Shakespeare Theatre Company
Theatre logo
TypeTheatre group
Purpose" present classic theatre of scope and size in an imaginative, skillful and accessible American style that honors the playwrights' language and intentions while viewing their work through a 21st-century lens".
  • Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street NW, Washington, DC; Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th Street NW, Washington, DC
Artistic director(s)
Simon Godwin

The Shakespeare Theatre Company is a regional theatre company located in Washington, D.C. The theatre company focuses primarily on plays from the Shakespeare canon, but its seasons include works by other classic playwrights such as Euripides, Ibsen, Wilde, Shaw, Schiller, Coward and Tennessee Williams. The company manages and performs in the Harman Center for the Arts, consisting of the Lansburgh Theatre and Sidney Harman Hall. In cooperation with George Washington University, they run the Academy for Classical Acting.

The company is a member of the League of Resident Theatres. Its current artistic director (since 2019) is Simon Godwin, who previously was based in London, serving as associate director of London's Royal National Theatre, associate director of the Royal Court Theatre and associate director at Bristol Old Vic.


Folger Library Theater, circa 1932
Folger Library Theater, circa 1932

The Folger Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill includes a replica of an Elizabethan theatre, originally used for lectures and tours. In 1970 this space was transformed into a functioning playhouse, and soon Folger Theatre Group (later The Folger Theatre) was organized to perform in the space.[1]

After years of discussion, Amherst College, administering body of the Folger Shakespeare Library, in 1986 withdrew financial support for the company.[2][3] To save the company, concerned citizens led by R. Robert Linowes reincorporated it as the non-profit Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger, later hiring Michael Kahn as artistic director.[4] The company continued to perform at the Folger for the next six years.[1]

Changing its name to The Shakespeare Theatre, the troupe moved in 1992 to the Lansburgh Theatre, a newly built space in the original Lansburgh's Department Store building in the Penn Quarter. At the start of the 2005–06 season, it adopted the current name, Shakespeare Theatre Company. The company constructed another theatre, Sidney Harman Hall, which opened in 2007 in the lower part of an office building in the quarter, and the two theatres were joined to become the Harman Center for the Arts.[5][6][7]

Meanwhile, after initially importing traveling shows from the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express the Folger Shakespeare Library developed a new Folger Theatre company to present plays in its Elizabethan replica.


Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street NW, Washington, DC
Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street NW, Washington, DC
Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th Street NW, Washington, DC
Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th Street NW, Washington, DC

The Shakespeare Theatre Company has two current performance venues. The newer and larger Sidney Harman Hall occupies the lower half of an 11-story office tower. The exterior is distinguished by a glass façade curtain wall on a projected bay window. The 774-seat performance space can be configured as a proscenium, thrust, semi-arena, corridor or bare stage.[8][9] The smaller Lansburgh Theatre is in the restored former Lansburgh's Department Store flagship store, originally built in 1882. The performance space is 451-seat classic proscenium stage. The seating arrangement is reminiscent of a Greek Amphitheater. It has been described as "an intimate space for dramatic theatre, ensemble music and dance"[10]

In the past the company has performed shows at the Terrace Theater in the Kennedy Center.[11]

In addition to its performance spaces, the company maintains administrative offices, rehearsal studios, and a costume shop in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.[12][13] A set construction and painting shop is near Catholic University in Northeast D.C.[14] Finally a stage properties shop for the construction and storage of furniture, decorative items, hand props and a variety of set dressing items is located just outside D.C. on the northeast side of the city.[15]

Theatrical focus

The Shakespeare Theatre Company's self professed mission is " present classic theatre of scope and size in an imaginative, skillful and accessible American style that honors the playwrights' language and intentions while viewing their work through a 21st-century lens".[16] Their vision is to "... endeavor to be an important resource to an expanded national and international community—as the nation’s premier destination for classic theatre, as a training ground for the next generation of theatre artists and as a model provider of high-quality educational content for students and scholars."[16]

