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Heart of the Arts

Shakespeare, bluegrass, rock, country. Like them all? No problem; all are easily found in Harrisonburg and the surrounding areas.

Photo of the American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriars Playhouse in nearby Staunton, a re-creation of Shakespeare's original indoor theater

About 20 miles south of Harrisonburg in Staunton you will find the American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriars Playhouse, a replica of William Shakespeare's 1596 indoor London theater. Ralph Cohen, former JMU professor and current director of the American Shakespeare Center, says, "It puts the audience back in the show. Shakespeare wrote the audience into these plays."

On campus

JMU's Forbes Center is the premier destination for arts in the Shenandoah Valley. Masterpiece Season includes work by internationally acclaimed guest artists, groups and choreographers, musicians and ensembles, and award-winning JMU theatre, dance and music students and faculty. Get tickets early as these events sell out fast!

Photo of River North Chicago Dance, one of many Masterpiece Season performances

In the neighborhood

Experience everything from nationally known touring musicians to the homegrown Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival. Harrisonburg's Court Square Theater is host to local and not-so-local performances from community theater to an annual Latino film festival to regionally and nationally touring musicians. Some of its programming is in collaboration with JMU and other area schools. "Many of Court Square Theater's music programming reflects the community's cultural roots and native creativity," says Cecilia Carter Browne, executive director of the Arts Council of the Valley. "That said, I also believe that it is important to look beyond the region's cultural paradigm to stretch the community's cultural vocabulary by introducing new artists and media."

A band performs at MACROCK in 2011

  • MACROCK - Bands decend on JMU and Harrisonburg every spring for this independent music festival. The mutli-day fest started in 1997 as a branch of JMU's student-led radio station, WXJM.

Among the area's annual music festivals is the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival, a weeklong celebration hosted every June for 17 years on the campus of nearby Eastern Mennonite University.

About an hour north of Harrisonburg, in the little town of Orkney Springs, the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival presents performers ranging from banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck to country music star Travis Tritt to the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra.