The Department of Theatre, Speech & Dance at William & Mary has decided to suspend operations of the main performance season of the Virginia Shakespeare Festival for the coming three years. The Young Shakespeare Camps, a popular program, will be offered during the summer and likely expanded to meet demand.
The Festival experienced a 23 percent drop in attendance this past summer, a continuing decline since 2009 reaching a loss of 56 percent of previous audience numbers. That, combined with the scheduled closure of Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall for renovations in May 2018, prompted the department to take this time to re-evaluate what summer theater it might offer. This decline is part of a nationwide shift in audience preferences that has seen the closing of the Shakespeare festivals of Georgia and North Carolina in the past five years.
“The Department of Theatre, Speech & Dance—the governing body of the Festival—took a hard look at the future and the options available to us given the realities of mounting major productions in Williamsburg at this time,” Producing Artistic Director Christopher Owens said in a college press release. “I concur with their overwhelming vote to suspend main stage production of a Shakespeare-based company and will work with all of the rest of the faculty to re-evaluate what we might offer to our community in the future. I am pleased that our education program will likely remain, at least for the upcoming summer, as its popularity and impact upon the many hundreds of young people it has introduced to Shakespeare is a source of great pride.”
The Virginia Shakespeare Festival was founded in 1978 by members of the department following the closure of the outdoor drama “The Common Glory” in 1975. It produced 38 seasons of live professional theatre in Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall and launched the theatrical careers of many William & Mary students. During that time, it presented all but five of Shakespeare’s canon of plays as well as two original musical versions of Pericles and Twelfth Night.
The department will look toward the re-opening of a renovated PBK Memorial Hall as the stimulus for launching a new summer theater program, Owens said.
The Festival will continue to seek support in the form of contributions and grants for its education program. The registration window opens Feb. 15, 2017, for camps in June and July of 2017.
October 17, 2016