Chicago Shakespeare Theater announces 35th Anniversary Season

In‑person performances and virtual streaming options offer new flexibility throughout 2020/21

I, CINNA (THE POET) directed by Tyrone Phillips and I, BANQUO directed by Marti Lyons
Shining light on Shakespeare’s lesser-known characters in Tim Crouch’s I, SHAKESPEARE series

Jeanine Tesori and Tazewell Thompson’s award-winning new opera BLUE, presented with Lyric Opera of Chicago

World Premiere Musical IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, from Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair

Shakespeare in Repertory in The Yard: MEASURE FOR MEASURE, directed by Henry Godinez and TWELFTH NIGHT, staged by Artistic Director Barbara Gaines

AS YOU LIKE IT set in the ‘60s infuses Shakespeare’s comedy with the ageless hits of The Beatles

Virtual CHICAGO SHAKESPEARE IN THE PARKS engages community partners and local artists in 18 parks across City

Live-streamed WorldStage Musical Event from the UK: ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS, directed by Emma Rice

PETER PAN – A MUSICAL ADVENTURE streaming for audiences of all ages at the holidays

Four-part digital series EVERYBODY’S SHAKESPEARE explores the enduring impact of Shakespeare’s plays in performance

As Partner in Literacy with CPS, Chicago Shakespeare’s award-winning education programs adapt for virtual classrooms


Chicago—August 24, 2020—Regional Tony Award-winner Chicago Shakespeare Theater announces its 35th Anniversary Season with a dynamic line-up of artistic offerings—both in‑person and virtual—including plays written and inspired by Shakespeare, new musicals, a timely contemporary opera, and engaging digital content for audiences, students, and teachers.

Virtual programming and streamed productions will launch the season in September 2020. To ensure the health and safety of audiences, artists, and staff, in‑person performances at Chicago Shakespeare are currently slated to begin in early 2021. Production dates will be announced on a rolling basis, based on guidance from state and local authorities. Chicago Shakespeare will offer complete flexibility in ticket packages, ready to welcome audiences as soon as public safety and personal comfort allows. Additionally, Navy Pier has committed to partnering with the Theater to ensure a seamless experience for all Chicago Shakespeare patrons during the Pier’s shutdown through the winter months.

“In designing our season, we were challenged to reimagine the audience experience, and while that experience may look different for the near-term, the healing power of performances will remain—whether in‑person or virtual in our own living rooms,” shared Artistic Director Barbara Gaines. “It’s time to take the next steps toward our being together again, knowing we are poised to adapt—and adapt again—should circumstances require, while still delivering the artistry and excellence audiences expect and enjoy.”

Two of Shakespeare’s lesser-known characters step into the spotlight in the I, Shakespeare series featuring a pair of solo shows: I, Cinna (the poet) and I, Banquo, written by Tim Crouch. Audiences will have the choice to attend in‑person performances in an adapted, reduced-capacity performance space at Chicago Shakespeare or to stream live from home.

The North American Premiere production of I, Cinna (the poet) will be directed by Tyrone Phillips, founding artistic director of acclaimed ensemble-based Definition Theatre. With credits at Raven Theatre, Red Orchid, and Writers Theatre, Phillips notably directed the world premiere production of Byhalia, Mississippi with Definition Theatre and The New Colony, which was remounted by Steppenwolf Theatre Company. In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the humble poet Cinna hardly says a word before being mistaken for someone else and torn to pieces by an angry mob. Searching for the subject of a new poem, Cinna invites the audience to write along live in an exploration of words and actions, protest, and power.

Combining classic theater and modern storytelling, I, Banquo reexamines Shakespeare’s Macbeth through the eyes of the title character’s murdered best friend. The betrayed Banquo considers how he might have responded to the prophesies of the Weird Sisters had he been in Macbeth’s position—questioning his own motives, desires, and temptations. The solo production is directed by Marti Lyons, one of the most sought-after directors in American theater, with extensive credits at DC’s Studio Theater, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Writers Theatre, and American Players Theatre.

