogs brought to the scene found no traces of an accelerant. The building had power and a sprinkler system, officials said, but they don't know whether the sprinklers were working. There have been problems in the past with people breaking into the building, and there was evidence someone tried but failed to enter last week, officials said. "This is no time to start pointing fingers and blaming everybody for something," said Police Chief Joseph McNeil. "If someone did it, let's hold them accountable, but right now we don't have any information this was arson. We just don't know."
  14. ^ Tepfer, Daniel. "Arson suspect: 'We are going to burn down Shakespeare'". ctpost.com. Retrieved April 11, 2019.
  15. ^ Third arrest made in Shakespeare theater fire, other blazes


  • Engle, Ron; Londré, Felicia Hardison; Watermeyer, Daniel J., eds. (1995). Shakespeare Companies and Festivals: An International Guide. Westport: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-27434-7.

External links[edit]