Thanks to a collaboration between the Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts and Milner Library, copies of printed programs from the 1978 to 2019 Illinois Shakespeare Festivals are available online in Illinois State University’s institutional repository, ISU ReD. These materials are freely available to everyone.

The Illinois Shakespeare Festival is a professional repertory company offering mainstage productions, free family-friendly performances, and numerous community events annually each summer. The festival operates independently from Illinois State University yet has always retained close connections to the University, and multiple generations of faculty, staff, students, and alumni have contributed to the success of festival performances and events.

2022 marks the festival’s 45th anniversary, and the programs provide an excellent resource for those who wish to delve into the history of this iconic institution. Within the programs, contextual notes on the featured plays mingle with photographs and illustrations depicting costumes, stages, and scenes, alongside headshots, biographies, and lists of personnel. Thanks to these programs, there is now a window available into not only the productions themselves but the festival’s exceptional physical surroundings, as well.

From the start, the Ewing Cultural Center has served as the festival’s home.

  • The 1978 program includes images of the model and construction of the original theatre and auditorium area, at that time a wooden structure located on the grounds of Ewing Manor.
  • Construction on a new, permanent theatre began in 1999. The program for that year vividly explains the vision for the facility and offers an invitation to the groundbreaking ceremony held on August 1, 1999, to close out the season. The Merry Wives of Windsor was the final performance held in the old theatre.
  • The 2000 season was the first held in the new Ewing Theatre. The program is themed “a new beginning” and documents the construction process and preparations made. The first rehearsal in the Ewing Theatre took place on June 9, and the season officially opened on June 28, with a performance of The Taming of the Shrew.

Through the programs, it’s also possible to compare different productions of the same play over the years. Consider two examples related to the 2022 Festival lineup:

  • Previous productions of King Lear took place in 1985 and 2003. The 1985 production was set “in a world of nomadic people on the verge of anarchy” that connected social issues between history, present, and future. In contrast, the 2003 production took place “in a world a bit later than the ancient one of the historical Lier” while acknowledging the timelessness of “the bleak endgame of the play’s tone.“
  • The semi-improvisatory comedy Complete Works of Williams Shakespeare (Abridged) was previously produced at Illinois Shakespeare Festival in 2008 and 2011. Both productions were directed by Bill Jenkins with longtime festival actors David Korteimer and Thomas Anthony Quinn joining the cast. The 2011 production is introduced: “Since we last saw them, (the characters) sold their RV, turned their backs on NASCAR, and spent time reading People magazine articles about actors who have played Shakespearean roles,” suggesting an ongoing, unique narrative connecting the two productions. This play returns to the festival stage in 2022 with direction by Jenkins.

Commenting on this new resource, Illinois Shakespeare’s Artistic Director John C. Stark said: “We are thrilled to have the online collection of programs as a resource for our past and present company members’ use. Having all this information at our fingertips is extremely helpful for everything from grant proposals to alumni events.”

The 2022 season of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival runs from June 3 through August 6.