The Flagstaff Shakespeare Festival is back for its third straight season. Bringing back another season of comedy and tragedy to Northern Arizona.

This year’s summer and fall productions will feature three female-driven plays and are driven by the theme of strong, funny and clever women in the Shakespeare universe.

"When people think of women in Shakespeare they think of Juliet or Ophelia," Festival Marketing Manager Nick Rabe said. "Those are famous female leads, but I don't think they have ever been considered strong women. Our plays this year feature the strong and clever women of Shakespeare."

Shakespeare's plays frequently explore the idea of finding and losing love with a light-hearted comedy ending in a wedding while his tragedy's would end in the deaths of the two star-crossed lovers.

However according to Rabe, female leads such as Juliet in "Romeo and Juliet" and Ophelia in "Hamlet are slaves to love and steered by the the men in their lives.

In “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” the women are the puppet masters, masterfully controlling the lovers and scoundrels that surround them.

The play features the "cheeky women of Windsor" as they cleverly plot to find, reignite and maintain their romances.

Rabe said "The Merry Wives of Windsor" features two female leads played by Cadence Lamb and Suze St. John, who take control of their own destinies.

"The women in this play really end up driving the story," Rabe said. "They are strong women who take action to fulfill their wants and desires."

This year’s festival will also feature new stage design called "in the round," meaning that the play will be staged in the middle of the venue with the audience around the actors. The venue at the museum will be outside under the museum’s big tent.

"We thought this would be a great way to try something different and create a new experience for theater goers," Rabe said. "It gives us a chance to use different angles and blocking."

An afternoon of laughter will then switch to a night of tears as "Macbeth," makes its premiere to the Flagstaff stage.

Rabe called the selection of "Macbeth" "inspired," due to the fact that Flagstaff's rendition of the play will feature a more modern version set in the 21st century as well as give the audience an opportunity to experience the character of Lady Macbeth played by LaToshia Hill.

Rabe said selecting the classic tragedy is a chance to really wow the aduience with a cast of complex characters, including Lady Macbeth, a woman who can be simultaneously perceived as evil and cunning or a tragic heroin. 

"I think we are really taking some incredible chances with our selection of Macbeth," Rabe said. "Lady Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's strongest and most complicated characters she is not simply a damsel in distress or a sex object."

The fall Shakespeare season begins on Sept. 15 with “All’s Well That Ends Well,” the story of an orphan daughter Helena as she plots to teach her unfaithful husband, Count Bertram a lesson.

The classic comedy is being directed by Christine Schmidle, Deputy Text Associate at Shakespeare’s historic Globe Theater in London, England.

The festival has a close relationship with Schmidle due to her close relationship with another festival director, Dawn Tucker.

Tucker is also the director for the “Merry Wives of Windsor.”

"Christine and Dawn give us a direct link to the scholarship and style of Shakespeare," Rabe said. "They are both friends and both studied Shakespeare. We have a personal connection with Christine and we are excited to work with her again."

Tickets for each performance are available now at flagshakes.com. Admission is $20 for adults or $30 for a two-show package. Children 16 and under are $10 and children under 5 get in free.

Students, teachers, active duty military and seniors 65 and older qualify for a $14 discount price.