The American Shakespeare Theatre opened on July 12, 1955 in Stratford, CT. Construction of the building began in 1954, and cost $1 million or $9.3 million when adjusted for inflation. It was commissioned by the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre and Academy (ASFTA), which was formed by Lawrence Langner, a co-founder of The Theatre Guild. Langner formed the ASFTA to create American interpretations of William Shakespeare’s plays in Connecticut.
“Julius Caesar” was the opening production and the theater company included Raymond Massey, Christopher Plummer, Roddy McDowall, Jack Palance, and Jerry Stiller. Over the years many famous actors were involved in productions at the theater including: Katharine Hepburn, Fred Gwynne, Margaret Hamilton, James Earl Jones, Lillian Gish, Christopher Walken and Ed Asner. In 1966, T.S. Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral,” becomes the first non-Shakespeare play performed at the theater.
The final full season was in 1982, with performances of “King Henry IV,” “Twelfth Night,” and “Hamlet.” In 1983, the theater was bought by the state of Connecticut for $1 million due to the threat of foreclosure. The American Shakespeare Theatre Corp. was given a 20 year, $1 a year lease but financial issues continued and the summer productions were canceled in 1986.
In 1989 the theater was closed. The final production was one-person show of the Tempest. Connecticut turned the property over to the town of Stratford in 2005 after a few failed attempts to develop the property. On January 13, 2019, a fire destroyed the theater. The cause is currently unknown.
6 thoughts on “American Shakespeare Theater – Stratford, CT”
This was so sad. That theater has been around my entire lifetime. As a senior in high school we went to see one of last shows there…Hamlet.
Thanks for sending this out. Looking forward to your 2019 workshop dates.
Thanks Mary! Some of the workshop dates are out there if you know where to look, but a formal announcement is coming by the end of the week.
Thanks so much for breaking with tradition and venturing into Theatres beyond Movie Palaces. As Ben Hall, a founder of Theatre Historical said,
*“We are forming the Theatre Historical Society. The name is purposely all-purpose; though we all love movie palaces best, deep down we share an appreciation for any place where people are entertained in rows of seats – from Nickelodeons to the newest Kulture Komplexes – in other words, all kinds of theatres and auditoriums.”
Thanks again for widening our horizons.
Hey Matt – my name is Tom Evans – I am the artistic director of the new Stratford Phoenix Festival – we’re fundraising to bring arts back to the site of the theater, and hopefully build a new and beautiful space for future productions. We want to restore those glory days. Our festival is 9/7-8 on the theater grounds. If anyone wants to participate or attend, they can check us out on stratfordphoenix.com Thanks!
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