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 2021 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.

2019
2019

The Winter's Tale + Two Gentlemen of Verona

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2018
2018

Hamlet + Comedy of Errors

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2010
2010

Macbeth + Much Ado About Nothing

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2019
2019

The Winter's Tale + Two Gentlemen of Verona

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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).

Fundraising

Free Will Players has been able over the years to maintain its quality productions and hire outstanding Edmonton performers through not only Federal, Provincial and Municipal grants, but also through the efforts of the Managing Director, the Board of Directors and volunteers who organize and supervise many fundraising events. FWP has undertaken several on-site approaches to fundraising including the following:  50/50 draw, raffle of a donated item, Keg night, date night, afternoon tea event and wine tasting.

 

FWP also gratefully acknowledges the corporate sponsors and private donors whose generosity keeps the festival thriving and affordable.

Brunch of Love

Additionally, the online auctions and the Brunch of Love keep the festival alive in the minds and hearts of its supporters. The Brunch of Love has over the years proven to be an elegant and entertaining celebration of both Will and Love. Falling on or near Valentine’s Day, this live and silent auction was truly a tribute to both the Bard and the Festival. Much fun was had during the live auction with very entertaining guest auctioneers complimented by roving sonneteers all happening during a scrumptious meal in elegant surroundings.