In 1991, Shakespeare Theatre Company presented The Merry Wives of Windsor as its first ever Free For All production, allowing all audience members to get a taste of Shakespeare at no cost.
The tradition has continued ever since with more than half a million theatergoers checking out one of the Bard’s tales.
“The Shakespeare Theatre Company Free For All at its core is about civic spirit, comradely and celebration of D.C. and its treasured inhabitants,” says Samantha Wyer, STC’s director of education. “STC enthusiastically fashions this annual gift of culture to complement the city’s rich tapestry of seasonal fare and share the finest productions of Shakespeare’s works created today.”
From August 19 – 31, STC Free for All will present The Winter’s Tale, a popular play from Shakespeare’s later period, although critics argue over whether its place is as a comedy or tragic romance. The first three acts enact a mini-tragedy and occur in wintery Sicily, while the second half of the play occurs in Bohemia during the summer months and features the kind of restorative ending typical of Shakespeare’s comedies.
The plot is not unfamiliar. At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, a jealous king banishes his queen and her newborn, suspecting she has cheated on him. Years later, the child reemerges as a free-spirited young woman, assumed to be a commoner, and falls in love with a handsome prince among the flowers of Bohemia. Yet as quickly as their love is forbidden, a series of twists lead them to a magical homecoming.
“This Winter’s Tale is so special because we use a small cast of just nine actors to tell the story,” Paul says. “The production highlights the ability of actors to transform themselves and play many roles, centered around Michael Hayden playing the contrasting dramatic and comedic roles of Leontes and Autolycus.”
This STC production of Winter’s Tale initially ran during the 2012-13 season under the direction of Rebecca Taichman. Alan Paul directs this one and Camille A. Brown’s choreography will be restaged by Tiffany L. Quinn.
Reprising their roles from 2013: Hannah Yelland as Hermione, Nancy Robinette as Paulina and Bohemian Townsperson; Tom Story as Cleomenes and Young Shepherd; and Ted van Griethuysen as Antigonus and Old Shepherd.
Joining them will be Michael Hayden, doubling as Leontes and Autolycus, Philip Goodwin as Camillo; David Bishins as Polixenes; Jenny Leona as Mamillius, Time and Perdita; and Sam Lilja as Dion/Florizel.
How to get free tickets
While plenty of regular theater lovers attend, The Free For All opens up Shakespeare to an audience who might never had given it a try—especially youngsters. Tickets are made available to the general public each day with up to 200 seats offered to those waiting in line outside Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street NW, on the day of the performance. There’s a limit of two tickets per guest.
For those who can’t get to the theater, tickets are also available electronically via a ticket lottery between 12.01 a.m. and 8 p.m. the day before each show (exceptions: lottery closes Thursdays at 8 p.m. for Saturday matinees and Friday at 8 p.m. for Sunday matinees). You just need to be lucky and you can return and enter every day, but only one entry per person, and each will receive two tickets. Entries can be submitted at ShakespeareTheatre.org.
Lottery winners or those who get tickets from social media contests must pick up their tickets at the Sidney Harman Hall Box Office beginning two hours prior to curtain on the day of their performance, and no later than 30 minutes prior to curtain. Any unclaimed tickets will be released to the ticket line.
The theater holds 774 seats and a certain number of seats are designated to Friends of Free For All, students and other community partners through numerous outreach initiatives each performance. Gifts starting at $200 allow Friends to secure reserved seating in advance and receive program recognition.