About the Program
One hundred and two theater companies across the United States have taken part in the NEA’s Shakespeare program since its inception twelve years ago. These companies have presented 33 of Shakespeare’s works through 9,400 performances and over 31,700 educational activities at more than 8,500 schools in 3,600 communities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. During 2015-2016, 40 theater companies in 27 states and the District of Columbia are participating in the program, supported with grants of appoximately $25,000 each. Each company is required to present plays to a minimum of 10 schools.
The first year
Shakespeare in American Communities began in 2003 as a project of the National Endowment for the Arts aiming to conduct the largest tour of Shakespeare in American history. Seven professional theater companies were chosen to tour Shakespeare's plays to all 50 states, conducting educational activities in community middle and high schools across the nation. That first tour reached many communities that have little opportunity to experience live, professional theater. The NEA also partnered with the Department of Defense to present Shakespeare at military bases in 14 states, and produced a comprehensive multimedia toolkit for educators.
The second year and beyond
In its second year, the program expanded to involve 21 theater companies and to focus on encouraging the next generation of audiences in the U.S. to attend and appreciate live theater. This new focus has carried the program since the start of the 2004-2005 season.
Annually, selected companies receive grants of generally $25,000 to support performances and educational activities. These funds have enabled professional theater companies to offer more performances to middle- and high-school students, reach more schools, and much more. It has expanded the geographical reach of their programs and provide improved acesss to the arts for underserved schools.
Shakespeare in American Communities is helping to build future audiences by educating and inspiring students to become informed theatergoers and active participants with the arts and civic organizations that bring distinction to their communities. The prestige of support from this national program has allowed theater companies to leverage new connections with funders as well as teachers, school boards, and local arts agencies.
Through additional contributions from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice, Shakespeare in American Communities broadened its reach during the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 seasons. These funds supported highly-qualified theater companies across the country that had partnerships with the juvenile justice system to bring theater activities that focus on Shakespeare to at-risk youths.