Yearlong Shakespeare 400 Chicago Festival Welcomes Estimated 1.1 Million

By: Nov. 22, 2016
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Shakespeare 400 Chicago, the yearlong festival marking the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death, will wrap up a dynamic year of programming with a full calendar of events in December, having inspired an estimated 1.1 million people to take part in 863 events at 231 locations across the city of Chicago.

Spearheaded by Chicago Shakespeare Theater under the leadership of Artistic Director Barbara Gaines and Executive Director Criss Henderson-and in partnership with 60 local cultural institutions-the city's festival is one of the largest Shakespeare quadricentennial celebrations in the world. The New York Times reported, "No American city seems to be marking the anniversary as enthusiastically as Chicago." And The Guardian agreed, noting that Chicago stood "at the forefront of America's commemoration."

"Chicago Shakespeare Theater is an international leader in bringing the works of history's greatest playwright to a new generation, and the Shakespeare 400 Chicago celebration is a unique opportunity to bring the Bard to life in Chicago's neighborhoods," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. "Shakespeare 400 has united our cultural institutions, engaged students across the city, and reinforced Chicago's status as a global destination for cultural tourism."

These performances cap an exciting year. In 2016, Shakespeare 400 Chicago engaged 1,151 artists-including musicians, actors, dancers, chefs, designers and scholars-who made Chicago their stage, celebrating the vibrancy, relevance and reach of the playwright's work across disciplines. Performers came from 12 countries, and interpreted Shakespeare in 11 languages. International Artists traveled a total of 161,112 miles to Chicago, the equivalent of circling the globe more than 6 times.

For paid Shakespeare 400 Chicago events, the median ticket price was an accessible $21, generating an estimated $22.7 million in total ticket revenue across the organizations. But not every performance generated ticket fees, because 28% of all Shakespeare 400 Chicago events were free-fulfilling the festival organizers' commitment that Shakespeare should be accessible to all.

"By engaging cultural attendees with such a diverse range of offerings across the city's institutions, Shakespeare 400 Chicago has catalyzed the resources that make Chicago such an attractive cultural destination," David Whitaker, President & CEO of Choose Chicago, said. "With over an estimated one million attendees spending not only on tickets but also restaurants, accommodations and shopping, it is easy to see the economic impact of Shakespeare 400 Chicago is in the tens of millions."

An estimated 100,000 students, families and young people took part in Shakespeare 400 Chicago by attending performances or participating in arts-in-education programming. Students from public, private and parochial schools participated in Battle of the Bard -a slam-style competition which culminated in a "Finals Bout" on Chicago Shakespeare's stage on November 14. Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks, which toured 23 performances of Twelfth Night to 19 Chicago Park District parks citywide, welcomed 30,000 audience members throughout the summer. In addition, countless students accessed free online resources thanks to City Desk 400 and Chicago Public Libraries' Check Out Shakespeare initiative.

The radically diverse line-up of Shakespeare 400 Chicago included programming ranging from the expected in the Shakespeare's Globe production of The Merchant of Venice starring Jonathan Pryce, to the unexpected-an alt-rock concert Macbeth from Theatre Zuidpool at Thalia Hall; from the large-scale in Barbara Gaines' two-part six-play saga Tug of War, to the intimate, one step at a time like this' solo journey undreamed shores; from the near-Chicago's own troupe Improvised Shakespeare, to far-a Peking Opera Hamlet from Shanghai; the musical, Riccardo Muti conducting Falstaff with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, to the delicious, Culinary Complete Works, at which an estimated 29,000 people dined on Shakespeare-inspired dishes at 38 of Chicago's most celebrated restaurants.

The festival's final month offers a crescendo of varied offerings including: Spymonkey's cheeky The Complete Deaths from the UK; a one-night-only cabaret performance Shakespeare Tonight!; The Newberry Library's Creating Shakespeare exhibition; and the sold-out run of Cheek by Jowl's internationally acclaimed production of The Winter's Tale from the UK. A complete listing of Shakespeare 400 Chicago events in December is here.

Now, as the festival approaches its conclusion, it is clear that Shakespeare 400 Chicago has lifted the city in ways that are economic, creative and spiritual. The festival brought together Chicago's world-class cultural institutions in an unprecedented collaboration, and united our citizens throughout a year that has had its trials and celebrations. Shakespeare 400 Chicago stands as a powerful model for a multidisciplinary collaboration that catalyzes cultural organizations around a common theme.

More information on programming at


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