The mission of the Nashville Shakespeare Festival is to educate and entertain the Mid-South community through professional Shakespearean experiences.
As a nonprofit, professional theatre, the Nashville Shakespeare Festival enriches its community by leveraging an annual free production of a Shakespearean drama into a series of artistic and educational activities. Founded in 1988 with a production of As You Like It done in street clothes and without lights, the Festival has grown in its eighteen year life into a fixture of the city's cultural life with its performances in the Centennial Park band shell. Annual attendance has grown from 1,000 in the Festival's first season to 10-12,000 in recent years.
Shakespeare in Centennial Park: Every summer we produce an Actors' Equity affiliated production of a play by William Shakespeare which runs for five weeks in Nashville's centrally-located Centennial Park. We offer this production free to the public as a service to the community. These innovative, multiculurally cast, outdoor productions have become a beloved cultural event to Nashvillians, who come back year after year to enjoy family-friendly, enriching, and accessible entertainment. For many Nashvillians, ours is the only cultural event they will attend in a year. These productions also provide us opportunities to fulfill our educational outreach mission through our Apprentice Company and through coordinated in-classroom visits to area schools. In 2006, we will produce Macbeth, running August 10 through September 10. Educational Activities: In working with students and schools, the Festival expands the teaching of drama by bringing Shakespeare off the written page and onto the stage: 1. Educational Tours: Responding to the need for an arts-in-education program of the Nashville Public Schools, the Festival developed a series of 50 minute versions of the better known Shakespeare plays and some Shakespeare samplers that drew from multiple plays. More than 150,000 students--many of whom had never seen live, professional theatre have experienced concise, energetically performed versions of Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Macbeth and/or have participated in interactive workshops conducted by the Festival. 2. Apprentice Company: This program provides a group of 12 to 16 teenagers with fifty hours of professional actor training followed by integration into the Shakespeare in the Park production. The participants rehearse and work alongside professional actors in appropriate onstage roles. The Apprentice experience provides students with the chance to observe and participate in professional theatre, an opportunity otherwise unavailable in the Nashville community. Many of our apprentices go on to pursue careers in theatre. 3. Artist-in-Residence Program: We partner with schools and universities in Nashville and the surrounding region to provide innovative in-classroom workshops, support with student productions, and outreach specific to productions that students will attend. Whether in a one-day residency, a series of workshops, or directing a full-scale school production over several weeks, our teaching artists strive to actively engage students in their exploration of Shakespeare's works, empower them to take possession of Shakespeare's language, and foster their personal growth through performance and other creative activities. Fostering Nashville's Artistic Community: In addition to educational activities, the Nashville Shakespeare Festival has worked to improve the climate for live drama in Nashville: 1. Actors' Equity: The Festival currently employs actors under an Equity contract that provides the longest engagement available in Nashville. Because that engagement alone brings actors close to qualifying for health benefits, the Festival can take credit for greatly increasing the viability of professional acting careers in the community. 2. Sharing of Resources: The Festival continues to collaborate and share resources with other theatre companies in the area under the theory that a mission shared by all of them is the development of a large and vital audience for live drama within our community.