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, Tennessee Williams, 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]

The Hartford Courant has posted a poorly-organized but nearly complete history of productions at the theater.[7]

It was the home of the American Shakespeare Festival.[8]

The last full season of the festival as a producing organization was 1982. 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 structure as well as alternate plans to demolish it and construct an amphitheater and black box theater in its place.[9]

Notable actors

Notable actors involved with the American Shakespeare Theatre included:[10]


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.[11]

ShakesBeer Festival

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.[12][13]

Festival! Stratford

The 9th Festival! Stratford presented A Midsummer Night's Dream, performed by the Connecticut Free Shakespeare, on the grounds July 31 through August 1, 2013.[14]


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

The cause of the fire remained unknown for several months.[15] In April 2019, three local teenagers – Logan Caraballo, Vincent Keller, and Christopher Sakowicz[16] – were charged as adults with arson, burglary, and other felonies, in connection with the theatre fire.[17] The three teenagers were charged with starting five additional fires in the months following the theatre fire.[18]

Although the trio originally pled not guilty in court, they publicly confessed after the theatre arson on Snapchat.[19] Sakowicz and Keller later changed their pleas to guilty, with Sakowicz being found primarily responsible and receiving a ten-year prison sentence as well as 15 years special parole and mandatory psychiatric treatment.[20] Keller potentially faces up to 18 months in prison, while Caraballo's case remains pending and sealed as of December 2022.[21]

The Shakespeare Academy at Stratford said it plans to continue to stage outdoor performances at the property during the summer of 2019.[22]

See also


  1. ^ a b Rizzo, Frank (20 August 2009). "The Story Behind the Former American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford". Hartford Courant. Archived from the original on 2013-01-19. Retrieved 2012-01-08.
  2. ^ Terzi, Tony (January 13, 2019). "Historic Shakespeare Festival Theatre burns to the ground in Stratford". WTIC News. Retrieved January 13, 2019.
  3. ^ Perkins, Julia (January 13, 2019). "Shakespeare theater in Stratford burns to ground". Connecticut Post. Archived from the original on January 13, 2019. 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. ^ "History of the Stratford Theater". The Hartford Courant. August 2, 1992. Retrieved March 5, 2020.
  8. ^ Cooper 1986, p. 27.
  9. ^ Burgeson, John (January 17, 2015). "New plan for Shakespeare theater in Stratford: Tear it down". The Middletown Press.
  10. ^ Houseman, John; Landau, Jack (1959). The American Shakespeare Festival: The Birth of a Theatre. New York: Simon & Schuster. actors.
  11. ^ Lyte, Brittany (March 2, 2012). "Police probing theft at Shakespeare Theatre". Connecticut Post. Retrieved February 27, 2020.
  12. ^ Boros, Phyllis A.S. (August 25, 2016). "ShakesBeer Fest to raise funds for theater renovation in Stratford". Connecticut Post.
  13. ^ "2014 ShakesBeer Festival". ShakesBeer Festival. Archived from the original on January 15, 2015.
  14. ^ Meyers, Joe (July 25, 2013). "Summer free Shakespeare season winds down". Connecticut Post.
  15. ^ Salzo, Vincent (February 1, 2019). "Cause Of Shakespeare Theater Fire Remains Under Investigation". Patch. Retrieved February 27, 2020.
  16. ^ Tepfer, Daniel (10 April 2019). "Arson suspect: 'We are going to burn down Shakespeare'". Connecticut Post. Retrieved April 11, 2019.
  17. ^ Tepfer, Daniel (9 April 2019). "Third arrest made in Shakespeare theater fire, other blazes". Connecticut Post. Retrieved 18 February 2020.
  18. ^ Tepfer, Daniel (February 13, 2020). "Accused Shakespeare Theatre arsonists get new court date". New Haven Register. Retrieved February 18, 2020.
  19. ^ Tepfer, Daniel (2021-04-30). "Accused Shakespeare Theater arsonists may plead guilty". Connecticut Post. Retrieved 2023-01-02.
  20. ^ Tepfer, Daniel (2021-09-10). "Stratford man gets 10 years for burning Shakespeare theater". Connecticut Post. Retrieved 2023-01-02.
  21. ^ Tepfer, Daniel (2022-12-16). "Stratford man pleads guilty to role in Shakespeare theater, other fires". Milford Mirror. Retrieved 2023-01-02.
  22. ^ "Fire tears through American Shakespeare Theater in Connecticut". WABC News. Associated Press. January 13, 2019. Retrieved January 14, 2019.