The Freewill Shakespeare Festival is produced annually in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Created in 1989 by The Free Will Players, this festival began with a truly cooperative, pass-the-hat spirit with the mandate to produce the works of William Shakespeare. The impetus for founding the festival was to satisfy the community need and theatre artists’ desire for a professional outdoor Shakespeare Theatre experience in Edmonton. Free Will Players has produced 28 seasons of Shakespeare in the Park, consisting of 51 full-length productions, all remarkably set in the Heritage Amphitheatre in Edmonton’s Hawrelak Park. Since 1989 over 265,000 people have attended FSF, including 11,800 in 2015.
The program consists of two fully realized Shakespearean productions that run in repertory over four weeks from late June to late July. Productions boast contemporary interpretations of setting, theme, and character to best communicate the plays ideas to a modern audience.
The 2015 Annual Report can be found here.
A Little More History…
1989 // The Free Will Players began producing The Freewill Shakespeare Festival to create a remarkable celebration of Shakespeare within the city and to satisfy the growing audience who shared this vision.
1999 // Establishment of a paid General Manager, who works on a full-time basis for six months and part-time the remainder of the year.
2000 // Position of Artistic Director added.
2003// The Free Will Players / Freewill Shakespeare Festival was honored to receive the City of Edmonton’s Salute to Excellence Arts Achievement Award and the Syncrude Award for Innovative Artistic Direction at the Mayors Luncheon for Business and the Arts in Edmonton.
2006 // Saw over 17,000 people’s “hearts fly to [Shakespeare’s] service” (The Tempest // Act III, Scene i)! This was the most successful year to date.
2013 // The Freewill Shakespeare Festival celebrates its 25th anniversary!
2014 // Damage to the Heritage Amphitheatre tent forced Freewill to move indoors for the first time in its history. The situation caused Freewill to cut its season from two shows to one where it produced The Taming of the Shrew inside the Myer Horowitz Theatre.
2015 // Freewill returns to Hawrelak Park to produce As You Like It and Coriolanus! This is the first time in its 27-year history that Freewill has produced Coriolanus.
Did you know…
The Festival employs 42 people at the height of summer. This includes actors, designers, stage managers, production managers, administrative assistants, publicist, technical director, site/volunteer coordinators, and a variety of other positions.
Volunteers put in over 2000 hours each summer.
40% of the Players’ yearly budget goes to artists’ fees.
Freewill Shakespeare Festival has drawn over 246,000 people to 37 main stage productions.
The Free Will Players / Freewill Shakespeare Festival ventures to broaden its horizons and remain vital to the theatre community. To that end, a program of commissioning new plays that are inspired by the life and/or times of William Shakespeare was started. Shakespeare’s Will was the first commission, written by Governor General Award winning playwright Vern Theissen. It was a major success in Edmonton and is presently being re-produced across Canada and United States. The second commission, Losing War, is by local playwright Beth Graham. The aim is to help develop and produce this project with support in part by the AFA and the Clifford E. Lee Foundation.
The Free Will Players / The Freewill Shakespeare Festival has been nominated for numerous Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Awards for excellence in Edmonton theatre. Chris Bullough received the award for Outstanding Actor for his sensitive performance as the tragic title character in the Richard III (2008) and Nadien Chu received the award for Best Supporting Actress for her haunting and magnificent portrayal of Lavinia in the 2010 production of Titus Andronicus.
The Free Will Players Theatre Guild is a registered charitable organization. Tax deductible donations can be made through the CanadaHelps link at the top of this page.