Artistic directors

Current and recent productions

Further information: Shakespeare Theatre Company production history

Resident theatre company pioneer Zelda Fichandler has stated that for resident theatre companies "repertory is destiny" – a theatre company acquires its audience by the productions it presents.[23] Most of The Shakespeare Theatre Company's productions are from The Bard's canon. However each year up to half of the productions are classical works by other authors. The oldest has been Aeschylus's The Persians, the oldest surviving play in the history of theatre.[24] The youngest plays include works by Tennessee Williams (Camino Real, Sweet Bird of Youth) and Harold Pinter (Old Times). The company has also produced modern interpretations of classical texts such as Mary Zimmerman's Argonautika (adapted from The Voyage of Jason and the Argonauts).[25]

2017–2018 season
Fully staged productions:[26]
Shakespeare Theatre Company presentation:[27]
2016–2017 season
Fully staged productions:[28]
Shakespeare Theatre Company Presentation:[29]

Notable guest artists

In addition to its troupe of regular and frequently appearing actors, the Shakespeare Theatre Company invites guest performers and directors each season.

Commissioned works

The Shakespeare Theatre Company commissioned playwright David Ives to translapt (translate and adapt) a series of rediscovered European comedy masterpieces, as follows:

All plays featured Ives's rhyming wordplay and were directed by Michael Kahn.

The Liar subsequently opened off-Broadway, again directed by Michael Kahn.[81]

Notable events

Black Iago in Othello

In 1990 artistic director Michael Kahn and black director Harold Scott cast black actors as Iago and Emilia, the trusted ensign who incites the Moor's fatal jealousy and his wife. With Avery Brooks as Othello, Andre Braugher as Iago and Franchelle Stewart Dorn as Emilia, the resulting production was critically acclaimed.[82][83][84]

Race-reversed Othello

In 1997 the Shakespeare Theatre Company produced an Othello in which Othello was white with an otherwise all-black cast. Actor Patrick Stewart approached artistic director Michael Kahn with the concept: "I've been imagining myself playing Othello and, in a sense, preparing for it, since I was about 14. When the time came that I was old enough and experienced enough to do it, it was the same time that it no longer became acceptable for a white actor to put on blackface and pretend to be African. One of my hopes for this production is that it will continue to say what a conventional production of Othello would say about racism and prejudice... To replace the black outsider with a white man in a black society will, I hope, encourage a much broader view of the fundamentals of racism."[85][86] Ron Canada performed the part of Iago.[45] During the Meet the Cast event before the production Stewart remarked that he realized that while he had never performed this role, all of the principal male actors in the cast had, and he would learn from them.[87][better source needed]

The Oedipus Plays at the Athens Festival

After seeing The Shakespeare Theatre Company's production of The Oedipus Plays in September 2001, officials from the Greek Embassy in Washington arranged for an invitation to the company to perform it as part of the 2003 Athens Festival. The show was a single-evening adaption by Michael Kahn of Sophocles' three plays Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone. He changed the setting from Greece to central Africa, and used an all-black cast headed by Avery Brooks. The performance was on 10–11 September 2003 in the semicircular 5,000-seat Odeon theater on the south slope of the Acropolis. As an historical footnote, the original production had just opened the week before the September 11 attacks. After a single performance cancellation that night, the show went on the next night (9/12) with a new meaning for cast and audience. The second Athens' performance was two years to the day after the attack.[88][89]

Love's Labor's Lost at the Royal Shakespeare Company's Complete Works Festival

The Shakespeare Theatre Company took its production of Love’s Labor’s Lost to England to participate in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Complete Works Festival. Performances were from 17 to 26 August 2006 in the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.[90][91][92]

Shakespeare in Washington Festival

From January through June 2007 The Shakespeare Theatre co-hosted the International Shakespeare in Washington Festival. This celebration was conceived by Michael Kaiser, President of the Kennedy Center, and was curated by Michael Kahn. Over 60 arts organizations produced over 100 presentations.[93]

