Travel Tips

2014 Summer Theater Festivals Worth Seeing

Summer is festival season…but it’s not just about concerts in the park and beer tents. Theater festivals are major summer events, attracting everyone from up-and-coming talent to established playwrights. Whether you’re watching a world premiere in a black-box theater or seeing A-list celebrities perform under the stars, check out some of the can’t-miss 2014 summer theater festivals.

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You may not expect a small, West Virginia town to attract major playwrights like Sam Shepard, David Mamet, and Neil LaBute. But that’s exactly what happens at the acclaimed Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University, now in its 24th season. Producing Director Ed Herendeen chooses five, cutting-edge American plays—both world premieres and second productions. The shows are performed in repertory over four and a half weeks, with 104 performances in all. Guests can also participate in free lectures, stage readings, post-show discussions, and late-night gatherings. There are also more exclusive experiences like lunch with the artists and breakfast with the festival’s founder. July 6-August 3, 2014;

While theatergoers know New Haven for the renowned Yale Repertory Theater, summertime brings another round of culture to this small Connecticut city. This year, the annual International Festival of Arts & Ideas, now in its 19th year, is based on the concept of Transformation & Tradition, featuring music, theater, and lectures. The 15-day festival features theatrical highlights such as the U.S. premiere of Scottish playwright David Greig’s new work, The Events; a high-flying performance from the Montreal-based circus company Les 7 doigts de la main; and a play based on the real-life Supreme Court case brought by a group of erotic dancers in Indiana. Best of all, about 85 percent of the programming is free. June 14-28, 2014;

What exactly is the Fringe? It’s a loosely connected series of festivals around the globe that encompass a variety of performing arts: traditional theater, dance, puppetry, even film and visual arts. The original, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, dates back to 1947 and considered the world’s largest arts festival. The New York Fringe is known for its offbeat productions, including the one that launched Mindy Kaling’s career and rocketed Urinetown toward Broadway. In between, there are dozens of smaller Fringe festivals around the globe, including one in a city traditionally associated with film. This year, the fifth annual Hollywood Fringe Festival promises to be a memorable one, with over 275 performing arts productions on more than 50 Hollywood stages. Artists will showcase their work inside theaters, cafes, comedy clubs, and other offbeat Hollywood venues. June 12-29, 2014;

Delacorte (2)What are Annette Bening and John Lithgow doing in Central Park this summer? Performing “King Lear,” of course. It’s all part of the Public Theater’s acclaimed Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater, a much-anticipated outdoor summer event. Tickets are free, but are only distributed starting at noon on the day of the performance, along with an online lottery each day. June 3-August 17, 2014;

For over half a century, the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Western Massachusetts has provided an environment in which established and emerging theater artists develop, practice, and refine their craft. In fact, it’s considered the premier training ground for America’s best up-and-coming playwrights and performers. Kicking off this season will be the 1929 comedy, “June Moon,” followed by Terrance McNalley’s “The Visit” and Sam Shepard’s “Fool For Love,” along with an offbeat night with comedian Lewis Black, a Williamstown veteran. July 2- August 17, 2014;

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By Lavinia Pisani for