About the Festival

With a 2000 year history, York is at one and the same time both Roman and Medieval, a military and mercantile centre, with a Victorian industrial heritage and a thriving modern outlook. One of the most beautiful and most historic cities in Britain, York was the powerhouse of the North of England in Shakespearean times and is the ideal location to reflect on the variety and complexity of Shakespeare as Europe’s playwright.

York International Shakespeare Festival

The York International Shakespeare Festival (YISF) was established in 2014, and seeks to showcase local adaptations of Shakespeare’s works alongside international interpretations, and to make global Shakespeare accessible to UK audiences from York and beyond.

Running every two years since its inaugural festival in 2015, YISF has hosted performances from around the world. The festival began as a partnership between community-focused theatre company Parrabbola, York’s Theatre Royal, and the University of York, but has since broadened out to include many other York organisations and companies including the National Centre for Early Music, Riding Lights Theatre company, the York Shakespeare Project and Bronzehead, giving the festival a distinctively York voice. From 2023 we will be working in partnership with York St John University. This exciting new collaboration with staff and students marks a new chapter for the York International Shakespeare Festival, and working with them we plan to become an annual event.

Our mission is to bring productions of Shakespeare’s works – and more radical approaches to his plays – to York, from around the world. These productions act as windows into other cultures and encourage us to understand them better. Shakespeare, is a universal language which ‘holds a mirror up to nature’. To engage with international artists and their interpretation of plays that we think we know well, enables us to see an expression of contemporary thinking and attitudes in the world today and this is even more important after Brexit, and the restraints of covid, which have radically altered this country’s relationship with Europe and other parts of the world. Our festival opens up the conversation. In previous years, the festival has hosted productions that have discussed race and racism in Poland, feminism in Romania, the experiences of young people in Spain, and colonisation in Honduras – all through productions of Shakespeare.

As well as productions of the plays, Shakespeare’s lives and afterlives across other media – including film, music and fine art – are explored as part of the programme. There are family friendly events for children, and an international conference for academics. Young people produce a series of events designed to appeal to young audiences,

With performances across the city, and not only in the theatres and performance venues but on the streets, in parks and churches and simply popping up where you least expect them, and with an influx of Shakespeareans from around the world, for the ten days of the Festival – York becomes the city of Shakespeare.