This Is How Much Shakespeare Is Produced in DC

There’s often talk, in local theatre circles, of there being Too Much Shakespeare in DC.  “Not another Hamlet!”

I was curious, and possibly bored and also possibly slightly insane, so I tallied up how much Shakespeare has actually been produced in DC.

Methodology

I looked at the last ten years of DC theatre, by season, from the ’01-’02 season through the ’11-’12 season.  This did require some fudging and guessing since seasons are variable.  I searched through theatre company season archives, Helen Hayes awards listings, and reviews, but undoubtedly I missed some (especially earlier in the decade, if any theatre company produced Shakespeare then and has since disappeared).  I only looked at professional theatre productions.  I did include Fringe (counting it as occurring at the end of the preceding season) and touring productions, but didn’t include ballet, opera, community theatre, the hard-to-categorize Rude Mechanicals, Vpstart Crow, and Lumina Theatre, academic theatre, the Renaissance Festival, showcases, staged readings, or special events like the Shakespeare Theatre’s Mock Trials.

I did not include “based on” Shakespeare, but did include “adapted from” Shakespeare.  In other words, I didn’t include works derived from or based on the Bard, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, The Beard of Avon, or the uncertain-provenance Cardenio Found.  I did include plays which were revisions or severe adaptations of Shakespeare, such as Synetic’s silent versions, Tiny Ninja Theatre’s work and a newly created staging of “The Rape of Lucrece.”

I differentiated between “original Shakespeare” versions where the Bard’s text was presented largely unaltered and these “adapted” versions.  Later, I’ll reference different numbers for “all plays including adaptations” and for “just originals.”

So don’t take my results to be utterly definitive by any means, especially because I know for a fact that a couple of my numbers got messed up (if you were to check my math, you’d see the errors).  That said, this should allow some fairly accurate general observations and conclusions.

Without further ado:

Shakespeare DC Flag

The Basic Numbers

All told, one-hundred and eighty-four (184) productions of Shakespeare occurred in DC between fall 2001 and spring 2012.

Of these 184, 19 were remounts, leaving 165 unique productions.

Of these 184, 36 were adaptations, leaving 148 “original Shakespeare” productions.

With both remounts and adaptations taken out of the account (noting that some adaptations were also remounts), the number of unique original productions was one-hundred and thirty seven (137).

By Season

Whether due to an increase in the number of theatres, or me miscounting older productions, there appears, at first glance, to be a major jump in the amount of Shakespeare over the past decade. Actually, things hold remarkably steady from 2002 through 2008, with exactly 11 or 12 productions each of those years. The exception is 2007, when the Shakespeare in Washington Festival doubled the usual amount.

Then, suddenly, in 2008-2009, the normal seasonal amount doubles, and we hold steady at mid-twenties from then until now.  The total numbers by season:

01-02 9
02-03 11
03-04 12
04-05 11
05-06 11
06-07 23
07-08 12
08-09 23
09-10 21
10-11 26
11-12 25

But a closer look reveals this is somewhat misleading.  The sudden increase is partly attributable to Fringe; there were two Fringe Shakespeares in ’07, none in ’08, three each in ’09 and ’10, and then five in ’11. (There are as many as four in this year’s Fringe, but none are clearly non-”based on” Shakespeare, so I haven’t counted them in.) Maryland Shakespeare Festival leapt up from one Bard production each year to five or more starting in ’08-’09, contributing to the effect.  Lastly, there were an increased number of remounts in recent years. With Maryland Shakespeare Festival, Fringe, and remounts taken out, the chart looks like this:

01-02 8
02-03 9
03-04 9
04-05 9
05-06 10
06-07 19
07-08 10
08-09 11
09-10 11
10-11 14
11-12 16

Surprisingly even in distribution, although there has been a marked increase in recent years.

On average, the past few years, there have been between 180 and 190 productions eligible for the Helen Hayes awards.  By verrrry rough guesstimate, since 2008 or so, about 20 of those eligible ones would have been Shakespeare productions, (including adapations).  So in recent years approximately 10% of Helen Hayes eligible productions have been Shakespeare works.

By Producer

I counted twelve theatre companies who put on original Shakespeare productions outside of Fringe.  They account for 163, all but 21, of the total of 184; those 21 were either Fringe productions or Kennedy Center/touring productions.  Thus ~90% of the Shakespeare was produced by those twelve local theatre companies.

Of those twelve, MolotovBrave Spirits, Impossible Theater and Rep Stage all had just one production.  Faction of Fools had two.  Taffety Punk, both with their bootleg series and their Riot Grrrls series, produced nine.  Synetic Theater did 14 productions (all of which were adaptations and 6 of which were remounts), coming to 8% of the grand total on their own.  All these seven companies together did 29 out of the 184, or ~16%.

The remaining 134 productions, or ~73% of the total, are divided up amongst five companies: Chesapeake Shakespeare Company (27 productions, 15%), Folger Theatre (23 productions, 13%), Maryland Shakespeare Festival (27 productions, 15%), Shakespeare Theatre (42 productions, 23%), and WSC/Avant Bard (14 productions, 8%).  These five (plus Brave Spirits) are the metro-area companies with Shakespeare in their name (or in their mission).

Shakespeare's Plays by Sir John Gilbert

By Play

Ah, the fun one!

Four plays were never performed in this decade: Timon of Athens and the three parts of Henry VI.

