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Grand Valley Shakespeare Festival honors the Bard's legacy with multiple events

  • Photo of the Bard to Go cast
  • Atis Kleinbergs as Prosporo (left), Haley Jennings as Miranda (right), and Kevin McCasland as Ferdinand (middle) rehearsing "The Tempest."
  • Atis Kleinbergs as Prosporo (front), Haley Jennings as Miranda (back right), and Kevin McCasland as Ferdinand (back left) rehearsing "The Tempest."

Posted on September 22, 2017

The Grand Valley Shakespeare Festival will explore and celebrate the life and works of William Shakespeare for the 24th consecutive year, with multiple events September 29-November 4.

Grand Valley State University’s annual festival is the oldest and largest Shakespeare festival in Michigan and attracts more than 6,000 guests each year.

The Tempest

To kick off this year’s festival, students will bring to life what is believed to be one of the Bard’s final solo-written plays. Shakespeare wraps themes of love, betrayal, vengeance, forgiveness, redemption and magic into “The Tempest.”

In “The Tempest,” Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan and a powerful sorcerer, has survived 12 years marooned on a remote island with his daughter, Miranda, when the men who cheated him sail within reach of his fearful magic. He conjures a tempest that shipwrecks his enemies and leaves them at his mercy, but the story becomes more complex when Miranda falls in love with a castaway prince, and the island’s native inhabitants, Caliban and Ariel, frighten and amaze the mariners. Will Prospero exact his revenge or learn that “the rare action is in virtue than in vengeance?”

Performances of “The Tempest” will take place September 29 and 30, and October 5, 6 and 7, at 7:30 p.m., and October 1 and 8, at 2 p.m. All performances will take place in Louis Armstrong Theatre, in the Thomas J. and Marcia J. Haas Center for Performing Arts. Sign language interpretation will be available during the October 5 performance.

Tickets are $14 for adults, $12 for seniors and GVSU alumni, faculty and staff members, and $6 for students and groups. Five percent of total ticket sales for performances of “The Tempest” will be donated to the American Red Cross to contribute to hurricane relief efforts.

“We feel we could not perform a play called ‘The Tempest’ that begins with a devastating storm that shipwrecks sailors without acknowledging the catastrophic storms of this year and the devastation caused to so many areas,” said Jim Bell, Shakespeare Festival director.

Shakespeare Behind Bars

“The Tempest” will be directed by guest artist Curt Tofteland, founder and producing director of Shakespeare Behind Bars Inc., the oldest North American Shakespeare program that takes place in medium-security prisons.

The award-winning documentary, “Shakespeare Behind Bars,” traces the success of the program while demonstrating the transformational power of performing Shakespeare's works. A public screening of the documentary and a discussion with Tofteland will take place October 4, at 7 p.m., in Louis Armstrong Theatre.


This year’s Shakespeare Festival will welcome guest scholar-in-residence, John Andrews, founder and president of the renowned Shakespeare Guild. Andrews also served as the resident scholar during Grand Valley’s first Shakespeare Festival in 1994. 

Andrews will give a public lecture in conjunction with performances of “The Tempest,” entitled “Why Shakespeare's 'Brave New World' Continues to Resonate: Reflections on 'The Tempest.'" His presentation will take place September 29, at 4 p.m., in the Kirkhof Center’s Pere Marquette Room. The lecture will be preceded by a reception at 3 p.m. and include a performance of this year’s festival Greenshow: “The Devil is an Ass.”

Bard to Go presents "The Wonder of Will: This is Your Afterlife!"

Grand Valley’s traveling Shakespeare troupe, Bard to Go, also returns this year with a new, 50-minute production, “The Wonder of Will: This Is Your Afterlife!”

This year’s production asks what would happen if the Bard was brought back to life and taken on an adventure through his most famous plays. The production includes scenes from “Hamlet,” “Richard III,” “The Comedy of Errors,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Macbeth,” and “The Merchant of Venice.”

Bard to Go will perform for students at various secondary schools throughout Michigan in October and November, and offer multiple public performances as well. The troupe will perform as an ArtPrize entry from noon-5 p.m. on September 30 and October 1 at the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids.

Bard to Go will also perform at 1 p.m. on November 4 in Loosemore Auditorium, located in the DeVos Center on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus. The performance will follow the Campus Student Competition Awards Ceremony.

For more information about this year’s Grand Valley Shakespeare Festival, contact Bell at, or visit To purchase tickets for “The Tempest,” call the Louis Armstrong Theatre Box Office at (616) 331-2300.