Summer Shakespeare in Bloomington-Normal | Midwest Living

Summer Shakespeare in Bloomington-Normal

An inventive summer-long Shakespeare festival—including created-on-the-spot plays—stars during weekends in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois.

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Light-hearted Shakespearean twists star alongside classic performances at the Ewing Mansion in Bloomington, Illinois. Photo courtesy Bloomington-Normal Convention and Visitors Bureau.
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For theater-lovers, summertime means outdoor Shakespeare. But in downstate Illinois, that takes on a fresh new form. Want improv Shakespeare?  Sing-along Shakespeare? Or just a performance of his classics (including A Comedy of Errors this year)? Starting in May, and running through mid-August, the Illinois Shakespeare Festival in Bloomington-Normal (130 miles southwest of Chicago) reveals its ode to the Bard.

Theatergoers picnic on the grounds of English-style Ewing Mansion, the university’s cultural center and host to the festival each year. As the sun sets, guests head toward the 438-seat outdoor theater to catch the show—perhaps professional actors in Macbeth or a performance by Shakespearean Globetrotters, who improv a Shakespeare-esque play based on audience suggestions.

The performances anchor weekend getaways. Normal’s Uptown neighborhood pulses with funky cafes, pizza joints, and book and record shops. Classic and independent films star at the Art Deco Normal Theater. 

Bloomington’s restored 1800s buildings house farm-to-table restaurants, shops and live-music venues. Inside the three-story courthouse, a museum highlights the area’s historical treasures.

Overnight guests should try to stay at the luxurious Vrooman Mansion, built in 1869. The antiques-decorated inn serves breakfast in a lavish dining room where Eleanor Roosevelt once dined. Over pumpkin waffles, guests chat about Shakespeare—whichever form they enjoy him in.

Click ahead for our two-day getaway guide.

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