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Our History

In 1989, a passionate group of recently graduated students collaborated to build the Free Will Players Theatre Guild (FWP). Their goal was to embody a cooperative, community-driven, pass-the-hat style spirit, bringing the works of William Shakespeare to life through an outdoor summer Festival. Over 35 years, the Freewill Shakespeare Festival (originally known as the River City Shakespeare Festival), has attracted over 409,000 people with 56 main stage productions, remaining true to the original text and spirit while accenting new interpretations for a modern audience. 

Located in the picturesque setting of Hawrelak Park, the festival unfolds under the enchanting 1100-seat, canopy-covered Heritage Amphitheatre. Over the course of four weeks, from late June to July, this idyllic outdoor venue becomes the stage for an immersive and unforgettable theatrical experience. The Freewill Shakespeare Festival is not just a celebration of artistry; it is also a significant source of employment, engaging over 50 dedicated individuals at the peak of the festival season. This diverse team includes actors, designers, stage managers, production managers, administrative assistants, publicists, and site/volunteer coordinators, all working in harmony to bring the magic of the Festival to life. Thirty percent of the FWP yearly budget goes towards artist fees, ensuring that the creative talents behind the productions are duly recognized and compensated for their invaluable contributions. 

In 2020, we partnered with Thou Art Here and became the Free Willies and produced a travelling troubadour show to markets, parks, and front porches.

In 2021, we travelled in 2 shows, collaborating with the Fringe, a brief stint in Louis McKinney Park and private and public spaces.

In 2022, we were back in the Amphitheatre for A Midsummer Night's Dream and Measure for Measure

In 2023, Shakespeare in the Parking Lot in the Crystal Palace Spiegeltent.

In 2024, we present The Tempest, a new production touring across four parks in Edmonton.

 

 These challenges, along with reduced granting and audience return, have greatly impacted the financial stability of FWP but also highlighted the community-driven spirit that originally built this company and its ability to adapt to the changing environments of the arts in Edmonton. 

Through pay-what-will ticketed shows, affordable ticket ranges, and a long history of supporting youth and young creatives,  the Free Will Players Theatre Guild and the Freewill Shakespeare Festival strive to promote artistic excellence, community collaboration, and a steadfast dedication to making the arts accessible.

2023 Annual Report

Freewill Shakespeare-20230725-EK2_0450 (1).jpg

Past Posters of the Festival

FWP also recognizes that we can broaden our horizons and remain vital to the theatre community through commissioning new plays that are inspired by the life and/or times of William Shakespeare. To that end FWP commissioned the Governor-General award winning playwright, Vern Theissen, to write a play. The result was Shakespeare’s Will which was a tremendous success in Edmonton and went on to further acclaimed productions across Canada and the United States.

The Free Will Players/The Freewill Shakespeare Festival has been nominated for numerous Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Awards for excellence in Edmonton theatre. Award recipients include Chris Bullough (Outstanding Actor for his sensitive performance of the tragic title character in Richard III, 2008), Nadien Chu (Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role for her haunting and magnificent portrayal of Livinia in Titus Andronicus, 2010) and Belinda Cornish (Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role for her portrayal of Portia in Julius Caesar, 2012).

Camp Shakespeare

Founded in 1998, Camp Shakespeare provided the opportunity for youth aged 8 to 16 to take part in a summer camp based in performance, education, and enjoyment of the world of theatre. Led by professional instructors – including members of the FWP repertory company – Camp Shakespeare culminated in presentations prior to a weekend performance of one of our mainstage productions.

Past Freewill Productions

Year
Show(s)
Dates
2024
The Tempest
June 20 - July 14
2023
Twelfth Night / Romeo & Juliet
August 8 - September 3
2022
A Midsummer Night's Dream / Measure for Measure
June 15 - July 11
2021
Much Ado About Nothing / Macbeth
August 10-29 (travelling shows)
2020
Free Willies
2019
Two Gentlemen of Verona / The Winter's Tale
June 18 - July 14
2018
Comedy of Errors / Hamlet
June 19 - July 15
2017
Merry Wives of Windsor / Merchant of Venice
June 20 - July 16
2016
Love's Labour's Lost / Romeo & Juliet
June 21 - July 17
2015
As You Like It / Coriolanus
June 23 - July 19
2014
Taming of the Shrew
July 9 - 27
2013
A Midsummer Night's Dream / King Lear
June 25 - July 21
2012
The Tempest / Julius Caesar
June 26 - July 22
2011
Twelfth Night / Othello
June 30 - July 24
2010
Much Ado About Nothing / Macbeth
June 29 - July 25
2009
Comedy of Errors / Titus Andronicus
June 30 - July 26
2008
As You Like It / Richard III
June 24 - July 27
2007
Two Gentlemen of Verona / The Winter's Tale
June 26 - July 22
2006
Taming of the Shrew / Hamlet
June 27 - July 23
2005
Love's Labour's Lost / Romeo & Juliet
June 21 - July 17
2004
Twelfth Night / The Merchant of Venice
June 24 - July 18
2003
A Midsummer Night's Dream / Henry V
2002
The Merry Wives of Windsor / The Tempest
2001
As You Like It / Richard III
2000
Much Ado About Nothing / King Lear
1999
Two Gentlemen of Verona / Macbeth
1998
Comedy of Errors / Julius Caesar
1997
Twelfth Night
1996
Taming of the Shrew
1995
As You Like It
1994
Romeo & Juliet
1993
A Midsummer Night's Dream
1992
Much Ado About Nothing
1991
Love's Labour's Lost
1990
Twelfth Night
1989
Comedy of Errors
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