Grounded in the works of Shakespeare, we enrich our community by presenting accessible, professional theatre experiences that educate, inspire and entertain people of all ages.
Founded in 1949, Kentucky Shakespeare — a not-for-profit, charitable organization and professional theatre — is the oldest, free Shakespeare festival in the United States.
Designated the Official Shakespeare Company of the Commonwealth, Kentucky Shakespeare serves over 80,000 annually through the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival in Central Park in the summer, educational outreach touring programs, and special community programming throughout the year. Other programs include Camp Shakespeare, annual Shakespeare in the Parks tour, Shakespeare in the Libraries tour serving all Louisville Free Public Libraries, and community center residencies. Kentucky Shakespeare has served over 1,000,000 students with in-school arts programs since its inception in 1990 in all 120 Kentucky counties and surrounding states.
Kentucky Shakespeare has been recognized by the Folger Library and the Kentucky Humanities Council for exemplary programming, was a finalist for the Excellence in Summer Learning Award at John Hopkins University, is a multi-year recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Shakespeare in American Communities program, and is a past recipient of the Kentucky Governor’s Award in the Arts. Kentucky Shakespeare has also been awarded multiple LEO Weekly Reader’s Choice and Broadway World Louisville Regional Awards. Kentucky Shakespeare is the 2015 recipient of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence’s Art of Vision Pyramid Award.
1949 – C. Douglas Ramey founds The Carriage House Players, named for the building at 310 W. Kentucky. They begin as a theatre workshop, teaching students acting, voice, diction and playwriting, as well as the history of theatre. The first play presented by the class was Cry Havoc.
1950 - The Carriage House Players relocate to 1011 South Fifth Street, continuing classes and theatrical production.
1952 – The Carriage House Players incorporate.
1953 – The Carriage House Players produce their first Shakespearean play, The Taming of the Shrew on April 23.
1960 – The Carriage House Players perform at an art fair in Central Park; hence, the first production of “Shakespeare in Central Park”.
1961 – The Carriage House Players present the first full season of free Shakespeare in Central Park, with productions of Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing, and Othello.
1962 – The Committee for Shakespeare in Central Park incorporates.
1962 – C. Douglas Ramey creates Students for Shakespeare, the first statewide Shakespeare education tour to schools.
1975 – C. Douglas Ramey directs his last play, Macbeth.
1976 – Louisville Mayor Harvey Sloane appears on opening night to proclaim the outdoor theater in Central Park the C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheater.
1977 – The Committee for Shakespeare in Central Park honors C. Douglas Ramey with a bronze plaque in Central Park.
1980 – Bekki Jo Schneider is hired as Producing Director following the passing of C. Douglas Ramey.
1984 – The Kentucky Legislature designates Shakespeare in Central Park the Official Shakespeare Festival of the Commonwealth.
1985 – Hal Park is hired as Producing Director.
1988 – The Committee for Shakespeare in Central Park redesigns the C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheater, re-sloping it for drainage and creating 750 additional seats.
1989 – Curt L. Tofteland is hired as Producing Artistic Director.
1990 –The Committee for Shakespeare in Central Park changes its name to Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Inc.
1990 – Kentucky Shakespeare Festival creates Shakespeare Alive!, bringing KERA (Kentucky Educational Reform Act)-based workshops to schools in the Kentucky and Southern Indiana area.
1991- Kentucky Shakespeare Festival develops From the Page to the Stage in conjunction with the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. and is modeled in the Library’s highly acclaimed teacher training program.
1992 – The C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheater receives a permanent stage house, designed by Paul Owen.
1993 - The Folger Shakespeare Library and the Kentucky Humanities Council recognize From the Page to the Stage as an exemplary program.
1995 - Curt Tofteland creates Shakespeare Behind Bars as a program of Kentucky Shakespeare Festival at Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, Kentucky. The program encourages the development of the interpersonal life skills that contribute to the inmates’ successful reintegration into society.
1997 - Kentucky Shakespeare Festival introduces a workshop entitled Teaching Tolerance and Conflict Resolution to address the clear need in schools for more accessible, more direct, hands-on conflict resolution skill-building for our young people.
1997 - Adding to school tours, artists-in-residence programs and professional development, Kentucky Shakespeare Festival engages youth in Camp Shakespeare, summer camps running concurrent with Shakespeare in Central Park.
2003 – Kentucky Shakespeare Festival receives the Governor’s Award in the Arts for an Arts Education Organization.
2003 - Shakespeare Behind Bars, a documentary by Philomath Films based on the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival’s program at Luther Luckett Correctional Complex, is selected for its world premiere at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.
2007 - Shakespeare Youth Academy (Camp Shakespeare) expands with multiple camps throughout the summer for ages 5-18. The program is recognized for two years as a finalist from the Excellence in Summer Learning Award at John’s Hopkins University.
2008 - The National Endowment for the Arts selects Kentucky Shakespeare Festival’s Juvenile Justice Program to receive a three-year grant.
2008 - Curt Tofteland retires. Anthony Patton hired as Producing Artistic Director.
2010 – To incorporate the breadth of the diverse work of the company, Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Inc. rebrands and files for assumed not-for-profit corporation name of Kentucky Shakespeare.
2010 – Kentucky Shakespeare Board of Directors gives permission for Shakespeare Behind Bars to branch out as separate not-for-profit. Curt Tofteland, Matt Wallace, and Holly Stone partner to form a new not-for-profit Shakespeare Behind Bars, Inc. (As of 2015, Shakespeare Behind Bars facilitates twelve programs for the incarcerated in Kentucky and Michigan.)
2013 - Kentucky Shakespeare’s education program serves its one-millionth child at Fern Creek Traditional High School on April 23.
2013 – Matt Wallace is hired as Kentucky Shakespeare’s seventh Producing Artistic Director.
2014 - Kentucky Shakespeare expands summer festival to 10-week, 8-production, 54-performance season in Central Park serving a record 27,000+ audience members.
2014 – New Shakespeare in the Parks program debuts, touring to multiple area parks outside Central Park.
2014 – Kentucky Shakespeare wins six 2014 Louisville Broadway World Regional Awards.
2015 – The National Endowment for the Arts names Kentucky Shakespeare one of forty US theatre companies to receive 2016 National Endowment for the Arts Shakespeare in American Communities Grant. Capital campaign funds the design, creation and installation of new lighting truss and installation of 135 permanent, in-ground benches installed in C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheater. Kentucky Shakespeare receives Center for Nonprofit Excellence Pyramid Award of Excellence Art of Vision Award.
2016– Kentucky Shakespeare produces first indoor winter production, Twelfth Night in the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts Bomhard Theatre and first indoor fall production, Titus Andronicus in Butchertown. After 24 years, the C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheater stage house is taken down due to safety and structural concerns. Designer Paul Owen begins work on the new stage design.