Opening of Sidney Harman Hall

On 1 October 2007, Sidney Harman Hall opened with a gala performance emceed by Sam Waterston and featuring ballet dancers Nina Ananiashvili and Julio Bocca, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, actress Patti LuPone, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, The Washington Ballet, Washington Performing Arts Society’s (WPAS) Men and Women of the Gospel Mass Choir and actors from the Shakespeare Theatre Company.[94]

Special performances of The Great Game: Afghanistan

At the request of US Department of Defense officials and with support funding from private sources, the Shakespeare Theatre Company donated Harman Hall and provided logistical support for two all-day special performances of the full cycle of The Great Game: Afghanistan. The 10–11 February 2011 performances were offered free to soldiers, wounded veterans and government officials in the Washington DC area.[95][96][97]


The Shakespeare Theatre Company both presents and receives awards. Annually it presents The Will Award and The Emery Battis award. Additionally it regularly receives awards for its productions.

The Will Award

The William Shakespeare Award for Classical Theatre (The Will Award) has been presented by the Shakespeare Theatre Company since 1988. The Will Award is an annual honor to recognize an artist who has made a significant contribution to classical theatre in America.[98] Since at least 2008 the award ceremony has been held under the patronage of the British Ambassador and his wife.[99]


The Emery Battis Awards

The Emery Battis Award for Acting Excellence is presented annually at the first opening night of the new season to recognize two actors whose work in a mainstage production demonstrates outstanding classical technique. The award is funded by an anonymous donor and includes a cash prize.[citation needed] It is named for the long time and beloved Shakespeare Theatre Company actor Emery Battis.[108][109]

Award recipients include:[110][111]

Actor Production Role Season
Adam Green The Liar Cliton (the valet) 2009–2010
Michael Hayden Richard II, Henry V Richard II, Henry V 2009–2010
Holly Twyford Old Times Anna 2010–2011
Mark Nelson The Merchant of Venice Shylock 2010–2011
Carson Elrod The Heir Apparent Crispin 2011–2012
Steven Epp The Servant of Two Masters Truffaldino 2011–2012
Diane D'Aquila Coriolanus Volumnia 2012–2013
Patrick Page Coriolanus Coriolanus 2012–2013
Bianca Amato Private Lives Amanda 2013–2014[112]
Matthew Amendt Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2 Prince Hal 2013–2014[112]
Amber Iman Man of La Mancha Aldonza 2014–2015[113]
Robert Stanton The Critic & The Real Inspector Hound Puff & Moon 2015–2016[114]
Robyn Hurder Kiss Me Kate Bianca/Lois Lane 2015–2016[114]

Received awards

Press notices

Other activities

Free for All

In 1991, the Shakespeare Theatre Company began its annual Free For All productions at the Carter Barron Amphitheatre in D.C.'s Rock Creek Park. Each summer the company remounts a production from the previous season. Until 2009, these productions were held at the outdoor Amphitheatre in Rock Creek Park. However, in 2009 the company moved the free performances downtown and indoors[120] For a complete list of the productions, see Shakespeare Theatre Company Free For All.

Rediscovery Series

Works for the ReDiscovery Series are chosen by Artistic Director Michael Kahn and presented under the direction of Shakespeare Theatre artistic staff. Guest artists join members of the Shakespeare Theatre Company and the Washington theatrical community to investigate these great but lesser known plays of world literature. The readings occur at the Lansburgh on at least three Mondays throughout the year and are hosted by company member Ted van Griethuysen. Guest scholars, translators and adaptors involved with the evening's reading also frequently participate in the rehearsal, performance and occasional post-performance discussion when time permits.[121]

Academy for Classical Acting

The Shakespeare Theatre Company and George Washington University offer a one-year intensive graduate program leading to a Master of Fine Arts degree. The curriculum focuses on the specific craft of acting Shakespeare and other classical texts. George Washington University provides accreditation for an MFA degree, resources and strong links to the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Library of Congress.[122][123] The program has graduated over 100 actors who are now performing on stages in New York, Washington D.C. and across the country.[124]

See also


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Coordinates: 38°53′44″N 77°01′20″W / 38.8956°N 77.0223°W / 38.8956; -77.0223