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The Best Theatre Festivals: Our Readers Pick Their Favorites

Summer’s here, and that means it’s time for summer theatre festivals. New York will host almost a dozen major fests this year, from FringeNYC (which is already working overtime to prepare for its 15th season in August) to the New York Musical Theatre Festival, and other great events will appear around North America, including the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts, the San Francisco Theater Festival, and the summer season of Canada’s Stratford Shakespseare Festival.

With all that brewing, we wanted to know which festivals you love, so we reached out on Facebook, Twitter, and right here on TDF Stages. Your answers were thoughtful, far-reaching, and in some cases, inspiring.

After the jump, we’ll share highlights from your theatre festival feedback. But don’t let the conversation stop there. Is there a festival missing from the conversation? Did you learn about something new from these responses? Tell us in the comments section.

(Note: Some of the following comments have been edited for clarity or length)


Festivals in New York City

There is a tie:
1) New York City’s Fresh Fruit Festival… amazing work from LGBT artists!!!
2) Frigid New York Festival… Edgy new works from edgy artists

Alex Bond

The EstroGenius Festival, which takes place in the fall at Manhattan Theatre Source near Washington Square Park on MacDougal Street, is a wonderful celebration of women’s voices. It consists of five plays, a Visual Arts component, Women in Motion (dance), Sola Voce (one-woman shows), and Voices Without Borders, a teen girl component. Truly amazing!

Anne Carlino

My favorite is The Planet Connections Theatre Festival that happens in the summer, in June. It’s New York’s premiere eco-friendly theatre festival. Fostering a diverse cross-section of performances, the festival seeks to inspire artists and audiences both creatively and fundamentally, in a festive atmosphere. At the heart of the festivity are like-minded individuals striving to create professional, meaningful theatre, while supporting organizations, which give back to the community at large.

Amada Anderson

I’d like to second the recommendation for Planet Connections. I’m putting up my show through them, and it’s been a real treat to work with a group that’s not only good at what they do, but also easy to work with and extremely accessible.

The plays selected for the festival tie into many of the issues and themes that I’m deeply interested in as an artist and a human being who is aware of a lot that is wrong with the world.

Doing a play for PCTF has inspired my co-producer and I to be aware of the environmental impact of our work, as well as to take eco-friendliness one step further with paperless marketing for our show Tulpa, or Anne & Me.

If you’re in NYC this June, Planet Connections is something you should really check out.


I’m often out of town in August, but whenever I’m here, I rush to the NY Fringe Festival. Hundreds of presentations, some outstanding, some bathetic, but always interesting.

Katie Courtice

I suppose I’m coming at it from a different point of view, but so far I’d have to go with the West Village Musical Theatre Festival.

An up and coming festival, it provides emerging artists (like myself) the opportunity to have their work produced and seen by important people in the industry, as well as giving the general public an introduction to artists who (we hope) are going to help shape the future of the genre.

The producers of the festival are patient, professional, committed and engaged and are a delight to work with.

Come down and see some new work June 8th – 12th, 2011.


My vote is all for the Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival, which is a great forum for new playwriting voices and innovative short works.  The competitive spirit of the festival makes for a rare, suspenseful night of theatre; there’s a real excitement about what works will be performed in the finals. Definitely not a boring evening to be had!


I’ve been going to the Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival for the past few years. I find it really fun because unlike other festivals (and I attend them all!), this is a competition. By the end of the week “celebrity” judges narrow it down to about five or six shows that actually get published by Samuel French. It reminds me of American Idol a bit.


Festivals Outside New York City

The Williamstown Theatre Festival is my favorite. Not only do they present good actors in interesting shows, but they provide an encore at the Cabaret, where, e.g., you can catch Roger Rees acting as the joke-telling MC. Williamstown also acts as a good headquarters in order to sample the many theatres nearby.

Dick Hollands

In the Berkshires there are four major festivals, not just Williamstown. The Berkshire Theatre Festival has been around since forever, Barrington Stage Company has its Musical Theatre Lab and Shakespeare & Company is as good at farce as it is at classics. Plus there are a dozen other companies within striking distance. It’s almost like the summer home of Off Broadway.

Larry Murray

The Minnesota Fringe Festival, as they provide sign language interpreting for ALL the shows, even multiple showtimes! It provides greater flexibility to the deaf and hard-of-hearing theatergoers without limiting them to a single performance at a single fixed time.


The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is my favorite. There are 11 plays that run in repertory from Feb-Nov every year. They perform 3-4 Shakespeare plays every season and 7-8 non-Shakespeare plays.

Amy Levin

I have always had an amazing time at the Edinburgh Festival, particularly at the Fringe. I once saw nine shows in 48 hours over three days! I haven’t been back in a while, but I would love to go again.


The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival at Boscobel in Garrison, NY. What acting!! The Bard SummerScape and at Vassar College, The Powerhouse Theatre. And the Schoolhouse Theatre, Croton Falls—can’t give enough praise for their work. One more new theatre season this summer is the River Valley Rep at Marist College.  Just love Summer Theatre.

Carol-Lee Kantor

The Rogue Festival in Fresno, California. It’s been growing strong for 10 years now and boasts international and nationwide acts at reasonable prices running the gamut of venue locations and styles encompassing theatre, original music, visual arts, poetry, stand-up…you name it.


Shakespeare Santa Cruz. . . . amazing artistry in a beautiful setting in one of the coolest towns in California.

– Heather

My absolute favorite festival (and I have seen/worked at many of them) is the Ko Festival of Performance in Amherst, MA.

Ko is very different from many of the other festivals out there because Ko is all about making dreams come true: for artists, for interns, for workshop instructors and participants, for the audience and even for the staff and board. The Ko festival is curated by Artistic Director Sabrina Hamilton around a compelling theme each season, – this year’s theme is “Secrets” – and the works throughout the season all present a different look at the theme. The performances vary tremendously in format and genre… I’ve seen everything there from an outdoor Native American-inspired family show utilizing giant puppets to a multimedia play about “the politics and pleasures of eating” to a one-woman musical cabaret. Literally, Ko offers something for everyone. As they always say, “If you don’t like what you see this week, come back next week,” because each weekend’s experience is completely different from the one before.

Plus, Ko offers discussions after every show, which allow the audience and local community to engage with the performers and one another.

Sarah Goshman

I am avidly anticipating the 20th season of the Ko Festival of Performance in Amherst. I’ve been attending Ko shows since the second season. I vividly recall the first few shows I saw and how they were engaging and entertaining and edgy and how they stayed with me. Those qualities have persisted through the years of shows I’ve seen at Ko and keep me coming back for more. The Ko Fest rekindled my long-dormant love of the aliveness of theater and the possibility of being surprised and challenged by engaged performance. I’ve also participated in several of their workshops, which have been great fun.

Ralph Hurwitz

Just returned to NYC from the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, SC. A great performing arts event held in a beautiful southern city. Saw great theatre (Cripple of Inishmman) and fabulous jazz concerts (e.g. Dianne Reeves). Along with magnificent food, flowers and sunshine. Can’t wait ’til next year

Tom DePippo

National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina! A chance to see plays before they reach Off Broadway/Broadway. Mingling with the cast. And mostly to see plays where the cast resembles me.

Linda Heyward

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1 comment

1 Fred Jenkins { 08.04.11 at 9:02 am }

Theater for New City’s Dream Up Festival! A curated festival of national and international shows presented by an award winning theater orgranization in August and September. Tickets $12-$15

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