Jeanine Tesori, the Tony Award-winning composer of Fun Home and Caroline, or Change, and acclaimed director, playwright, and librettist Tazewell Thompson have joined forces to create Blue, presented in collaboration with Lyric Opera of Chicago. Recently awarded “Best New Opera” by the Music Critics Association of North America, Blue brings audiences into the emotional epicenter as a Black police officer and his wife are faced with the killing of their son at the hands of the police—realizing their deepest fears in the devastating reality. Tazewell Thompson spoke on the urgent timeliness of the piece, “I wrote it from an obsessive need and sense of responsibility to tell an intimate story behind the numbing numbers of boys and men who are killed. But here we are now: art imitating life, life imitating art. Unfortunately, the themes in Blue have no expiration date.”

The new musical It Came from Outer Space will make its World Premiere directed by Laura Braza, artistic producer at Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Commissioned and developed by Chicago Shakespeare with Creative Producer Rick Boynton, the project reignites an artistic partnership with creators Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair, following the success of their Jeff Award-winning 2011 musical, Murder for Two which premiered at Chicago Shakespeare and went on to be produced Off-Broadway and in theaters around the world. In this adaptation of the cult classic ‘50s sci-fi film from Universal Pictures, It Came from Outer Space spins Ray Bradbury’s flying saucer tale with a clever musical score and creative physical humor—examining society’s fear of outsiders and embracing the wonder of what lies just beyond the stars.

Chicago Shakespeare returns to its roots as a repertory theater company with a pairing of Shakespeare plays performed in The Yard with a single ensemble of actors: Measure for Measure and Twelfth Night. Harnessing the innovative flexibility and adaptability of The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare, the stage and audience spaces will be configured for optimal safety and patron comfort.

First in the series is Shakespeare’s searing exploration of sexual politics and social justice, Measure for Measure, adapted and directed by Henry Godinez. As resident artistic associate at Goodman Theatre, his extensive directing credits include Charise Castro Smith’s Feathers and Teeth, The Sins of Sor Juana and Mariela in the Desert by Karen Zacarías, and José Rivera’s Boleros for the Disenchanted, also staging its world premiere at Yale Repertory Theatre. Godinez returns to Chicago Shakespeare where he has a rich artistic history: he first appeared onstage at the then-Shakespeare Repertory in 1989, and went on to perform in ten productions—as well as to direct Chicago Shakespeare’s Spanish-language Romeo y Julieta in 2008.

Next in the repertory is Twelfth Night, in a production adapted and directed by founder and Artistic Director Barbara Gaines. As a leading director of Shakespeare internationally renowned for her populist interpretations, Gaines has staged more than sixty productions at Chicago Shakespeare throughout her distinguished career, garnering the prestigious Honorary OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) and multiple Jeff Awards for Best Production, and for Best Director.

The Theater’s production of As You Like It, adapted and directed by Citadel Theatre’s Artistic Director Daryl Cloran—which was postponed from the 2019/20 Season—will conclude the season. This vibrant adaptation set in the ‘60s infuses Shakespeare’s romantic comedy with the hit songs of The Beatles—lifting the playwright’s timeless verse in beautiful harmony with the immortal music of the “Fab Four.” This exuberant celebration of love features nearly 20 songs, performed live, including “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Let It Be,” and “Here Comes the Sun.”

Digital programming reaches audiences, students, and teachers

In partnership with the Chicago Park District, Boeing, and BMO Harris Bank, the annual Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks program has gone “from the greens to the screens” in August 2020. Culminating this summer’s programming is a PBS television special about Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks airing on Friday, August 28 at 5:30 p.m. on WTTW Channel 11. The 30‑minute broadcast features interviews with artists, community leaders, and partner organizations, revisits memorable moments from past years' tour productions, and highlights this year’s inventive digital programming—including a Virtual Tour spotlighting 18 parks and the work of their local community organizations and arts groups, and the #MyMidsummerCHI initiative which brought Shakespeare’s words to life to parks, balconies, and backyards.

