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.