Now in its 44th year, the Illinois Shakespeare Festival (ISF) is excited to announce the line-up for their 2021 summer season, which will include the Shakespearean classics The Winter’s Tale and Measure for Measure at the historic outdoor Ewing Theatre, and a free family-friendly Theatre for Young Audiences production on the lawn at Ewing Cultural Center. The 2021 season is scheduled to run Friday, July 2 through Friday, August 6, 2021.

The season will open with The Winter’s Tale:

King Leontes of Sicilia is plagued by an irrational suspicion that Queen Hermione is having an affair with his childhood friend, Polixenes. Leontes lashes out in fury, causing death and destruction in the royal family. Convinced that his newborn daughter Perdita is Polixenes’ child, Leontes banishes her to the Bohemian wilderness, expecting the worst. Yet Perdita survives, holding the key to Leontes’ redemption after 16 long years. Can the remorseful king be forgiven for his past mistakes?

Measure for Measure will be the second mainstage production:

Vienna is in an uproar as Angelo, the Duke’s surrogate, enforces a strict moral code on sex. But Angelo is unable to abide by his own standards and uses his power to compel Isabella to exchange her chastity for her brother Claudio’s life. Set in a disjointed urban world where convents and brothels stand side by side, Shakespeare speaks to our current climate through this story about justice, morality, and mercy.

Aidaa Peerzada and Fred Geyer in 2019's Pride and Prejudice. Directed by Robert Quinlan. Photo by Jessica Worland Photography.
Aidaa Peerzada and Fred Geyer in 2019’s Pride and Prejudice. Directed by Deanna Jent. Photo by Jessica Worland Photography.

ISF Artistic Director John C. Stark speaks to the season selection: “The Winter’s Tale and Measure for Measure are stories that are connected through an overall theme of forgiveness and that is what inspired me to present them in 2021. Both plays approach the very personal act of forgiving from different angles, but each concludes with a character presented with the ability to grant it. The journeys are filled with verse and prose that may be less familiar to patrons, but certainly no less beautiful and elegant than any of Shakespeare’s other work.”

The Winter’s Tale contains perhaps the most famous stage direction in all of Western drama: “Exit, pursued by a bear.” “Our patrons have to come and see how the Illinois Shakespeare Festival responds to this iconic Shakespeare prompt,” says Stark. He shares, “A quote from Measure for Measure that resonates to me in 2021 is ‘O, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant.’ The play examines the danger of using power unjustly and that theme is as relevant today as it was in the early 1600s.”

The season also includes a Theatre for Young Audiences production, A Summer’s Winter Tale by Nancy Steele Brokaw, which will be performed free to the public on Thursday and Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. from Thursday, July 1 through Saturday, August 7, 2021. ISF is also planning a mix of virtual and in-person summer camp options.

This is an exciting summer, as it marks the return of the Festival to Bloomington-Normal since the cancellation of the 2020 season due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The pandemic brought challenges, but also prompted creative collaboration with Illinois State University leadership, nation-wide theatre professionals, and artist unions. ISF has traditionally produced three mainstage shows each season but is restricted this year by capacity limits in both production spaces, such as the scene shop and costume shop, and performance spaces, including backstage dressing rooms and audience seating. “In line with state and local mandates, we are implementing a comprehensive COVID-19 Safety Plan to keep all of our patrons and staff safe,” says Managing Director Derek R. Munson.

In order to provide the safest audience experience, tickets will be sold in ‘pods’ of 1, 2, or 3 reserved seats with 6ft of social distancing between each pod. As a temporary change from ISF’s three-tier ticket structure, tickets for the 2021 season will be sold at the flat price of $25 each. Tickets to preview performances and a limited number of student rush tickets will be available for $15. Tickets will go on sale to the general public at noon on Monday, April 5, 2021. ISF Box Office Manager Nick Benson says, “Thank you to everyone for your patience as we have worked diligently to find a way to safely perform again. While this summer will look different from previous seasons, the box office staff will be here to answer questions and guide patrons through the ticketing process.”

John C. Stark concludes, “I am thrilled that we get a chance to bring these stories to life this summer at Ewing. After lying fallow for a season, we are beginning anew with plays that celebrate rebirth and renewal. I think the stars will be just a bit brighter above us this summer at the theatre in celebration.”

For more information about the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, visit the ISF website, follow the Festival on Facebook, and sign up for the ISF Friends e-newsletter.

The Illinois Shakespeare Festival 2021 Season Announcement