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British actor Jude Law has begun a three-month run on Broadway, the heart of New York's theater district best known for musicals and modern drama. But Law is appearing in what might appropriately be called "a revival" - Shakespeare’s 400-year-old Hamlet. Law is no stranger to the role of “the melancholy Dane” or his home having starred earlier this year in the same role in a series of performances given in the courtyard of Denmark’s Helsingor Castle, which Shakespeare re-titled Elsinore in his play.
Shakespeare on Broadway may be a bit unusual but Shakespeare in New York is not. Each summer in the city’s Central Park there’s a festival called Shakespeare in the Park. Begun in 1955 by the late producer-director Joseph Papp, it has spawned imitators in venues across the country from the Hudson River Valley, just upstream from New York City, to El Paso, Texas on the Mexican border. El Paso's four-week summer festival is also called Shakespeare in the Park, albeit a very different park.
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Some places, such as Cedar City, Utah and Bloomington, Illinois, have gone so far as to construct replicas of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater to house their productions. Others use existing amphitheaters or, in the case of the festival at Santa Cruz, California, performances are held in a theater far older than Shakespeare himself - a grove of towering Redwood trees.
Shakespeare’s popularity peaks during the summer when vacationers add to the audiences but the bard does well other times of the year too in such disparate places as Lenox, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C. In Lenox, Shakespeare & Company performs nearly year 'round on its own rural campus. In Washington, D.C., a few blocks from the United States capitol building, the Folger Shakespeare Library houses the world's largest collection of his printed works as well as a working replica of his Globe Theater.
Many of the Shakespeare festivals are held on college campuses but some seek more venturesome homes such as Riverside, California’s Inland Empire Shakespeare Festival where the classics of the English language take up residence in a neighborhood more accustomed to rock, rap and salsa music.
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In all, there are nearly a hundred Shakespeare festivals held in the United States each year. Some, such as the Alabama festival in Montgomery, have their own theater and operate 12 months a year attracting more than 300,000 visitors in the process. Most, like Nevada’s festival on the shores of Lake Tahoe, are outdoor, summertime-only ventures. That is not without its risks. As Nashville, Tennessee launched its first Shakespeare Festival in 1988, the rain came too, an unwelcome guest. Undaunted, the drama critic of the local newspaper sat through an entire performance of As You Like It ultimately emerging from under her umbrella to give the production a rave review.
A list of America's many Shakespeare festivals is available from the Shakespeare Theater Association of America.