The History of the Texas Shakespeare Festival

In April 1984, the idea for the Texas Shakespeare Festival was developed: to establish a professional summer theatre for East Texas based in Kilgore that would be housed in the Van Cliburn Auditorium; to create a company with a name that would have broad appeal to professional theatre artists, employing high caliber actors, designers and directors from throughout the nation; to offer professional actors and theatre students the luxury of working on plays from the world’s storehouse of dramatic literary masterpieces; and to create a regional play about the East Texas oilfield discovery to be produced as a cultural historical memento of our unique and colorful heritage.

Two years later, in June 1986, the Texas Shakespeare Festival opened its inaugural season as Kilgore College’s contribution to the Texas Sesquicentennial celebration with performances of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Daisy Bradford 3 by Gifford Wingate. Each of the fifteen performances played to capacity houses, and the college assured the community that there would be a second season.

The 1987 Festival again performed to sold out houses. In 1988, the Festival added a fourth production, and changed to a revolving repertory performance format making it more convenient for patrons to see all of the productions. The 1989 season followed the same repertory format and included three performances of Charlotte’s Web for children; and just as in all three previous years, the attendance grew. In 1993, to answer the need for more performances, the Festival season expanded its performance schedule from three to four weeks.

Now in it’s 27th season, the Texas Shakespeare Festival has produced more than 28 plays of Shakespeare’s canon: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, Hamlet, As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew, Two Gentlemen of Verona and Macbeth have been produced three times; King Lear, Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Tempest, The Comedy of Errors, The Merchant of Venice, Othello, Julius Caesar, Measure for Measure and The Merry Wives of Windsor have been produced twice, plus  Richard II,  Henry V, Richard II, Antony and Cleopatra, The Winter’s Tale, All’s Well That End’s Well, Cymbeline, Henry IV, Pt. 1, Coriolanus and Pericles. We have also produced such classics as The Importance of Being Earnest (twice), Tartuffe (twice), Cyrano de Bergerac (twice), The Misanthrope, She Stoops to Conquer, The Learned Ladies, The Bourgeois Gentleman, The Miser, The School for Scandal, The Hypochondriac, Arms and the Man, The Glass Menagerie, The Miracle Worker, Harvey, The School for Husbands,The Royal Hunt of the Sun, Amadeus, The Beaux’ Stratagem, The Liar and the musicals Man of La Mancha (twice), Camelot, 1776 (twice), My Fair Lady, Guys and Dolls, The Fantasticks, Fiddler on the Roof, Once Upon A Mattress, Forever Plaid (twice), Chaps!, Ernest in Love, Blood Brothers, and the world première musical Revoco. Our children’s theatre productions include Robin Goodfellow, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Androcles and the Lion, Rumpelstiltskin (three times), Little Red and the Hood, Ugly and the Beast, and original productions of Armadillo Al and the Kilgore Kid, The Firebird, Hansel and Gretel, The Snow Queen, The Emperor’s New Clothes,The Monkey King, The Magic Lotus Lantern, and The Little Blue Horse, The Tortoise and the Hare, and Aesop’s Fables.

Kilgore College, in addition to providing the majority of funding for the Festival, is being more than generous in its support by providing rehearsal facilities, office spaces, the Van Cliburn Auditorium, dormitory housing and meals for the entire company, scholarships for the apprentices, printing, publicity and public relations. No theatre effort has ever had more encouraging, enthusiastic and consistent support.

Since 1986, the festival has been awarded grants from the Rosa May Griffin Foundation of Kilgore, the Texas Shakespeare Festival Foundation, the Texas Shakespeare Festival Guild, the City of Kilgore, the Meadows Foundation, the Cargill Foundation of Longview, Phillips Petroleum Company, GTE Southwest, the Texas Commission on the Arts, the T.J. and Laverne Plunkett Foundation, the John R. and Susan Landon Alford Foundation, and a number of generous East Texas patrons whose philanthropy provides encouragement and high hopes for the future of the Texas Shakespeare Festival as a strong and vital cultural asset for all of East Texas.

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