Georgia Shakespeare was co-founded in 1985 by Kirby McLain (Lane) Anderson, Richard Garner and Robert Watson. After a year of planning, fundraising and researching other Shakespeare companies around the country, Georgia Shakespeare (then called Georgia Shakespeare Festival) opened its first season on July 10, 1986, and featured The Taming of the Shrew and King Lear in rotating repertory. Over 6,000 people attended the twenty-five performances that season, held in a 60’ X 90’ white tent located on the Oglethorpe University front athletic field.
Three underlying principles were established in that first season that have shaped Georgia Shakespeare’s identity over the years. Georgia Shakespeare committed to hiring a professional company of artists who were supported by student interns, the shows were presented in rotating repertory and a commitment was made to hire and nurture local artists.
Three different field locations on the Oglethorpe campus hosted three different versions of the tent theatre in the first eleven years. The rectangular 60’ X 90” tent in the inaugural season had a seating capacity of 300 and was replaced the second season with a 90’ diameter circular tent seating 350. Four years later a 110” diameter circular tent, seating 400, became the home until 1996. Planning began in 1995 to work with Oglethorpe Universityto build a permanent performance home for Georgia Shakespeare and to serve as the OU performing arts center. In the summer of 1997, the $5.7 million John A. and Miriam H.Conant Performing Center opened with Georgia Shakespeare’s production of The Tempest. The 509-seat modified thrust stage is Georgia Shakespeare's official home.
Over the years, more than 12 different educational programs were developed serving an audience from elementary aged students to adults. Touring productions, Camp Shakespeare, High School Conservatory, No Fear Shakespeare Teacher Development, after school residencies, in-school workshops, student matinees and classes for professionals and the public combine to make up an active education department. Georgia Shakespeare received the 2002 ABBY Award for Outstanding Arts Education.
In 2001, Georgia Shakespeare became only the second theater in Georgia to be a member of the League of Resident Theaters (LORT). Georgia Shakespeare is a proud memeber of Theatre Communications Group, Shakespeare Theatre Association of America, Southeastern Theatre Conference, and Atlanta Coalition of Performing Arts.