Opening its 42nd season this week, the Illinois Shakespeare Festival is ready to once again wow audiences in their “theatre under the stars.” The local summer staple has evolved through the years, from the early productions held on the tennis court of Ewing Manor to the current Globe-theatre inspired stage housed in the Manor’s backyard. Famous faces have graced the Festival’s stage including Gary Cole, William Peterson, and Tandy Cronyn, to name a few. The Festival’s rich history is housed at Illinois State University’s (ISU) Dr. Jo Ann Rayfield Archives, which meant Festival fans must go to the repository to see historic materials … until now. In early 2019, ISU’s Milner Library and the ISU College of Fine Arts partnered to digitize copies of the Festival’s program booklets and post them online using ISU ReD, the University’s institutional repository. Theatre researchers and enthusiasts can now explore these programs going back to 1980, the Festival’s third season, from anywhere in the world.

Lindsay Smiling on stage

Alumnus Lindsay Smiling performs in the Illinois Shakespeare Festival’s “The Comedy of Errors” in 2013.

At the start of each season, the Festival publishes a season program, a booklet that details that season’s many shows, concerts, mini-performances, and more. “The Festival programs that are part of the Illinois Shakespeare collection in the Rayfield Archives are an invaluable source of information,” says John Stark, artistic director of the Festival. “They are a succinct source listing all the persons involved in each festival season, and that serves as a means to track theatre professionals who began their careers at the Festival. Each program also offers the reader insights into the conceptual approach to each play that season through dramaturgical and director notes.” April Anderson-Zorn, university archivist at the Rayfield Archives, agrees: “The programs are some of our most requested items, especially in the summer season.” ISUReD is open access, which means materials held in the online repository are freely accessible to all researchers, not just the ISU community. “Adding them to ISUReD not only helps preserve our archival copy but makes them available to anyone at any time.” says Anderson-Zorn.

To preserve the Festival’s history, the College of Fine Arts digitized the programs and submitted them to ISUReD. As the official repository for ISU’s scholarly and creative works, the digitized programs were a natural fit. Researchers can access the collection by going online and choosing the year of the season they wish to view. Once there, researchers can click on the “download” button to view a PDF of the program. Unfortunately, the archival collections are not complete, and eight of the programs are missing from the digital collection – 1978-1979, 1981, 1985-1988, and 1996. “If anyone out there has those programs, we’d love to add them to the Festival’s archival collection,” said Anderson-Zorn.

For more information about ISUReD, contact Scholarly Communication Librarian Anne Shelley at