By total, including adaptations and remounts — in other words, the number of chances in the past decade you had to see some version of the play — it goes like this:

One Production  Edward III, King John, The Rape of Lucrece, The Two Noble Kinsmen, the Sonnets
Two Productions Henry IV Part 2, Henry VIII, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Pericles, Richard II, Troilus and Cressida
Three Productions Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Cymbeline, Henry IV Part 1, The Winter’s Tale
Four Productions All’s Well That Ends Well, Henry V, Measure for Measure, The Merchant of Venice, Richard III
Five Productions As You Like It, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Titus Andronicus
Six Productions Julius Caesar, King Lear, Othello, The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Seven Productions The Comedy of Errors, The Tempest
Eight Productions Twelfth Night
Nine Productions The Taming of the Shrew
Ten Productions A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Twelve Productions Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet
Thirteen Productions Much Ado About Nothing
Fourteen Productions Hamlet

Interesting notes: Taffety Punk’s bootleg series was responsible for the only productions of King John and Two Noble Kinsmen to occur in the decade.  WSC/Avant Bard was responsible for the only production of Edward III, and for the lone adaptation of Rape of Lucrece.  The one “production” of the Sonnets was by Tiny Ninja Theatre during the Shakespeare in Washington festival, which may be pushing the line for inclusion, admittedly.

I personally am stunned that Antony and Cleopatra was produced so little, and The Comedy of Errors so much.

Not a single play was produced every season of the decade; even Hamlet had a gap (’03-’04 and ’04-’05, no Hamlets).

The rankings come out quite differently when remounts and adaptations are taken out, giving us just the number of original, un-tinkered-with productions of each play:

One Production Edward III, Henry IV Part 2, King John, Pericles, The Two Noble Kinsmen
Two Productions Henry IV Part 1, Henry VIII, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Richard II, Troilus and Cressida
Three Productions Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Cymbeline, The Merchant of Venice, The Winter’s Tale
Four Productions All’s Well That Ends Well, Henry V, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Measure for Measure, Othello, Richard III, Titus Andronicus
Five Productions As You Like It, Hamlet, The Tempest, The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Six Productions A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night
Seven Productions The Comedy of Errors, Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew
Eight Productions Macbeth
Ten Productions Much Ado About Nothing

Very interesting.

In case you didn’t catch it, Hamlet only received five unique, original productions, out of the fourteen total it otherwise had.  By comparison, Macbeth only decreased from twelve to eight with adaptations and remounts excluded.

Takeaway: comedies are adapted and/or remounted much less often than tragedies or histories.

Conclusions

Without comparison numbers for other theatre cities, it’s impossible to say whether Shakespeare is done more often in DC than is usual, other than anecdotally.

Looking at the DC metro area population, it seems we’ve gone from approximately one Shakespeare production per 530,000 people in the DC Metro area in 2000 to approximately one Shakespeare production per 230,000 people today (based on the grand total with remounts and adaptations included, with population change factored in).

As mentioned, five companies which make Shakespeare their mission have been responsible for nearly three-quarters of the Bard’s work done in the DC area (and appropriately enough Shakespeare Theatre itself can claim almost an entire quarter on its own).  Three are downtown companies: Shakespeare, Folger, WSC/Avant Bard, each taking a differing approach, and none focusing exclusively on ol’ Willy.  CSC and MSF perform up in Maryland, with MSF focusing on Elizabethan-style original practices, while CSC tends to be site-specific.

Perhaps part of the perception that there is “too much Shakespeare” is because the remaining quarter of the productions not claimed by those five is almost entirely divvied up between single companies, most of them producing at Fringe.  It’s easy to compartmentalize when all the work is concentrated in just five companies’ seasons, but when there are thirteen different companies producing Shakespeare (as in 2010-2011) it gets overwhelming.  (There have been eleven in 2011-2012, not counting the four possible Fringe producers.)

Some positive things might be said about the proliferation.  With all of the Shakespeare going on, at theatres big and small, a new theatre company (like Impossible Theater) has plenty of yardstick to measure themselves by, and can easily dig out their identity and make their mark by choosing a very specific approach to the work.  A young classics-minded actor in town can practically climb a ladder from the Rude Mechanicals to Shakespeare Theatre with plenty of rungs along the way.  Competition breeds creativity and innovation; would we have seen puppet Measure for Measure, naked Macbeth, or head-to-head all-guy and all-gal Romeo and Juliets if we didn’t have such a abundance of standard Shakespeare to respond to?  (To which you may feel free to respond, “Did we need any of it?”)

Either way, the trend doesn’t seem likely to abate.  Who knows, if we continue down this path, we may soon have enough Shakespeare productions for every single citizen to be able to see every single play every single year.  That’d be a good thing, right?

6 comments

  1. glad that you crunched these numbers. one data point that i would like to see is how shakespeare dominates the local market.

    not how many of his plays that are performed and by whom, but it would be interesting to see how much the bard is hogging significant stage time compared to ives, churchill, stoppard, pinter, mamet, zacarias, currin.

  2. thank you and you’re welcome!

    i’m going to do some updates when i get the chance and getting comparison numbers for a couple other playwrights seems a great idea.

  3. John Sadowsky · · Reply

    Not included in your analysis, apparently, is the annual Shakespeare production by the professional cast of the Maryland Renaissance Festival. It is, unfortunately edited for time (less than 2 hours) but is always of high quality, usually performed on a replica Globe Theater and in 16th century costume. Last season, we did “Hamlet” and this season, will be producing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

  4. ian armstrong · · Reply

    this is awesome, thank you

  5. Fascinating! Thank you for pulling all this together… If you’re interested in continuing to pull and add to the stats — Wandering Souls also produced As You Like it (’07) Winter’s Tale (’09) and Twelfth Night (’10).

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