The idea of a free, outdoor Shakespeare festival in St. Louis began in 1997, inspired by R. Crosby Kemper, III. The founding mission—to produce professional Shakespeare theatre, outdoors in a city park, free and for a diverse audience, and to provide education through schools and community outreach—led board members to select Forest Park as the home for the Festival. Romeo and Juliet debuted under the stars in the spring of 2001 to more than 33,000 people. Each spring crowds have grown and the run was eventually expanded to four weeks. Shakespeare Festival St. Louis is the only free, outdoor, professional theatre in the St. Louis area, employing renowned national and regional directors, designers and actors for the benefit of the community.