Illinois Shakespeare Festival underway this summer at Illinois State

By Ken Keenan For Chronicle Media

Olivia Catanzariti plays Eva in the Illinois Shakespeare Festival performance of “The Comedy of Errors.” (Photo courtesy of Illinois Shakespeare Festival, Illinois State University School of Theatre and Dance)

Highlighted by a trio of productions, the Illinois Shakespeare Festival is back for its 46th consecutive season at Illinois State University’s Ewing Cultural Center, in Bloomington.

The 2023 season, running through Aug. 5 at the Ewing Theatre, is presenting one of seminal playwright William Shakespeare’s earliest works, “The Comedy of Errors,” a farcical tale of separated twins and mistaken identities; “The Book of Will,” an award-winning work by author Lauren Gunderson that asks the audience to consider a literary world without Shakespeare’s “First Folio,” printed in 1623; and one of Shakespeare’s later plays, “The Tempest.”

“When the festival first started, performances were held at a very temporary space,” said Ann Haugo, director of the ISU School of Theatre and Dance and producer of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. “Since 1999, we’ve had our permanent outdoor space, modeled after other Shakespeare festival theaters. It’s a beautiful space, and we always perform in the evening when it’s still light out — and then the sun goes down. It’s a stage open to the skies.”

Added Haugo: “We have food trucks, concessions and merchandise onsite as well. You can picnic on the lawn, and following the performances, the space stays open and you can mingle and talk with cast members after the show as well.”

Besides the mainstage productions, the Illinois Shakespeare Festival’s Theatre for Young Audiences is presenting “Toss Me a Tempest,” written by Nancy Steele Brokaw, on Thursday and Saturday mornings on the Cultural Center grounds. Performances last 40 minutes, and admission is free.

Since 2017, the Illinois Shakespeare Festival has been offering its Summer Camp for Youth program, during which students entering grades 1-12 perform adaptations of Shakespeare’s works on the same stage as the professionals. Remaining camps include Shakespeare’s Apprentices (grades 6-8); Musical Theatre Camp (grades 6-12); and Shakespeare’s Players (grades 9-12).

“The idea is to make Shakespeare less intimidating … make it more accessible and get kids to understand it’s still relevant,” Haugo said. “If kids get interested, maybe parents and grandparents get involved as well.”

Peréz-Escobar (left) as Adonis and Stewart Allen as Michael in the Illinois Shakespeare Festival performance of “The Comedy of Errors.” (Photo courtesy of Illinois Shakespeare Festival, Illinois State University School of Theatre and Dance)

In addition, college students from across the country can apply to participate in the festival through internships in every area — from acting to stage management. The program provides a bridge into professional theater through hands-on training and networking with professional actors, designers and craft artisans.

The Illinois Shakespeare Festival also includes Bard in the Box, a traveling troupe that performs shortened versions of Shakespeare’s plays for schools and community groups during the school year.

“We’re a professional theater company, so we have actors who come in from all around the country,” Haugo said. “We’re also a member of the University Residents Theatre Association — basically an organization of schools, school theaters and departments of theaters that have professional theater companies. It’s fairly unique to have a professional company aligned with an academic program.”

Information regarding performance dates, showtimes and tickets is available at — or call the box office at 209-438-2535 from noon to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday.

“This is the first time since COVID that we’re back to our regular programming of three shows,” Haugo said. “For people who haven’t been here before, seeing these plays in this beautiful setting, with amazing artists … there’s a lot that will surprise people. It’s a nice place to come for a weekend getaway — a gem in the middle of the state.”