Skip to content Skip to footer

Our History

Festival 56 was founded in 2003

Festival 56 started as a partnership between Princeton Theatre Group and The November Ten, a New York-based theatre company. In its first season, the festival offered 5 productions in 4 weeks during July and all 28 visiting artists stayed with host families in the Princeton community. The festival attracted about 2000 patrons the first year, proving that professional theatre could flourish in rural Illinois.

Shakespeare in the ParkBuilding on the strength and success of the first few seasons, the Princeton Theatre Group acquired the old Bureau County Republican newspaper building and, in 2007, renovated it into a 150-seat studio theatre located in the heart of Princeton’s historic downtown shopping district. The Grace Performing Arts Center is home to Festival 56, which operates year round with an artistic director and a committed board of volunteers.

Since its inception, Festival 56 has presented over 100 plays. We now welcome over 4000 patrons and 40 visiting artists to Princeton throughout the year and, in a testament to the warm hospitality of the community, all of the visiting artists still live with host families during their Festival 56 stay.

Perhaps the greatest feather in the festival’s cap is Shakespeare in the Park. Each summer since the very beginning, the festival has presented a fully staged production of one of Shakespeare’s plays in the town square. This production is a gift to the community and is presented free of charge all summer long with performances every Sunday and Wednesday.