Shake It Up

 In Culture, Feature

Bringin’ on the bard with St. Louis Shakespeare Festival.


ST. LOUIS SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL began as a modest undertaking, consisting of one play being performed for two weeks in a park. Now that it’s in its 12th season, Executive Director Rick Dildine wants to make a point: “We’ve grown. We’re in the park, the streets and schools. Now, it’s a real festival.”

Indeed, St. Louis Shakespeare Festival has injected St. Louis with a big dose of summer culture. It started early, April 27-29, on Cherokee Street with Shakespeare in the Streets, a block party performance of a Shakespeare adaptation—written by, with and for the people of the neighborhood. Shake-38 takes over the city next on May 18-22, along with plenty of camps, classes and educational efforts. When “Othello” starts May 25 in Forest Park, show up early to catch the Green Show, featuring juggling, a 20-minute “Othello in a Breath” and other entertainment—then stay late for a “talkback” discussion.

The festival has grown significantly since Dildine took over as executive director in 2009, and it has become very important to the St. Louis community. The organization is well-respected in the theater world as well, winning 18 Kevin Kline Awards for excellence in St. Louis theater, including the Best Play award for last year’s production of “Hamlet.” To give access to high-quality productions of arguably the world’s greatest playwright for free is “a huge gift,” says Dildine.


The decision to produce “Othello,” Shakespeare’s classic tale of jealousy and betrayal, wasn’t a difficult one. It’s one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays and is heavily requested by patrons. Another easy decision was choosing Bruce Longworth to direct. Fresh off of last season’s hit production of “Hamlet,” Longworth, head of Webster University’s Performance Programs in the Conservatory of Theatre Arts, is the first director ever to be invited to direct a second show at the festival. Audiences can expect a first-class production with a skilled cast and wonderful set designs from the man Dildine calls “one of the best directors of Shakespeare in the country.”


During Shake-38, May 18-22, Shakespeare’s entire canon is performed at various locations throughout the city. Volunteers sign up to make a play happen, no matter how they pull it off. Now in its third year, Shake-38 has seen Shakespeare performed on rooftops, balconies, bars and street corners, and nobody who wanted to participate has ever been turned away. To get involved, email




Photo credit: Illustration by Vidhya Nagarajan

Recent Posts