From September 22-26, 2020, Chicago Shakespeare presents a live-streamed WorldStage event direct from the UK’s Bristol Old Vic: Wise Children's Romantics Anonymous, a whimsical new musical comedy written and directed by renowned theater provocateur Emma Rice, best known for her ground-breaking work as artistic director of Kneehigh Theatre and Shakespeare’s Globe. Following rigorous safety measures, the company will form an enclosed “bubble” to be able to perform without social distancing. The live experience will be broadcast to audiences from scores of partner theaters across four continents, including the New Zealand Festival, Oxford Playhouse, Singapore Repertory Theatre, St. Ann’s Warehouse, The Old Vic, and more. Based on the film Les Émotifs Anonymes, the new musical with book by Emma Rice, lyrics by Christopher Dimond, and music by Michael Kooman chronicles the sweet budding romance between two socially awkward chocolate makers as they break the mold and find the courage to be happy. The work premiered in 2017 at Shakespeare's Globe in London, and was hailed “a multi-faceted gem, chock-full of love, generosity and joy” (The Guardian) and “delectably joyous… suffused with a lovely, unpretentious sense of humor” (The Independent).

For the holidays, Chicago Shakespeare invites audiences of all ages to return to Neverland with a streamed 75-minute performance of the Theater’s wildly popular 2018 production of Peter Pan – A Musical Adventure, directed and choreographed by Amber Mak. Based on J.M. Barrie's beloved tale about the boy who wouldn’t grow up, this heartwarming musical dazzles with a score written by George Stiles and lyrics by Anthony Drewe—the award-winning songwriting duo behind smash hit Mary Poppins and the Olivier Award-winning Honk!

In the fall of 2020, audiences can engage with a new four-part digital series: Everybody’s Shakespeare, hosted by Artistic Director Barbara Gaines. The program will delve into the enduring power of Shakespeare’s stories through in-depth conversations with artists and experts interwoven with extended performance footage, featuring highlights from the company’s thirty-five-year history. Released monthly beginning in October, each hour-long premiere event will feature opportunities for audience members to engage in a live, virtual Q&A with the artists.

Chicago Shakespeare is a proud partner in literacy with Chicago Public Schools and with students and teachers across the region. To respond to the unique challenges facing schools in the transition to remote learning, Chicago Shakespeare’s Team Shakespeare education program—one of the most comprehensive and highly respected in the country—moves online this season. When the school year was first impacted in Spring 2020, the Theater immediately responded with direct pedagogical support for educators. Chicago Shakespeare launched the free Stream & Study program, which provided classrooms with robust curriculum and teaching materials paired with the recording of the Theater’s 75 minute abridged production of Romeo and Juliet. Thousands of students from coast-to-coast participated in the program, expanding the reach and impact of the Theater’s educational outreach in never-before-seen ways.

Teachers across the nation can take advantage of resources for remote learning through the Team Shakespeare Digital portal, which pairs printable, ready-to-use activities with instructional guidance and explanatory videos. The award-winning Bard Core program transitions online for 2020. This semester-long professional learning seminar introduces Chicago Public Schools English, Special Education, and ESL teachers to drama-based strategies for now engaging students online—including struggling and reluctant readers, and English language learners—with Shakespeare and other challenging texts. The annual Chicago Shakespeare Slam, which brings together hundreds of high school students and their teacher coaches from public, private, and parochial schools across the region, also goes virtual this year with a new model. For the first time, students will work together to create their own virtual retelling of Hamlet, culminating in January 2021 with the debut of a community-wide, filmed version of the play woven together from scenes performed by the many school teams.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater offers a variety of season ticket packages, with savings over single tickets prices and the guarantee of total flexibility should plans need to change. New this year, the Subscriber Bard Card retains the value of purchased tickets, allowing season ticket holders to use however they would like on future productions. For information on purchasing tickets, visit or call the CST Box Office at 312.595.5600. Single tickets will go on sale in the fall; discounted tickets are available for groups of 10 or more.

Under the leadership of Artistic Director Barbara Gaines and Executive Director Criss Henderson, Chicago Shakespeare has redefined what a great American Shakespeare theater can be—a company that defies theatrical category. This Regional Tony Award-winning theater’s year-round season features as many as twenty productions and 650 performances—including plays, musicals, world premieres, family programming, and presentations from around the globe. Chicago Shakespeare is the city’s leading presenter of international work and has toured its own productions across five continents. The Theater’s nationally acclaimed arts in literacy programs support the work of teachers, and bring Shakespeare to life on stage for tens of thousands of students annually. Each summer, the company tours a free professional production to neighborhood parks across Chicago. In 2017 the Theater unveiled The Yard, which, together with the Jentes Family Courtyard Theater and the Thoma Theater Upstairs, positions Chicago Shakespeare as Chicago’s most versatile performing arts center.

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