The American Shakespeare Festival Theatre opened in 1955 as a living memorial to English playwright, William Shakespeare (1564-1616). Under the guidance and directorship of Lawrence Langner, John Houseman and Michael Kahn, the theatre provided memorable theatrical experiences for more than thirty years.
Stratford, Connecticut was an appropriate setting for the theater, echoing the name of Shakepeare’s birthplace, Stratford-on-Avon in England. The octagonal shape of the theater recalled the Globe Theatre in London, where Shakepeare’s plays were performed during the 17th century.
Productions featured well-known actors, ranging from Katherine Hepburn and Claude Rains to film noir star Robert Ryan. Other famous performers included Lillian Gish, Helen Hayes, Eva Le Gallienne, Lynne Redgrave, James Earl Jones and Anne Baxter. In 1970, the theater received the National Theatre Arts Conference Award for exceptional contributions to American theater.
Facing foreclosure in the 1980s, the theater was taken over by the State of Connecticut, but continued to struggle to survive. Its last production was “The Tempest,” in the fall of 1989. Since then there have been various attempts to restore the aging building and to reopen the theater. So far, all have foundered due to lack of funds.
Images of the theater may be accessed in the CHS Research Center, which is open Tuesday through Friday from 12-5pm, and Saturdays from 9am-5pm. Selected images are available online in the CHS museum catalog at http://emuseum.chs.org:8080/emuseum/.