The Illinois Shakespeare Festival’s 2014 season, starting Friday, July 11, will intertwine its three productions, Much Ado About NothingElizabeth Rex, and Antony and Cleopatra, with original Shakespearean practices.

Artistic Director Kevin Rich said the season will consist of one company of actors appearing in all three productions. With such a design, the season “becomes a kind of trilogy.”

The festival runs through Saturday, August 9, at Ewing Manor in Bloomington, with 2-for-1 ticket preview performances on July 8-10. Tickets are on sale for $10-$47 and group discounts are available. All productions will feature $20 onstage “Bardhead” seating, which makes for fun audience interaction. For more information or to purchase tickets call the box office at 866-IL-SHAKE or visit

The season opens July 11 with Shakespeare’s witty comedy Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Jonathan West. The production will be performed with an all-male cast: implementing original practices encourages the audience to consider how the plays were written to be performed, and reveals jokes in the text that might otherwise be overlooked.

Opening the following day is Timothy Findley’s award-winning Elizabeth Rex, directed by Paula Suozzi, former artistic director of Milwaukee Shakespeare. The play takes place on the night before Elizabeth’s lover, Essex, is executed for treason by her order. Requiring distraction, Queen Elizabeth I determines to see a new play by Shakespeare called Much Ado About Nothing and summons Shakespeare and his actors to spend the night in her company – a night of discovery that reveals both her vulnerability and strength.

Shakespeare’s often-requested, seldom-performed love story, Antony and Cleopatra, opens Sunday, July 13. The alluring Cleopatra distracts Mark Antony from his soldierly Roman duties and members of the Roman Empire struggle for power as a result. Rich directs; Staples stars as Cleopatra.Anthony Thomas Quinn returns for his eighth season as Shakespeare and notable Milwaukee actress Deborah Staples plays Elizabeth. This production includes adult language and content.

According to Rich, all three productions are dynamic and fast-paced, running under two hours each plus an intermission. He added that although audiences can enjoy the interplay of all three productions, each makes for a great evening of entertainment. The Festival’s re-introduction of an indoor matinee makes it possible to see all three productions on a weekend.

Patrons can still picnic on the grounds prior to performances, enjoying family friendly, free green shows and live music. Food, beer and wine will once again be available for purchase.

Back by popular demand is the Improvised Shakespeare Company, which performs an entirely improvised, hour-long Shakespearean production at 6 p.m. on Saturdays. There’s also a free Theatre for Young Audiences production, Shake Shake Shake Your Shakespeare by Nancy Steele Brokaw and directed by Lori Adams, on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.

The Illinois Shakespeare Festival began in 1978. The nationally recognized Shakespeare festival performs every night but Monday during the summer in the outdoor theatre at Ewing Cultural Center and moves into the University’s Center for the Performing Arts when extreme heat or rain is predicted.