The New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane is committed to reimagining, rebuilding and engaging The Gulf South region through the works and words of William Shakespeare. By an intermingling of artistic and educational programs, the Festival seeks to create a center of entertainment and learning that speaks both through the greatest plays of the English language and one of the great cities of The United States.
Founded in 1993 by Tulane University faculty members Jeannie Button, Ron Gural, Buzz Podewell and Paul Schierhorn, SFT was created to fill the cultural need for a professional Shakespeare Company in Louisiana. Initially limited to summer theatrical productions, programming was expanded in 1995 to place an equal focus upon education. With guidance from its Board of Directors, SFT began implementation of the Shakespeare Alive! educational outreach initiative as well as expanding the summer calendar to include not only two full productions but also a training program for young theatre artists. To retain the strongest actors, designers and technicians, SFT has developed a consistent pay structure for participating artists and, since that time, the Festival at its peak can boast over forty professional theatre artists on its payroll. It has become one the largest employers of theatre artists in New Orleans.
In its twenty-year existence, SFT has reached over 60,000 theatergoers with its mainstage performances and has performed over half the cannon. In the new millennium, the Festival added alternative programming on its workshop stages to include both modern classics like Endgame and new work such as With Malice Towards All, by up-and-coming writers. After Hurricane Katrina, the Festival changed directions yet again to engage its audiences in a conversation about the destruction caused to the city in the storm’s aftermath.
On the educational front, we continue to further Tulane University’s commitment to secondary education in New Orleans. The idea started by Shakespeare Alive! has transformed the Festival into a year round operation. That original educational mission has expanded into four programs to meet the needs of students and teachers and to develop audiences for the future. These programs are the Performances for the Schools, Shakespeare on the Road, The ESU/National Shakespeare Competition and our All Things Shakespeare Training Program. Each of these four programs addresses a particular educational need that ranges from exposing students to professional Shakespeare to providing teachers with the tools to reach their students. Offering theatrical opportunities for high school students like no other program in the city or state, the Festival is committed to creating an organization with not only a history but also a future.