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Our History

The Freewill Shakespeare Festival is produced by The Free Will Players Theatre Guild (FWP) in Edmonton and is one of the longest running outdoor Shakespeare Festivals in Canada. FWP was formed as a not-for-profit theatre company in 1989 by a group of seven recent graduates of the UofA in a truly cooperative, pass-the-hat spirit with the mandate to produce the works of William Shakespeare. Since then, FWP has grown to an organization that employs about 45 artists, administrators, and support staff at the height of the summer season of plays and has drawn over 200,000 people to its productions. In addition, the summer season down at the Heritage Amphitheatre in Hawrelak Park also has over 100 volunteers assisting with the afternoon and evening shows and special events. These volunteers put in over 2000 hours each summer. In 2013 FWP celebrated its 25th anniversary! And here is the festival in 2022 still going strong! 


FWP’s seasons consist of two fully realized Shakespearean productions that play in repertory over 4 weeks from late June to late July. Productions boast contemporary interpretations of setting, theme, and character to best communicate the plays ideas for a modern audience. Some seasons have also included ancillary events such as an off-site secondary production, guest productions, puppet shows, and Camp Shakespeare. FWP endeavours to make the productions accessible to all audiences, regardless of age, ability, education or income levels, while also developing new audiences and mentoring theatre professionals of the future. In the spirit of the original artists’ ‘pass the hat’ philosophy FWP continues encouraging audiences with Pay What you Will and special pricing for students and seniors.

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).

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