"Come early, bring your blankets, picnic baskets and families to enjoy a full evening of outdoor entertainment."
The idea for outdoor Shakespeare in Omaha was first conceived in the early 1980's at Creighton University. Fr. Don Doll, then Chairman of the Department of Fine and Performing Arts, organized summer performances at the Creighton Jesuit Institute for the Arts. In the spring of 1986, Fr. Doll approached Alan Klem, Assistant Professor of Theatre at Creighton, about pursuing the idea of a festival in Omaha. Klem had past experience as one of the founders and Artistic Directors of Shakespeare in the Park in Ft. Worth, TX, one of the larger summer festivals in the country.
Alan knew this idea needed broad support so he approached Dr. Cindy Melby Phaneuf, then Assistant Professor of Dramatic Arts at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The two developed the idea and gained the mutual support of their respective universities. Harold Andersen, publisher of the Omaha World-Herald, and his wife Marian agreed to serve as co-chairmen of the organization and the result was Nebraska Shakespeare, a non-profit professional theatre with a first-year budget of $60,000.
Initial funding for Nebraska Shakespeare came from a small but dedicated group of local corporations, foundations and private individuals. In addition to the Andersens, the original Board of Trustees included Michael G. Morrison, S. J., President of Creighton University; Dr. Del Weber, Chancellor of the University of Nebraska at Omaha; Omaha attorney, Harold Rock; and Joan Walsh. These board members were soon joined by James and Ruth Keene, Marian Ivers, and Lynda Scribante. Nebraska Shakespeare owes its existence to these community leaders and the continued support of the two universities, the Omaha World Herald, the Omaha Parks Department, the Douglas County Tourism Division and the Nebraska Arts Council.
Through the years, Nebraska Shakespeare has continued to expand its programming to meet the growing needs of the community and to further celebrate the life and works of William Shakespeare. An early addition to programming was the two-week Camp Shakespeare for students interested in performing Shakespeare.
In 1997, Nebraska Shakespeare started its sonnet-writing contest, christened in 2005 as the Anne Dittrick Sonnet Contest in memoriam of Anne Triba Dittrick. The contest keeps the Shakespearean sonnet form alive, inspiring hundreds of new sonnets annually.
In 2006, Shakespeare On Tour kicked off its first annual season as a means of reaching students and communities not served by Shakespeare On The Green. The Taming of the Shrew was chosen as the first production to mirror and commemorate Nebraska Shakespeare’s first On The Green production.
In 2011, Shakespeare On The Silverscreen was created. The festival screens and explores Shakespeare’s work as adapted for film, providing audiences the chance to compare the films to their staged counterparts.
In 2012, a Director’s Reading Series was created by then Artistic Director, Vincent Carlson. The program discusses and gives life to Shakespeare’s lesser known or produced works.
Nebraska Shakespeare remains committed to its partner universities and their students and, in 2016, produced A War of Roses, a first-of-its-kind collaborative production of the Henry VI trilogy, in two parts. The first part was presented at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and the second part was presented at Creighton University. 2016 also saw the start of Juno's Swans, an all-female Shakespeare performance series, created by then Artistic Director, Sarah Lynn Brown.
In keeping with its mission to engage, educate, and entertain its audiences, Nebraska Shakespeare also offers a variety of activities including workshops; film, literary, and production seminars; classes; backstage tours; and the introduction of the state-wide event: Talk Like Shakespeare Day.