25th Annual Grand Valley State University Shakespeare Festival

by Samantha Luken

This fall marks the 25th anniversary of Grand Valley’s Shakespeare Festival, hosted by Grand Valley State University’s Theatre Department. In celebration of this legacy, we are honoring the Bard’s history on campus. Although the Festival wasn’t established until 1993, GVSU began producing Shakespeare’s works as far back as the 1970s.

1970's Taming of the Shrew
Audience enjoying a performance of Grand Valley’s production of Taming of the Shrew on the green, circa 1970’s

The GVSU Shakespeare Festival is a semi-professional organization based out of the Allendale campus.  They’ve operated annually since 1993 and are Michigan’s oldest and largest Shakespeare Festival. More than 6,000 patrons attend the Festival activities each season, which include main stage performances of the Bard’s works, high school touring shows, workshops, new plays projects, symposium with visiting scholars, an all-campus student art competition, a Renaissance Festival, and other events.

1999 Macbeth witches
GVSU’s production of Macbeth, 1999

Their productions are cast from a pool of students, community actors, and guest professionals; union artists are engaged under guest artist contracts administered by the Actors Equity Association.  The Festival company operates from mid-August through early November, producing public events starting in late September.  By beginning their season in the late summer and early fall, they successfully merge quality productions with the academic life of the University community.

2014 Comedy of Errors

Jake Jager (center) as Dromio of Syracuse in
2014 The Comedy of Errors.

The festival is organized by members of the University faculty and staff, who strive to involve students with all aspects of Festival planning and operation: management, production, fundraising, public relations, acting, design, budgeting and other areas.  Each season the faculty and staff also strive to connect Festival activities to important areas of University life outside of dramatic arts: cinema, multicultural affairs, music, philanthropy and public service, alumni, dance, and communications, among others.

1973 King Lear
Robert Moyer as King Lear (left) and David Dean as the Fool (right) in Grand Valley’s 1973 production of King Lear

In 2016, season audience members were given the opportunity to vote upon which of the Bard’s works would be produced for the 25th anniversary. The winner was King Lear. Above is a photograph from GVSU’s 1973 production of King Lear. The play featured Robert Moyer, a GVSU faculty member, as the titular king and David Dean, an Aquinas College student, as the fool. Director Michael Birtwhistle, a GVSU faculty member, adapted Shakespeare’s text into a more modern-feeling and action-filled play.

This year’s production is directed by Karen Libman,  GVSU Theatre faculty and Fulbright Scholar.

The Green Show

The Green Show is a production performed “on the green,” or outdoors, and may even include actors parading their performance between various locations. The photos below are from a 1970s Green Show performance of Taming of The Shrew.

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A History of Design

Check out our collection of uniquely designed annual Shakespeare Festival playbills, posters, and mailers!

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For more information about the Shakespeare Festival, visit their website, at https://www.gvsu.edu/shakes/ 

To view more items related to all things Shakespeare in our Special Collections and University Archives, visit Seidman House on the Allendale Campus.