PHOTO: A hub of
Interested? Come on along, and I'll tell you what the phenomenal festival is about.
I recently saw 12 plays in nine days there.
On top of that, I took in as many public programs as possible.
And ate extremely well at a choice of fine dining restaurants within walking distance of the city's four theaters.
The festival runs from spring to fall. The revolving offerings this year range from a bristling version of William Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" to rock music's The Who's no brainer musical "Tommy."
Looking at a map, the festival is in an unlikely spot. The
The festival is at
The festival organization has an archive that can tap into clothing, scripts, designs and just about anything about everything dating to its start in 1953. It's phenomenal.
Performances take place in four theaters. The largest is the
Festival Theatre, the stage design of which influenced other theaters. The
thrust stage "thrusts" into the audience, which sits on three sides of the
action. The festival's first artistic director was Tyrone Guthrie of
On most days at
This season's lineup includes four works by Shakespeare - "Romeo and Juliet," "The Merchant of Venice," "Measure for Measure" and "Othello." Other plays are "The Three Musketeers," "Blithe Spirit," "Mary Stuart," "Taking Shakespeare," "Waiting for Godot" and "The Thrill." The musicals are "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Tommy."
"The Thrill" is world premiere, a drama about a woman with severe physical disabilities and a razor-sharp mind.
"Mary Stuart" is about Queen Elizabeth and her troublesome cousin, Mary Queen of Scots. In a sidelight scholarly program, actresses who portray the queens read real letters from the two from the latter part of the 1500s.
I like going to the festival because it's a chance to see plays that are seldom performed in this area or at least not on a scale of production or professionalism.
I'm hard pressed to come up with any theater experience
Most of the actors are known primarily in
Daytime programs are fascinating. The festival provides opportunities to hear actors and directors talk about anything under the sun in sessions during which audience questions are invited. Questions often are smartly offered. Some questions are profound.
Current artistic director Antoni Cimolino makes himself available for question sessions, and he provides rich insights into all that it takes to program a season - picking plays, picking directors, overseeing productions and oh so much more.
The spontaneous "best thing on Earth" remark that opened this story came from a woman attending a discussion with Cimolino. She was inspired by the atmosphere.
Introducing actors and moderating many daytime programs is Pat Quigley, who has an astounding memory for plays and years, actors and their roles and details from various productions. I never saw anyone like her, a living memory machine.
Among sessions with experts that I attended was a look back
at the making of "Fiddler on the Roof." The expert played audio clips from the
creators. My favorite was a recording of composer Jerry Bock playing the piano
and humming a piece that he asked lyricist Sheldon Harnick to put words to. The
tune became "
Part of the enjoyment of the festival is meeting people from
many parts of
Simply seeing the costuming details can be riveting. Costumes made on site tend to have the perfect material for the period of the play - perfectly fitted to the actor. Many shoes are made specifically for an actor and a role.
Walking to the theaters can be interesting. One route takes
you along the
Among other locations are Gallery Stratford, an art gallery featuring Canadian artists; The Shakespeare Gardens, modeled after a classic English garden; and The Festival Exhibition, which this season is displaying costumes, props and other memorabilia of festival productions down through time of "Othello," "Romeo and Juliet," "Measure for Measure" and "The Merchant of Venice." You definitely get the impression that Shakespeare is open to interpretation, depending on the director and the tenor of the time.
THE VENUES: Three
- Festival Theatre seats 1,833. Backstage tours tell you about the choreography that takes place when the set for the afternoon performance is torn down and the set for the evening performance goes up. The theater is on the original location of the festival. First performances were put on under a tent.
- Avon Theatre seats 1,079. It holds a traditional, proscenium, straight-front stage. The venue has the aura of an old movie theater with red cushioned seats.
- Tom Patterson Theatre seats 480. It once was a badminton court. The trust stage is a long rectangle.
- Studio Theatre has 260 seats, most on steep inclines. It's a place for intimate plays.
OTHER OFFERINGS: University courses, courses within the festival, seminars, forums, discussions and teacher conferences are a few of the selections. For anything about the festival, see www.stratfordfestival.ca.
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