Friday, January 6, 2017

Shaw and Stratford Festival 2017 Season Previews!

Thoughts on the Stratford Shakespeare Festival/Shaw Festival 2017 Seasons
By David Grapes – Arts Journalist – January, 2017

Theatre patrons, who are passionate about quality theatre here in the U.S., should consider a trip North across the Canadian border into Ontario and spend some serious time exploring North America’s two largest theatre festivals – The Stratford Shakespeare Festival and The Shaw Festival. The American dollar appears to have stabilized against the Canadian dollar, so the entertainment value when compared to the costs of theatre tickets for Broadway ($150+ average) or in London is high. And if you search the web, there are some excellent airfare deals for the upcoming summer into Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson airport for about $500.00 to $800.00 from most major US airports. Rental cars are readily available at the Toronto airport. (Try for the best airport rental rates) Driving time from the airport to either of the two festivals is less than two hours on four lane highways. Remember – Passports are now REQUIRED for any border crossing!

The Shaw Festival

Located in historic Niagara-on-the-Lake (30 miles North of Buffalo, 120 Miles South of Toronto) along the beautiful Lake Ontario shoreline, The Shaw Festival is the only theatre in the world that specializes exclusively in plays by George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries. During the last three decades, under the artful and highly creative leadership of Christopher Newton and Jackie Maxwell, the Shaw not only earned a reputation for innovative programming and stunning visuals, but also become home to one of the finest acting ensembles in North America. Director Maxwell, who led the theatre for more than a decade, retired as Artistic Director at the end of the 2016 season and turned the artistic reins over to Tim Carroll to plan the 2017 season along with new Executive Director Tim Jennings.

For 2017 the Festival’s expanded artistic mandate will again include newer Broadway musicals (Me and My Gal) and the modern classics (Dancing at Lughnasa) two works by Shaw, Wilde, Bennett, and a co=production with the Great Canadian Theatre Company.  As she departs, Maxwell leaves the new Artistic Director Carroll the best of all legacies: excellent facilities, a world-class acting ensemble, and a loyal audience. Unfortunately, Maxwell also left Carroll and Jennings a deficit of 1.76 million dollars from the 2015 season. Hopefully the 2016 Annual Report will show improvement to the Shaw’s bottom line. Otherwise financial constraints may limit Carroll’s ability to fund new initiatives or take artistic risks in his season selection over the next few years.

As the Shaw Festival celebrates its 56th season this year, Carroll is already mixing things up a bit and diversifying both the program and the acting company.  For his premiere season Carroll is perhaps offering up a sampler of things to come. They include: a popular American musical Me and My Girl featuring Stratford and Toronto favorite Michael Therrialut; Brian Friel’s Irish valentine Dancing at Lughnasa; and a new Lunchtime One-Act, Wilde Tales, adapted for the stage by Kate Hening; Stratford’s luminous Sara Topham in the title role of Shaw’s masterwork Saint Joan with Carroll making his Shaw directing debut; a new adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Tom McCamus in the title role in Alan Bennett’s quirky The Madness of George III, the racially charged An Octoroon with André Sills, 1837: The Farmers’ Revolt a new Canadian play from Rick Salutin and Theatre Passe Muraille, and last but not least, a production of Shaw’s under appreciated comedy Androcles and the Lion again with Carroll at the helm.

Another exciting development over the past eight years has been the addition of an intimate fourth performance venue – The Studio Theatre (which seats just under 200 patrons). The new facility which was renamed this year to the Maxwell Studio Theatre has hosted such diverse productions as John Osborne’s The Entertainer starring Benedict Campbell, Caryl Churchill’s provocative contemporary play Serious Money, When the Rains Stop Falling, Topdog/Underdog, Helen’s Necklace, The Mountaintop, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures and the 2013 megahit production of Tom Stoppard’s theatrical gem Arcadia, which later transferred to Toronto for an additional run in 2014, August Strindberg masterwork The Dance of Death which featured an the all-world cast of Jim Mezon, and Fiona Reid and directed by Martha Henry. This years offerings will be Middletown by Will Eno and 1979 by Michael Healy (The Drawer Boy).


Festival Theatre 
Me and My Girl  – April 5 to October 15 
Saint Joan – May 3 to October 15 
Dracula – July 8 to October 14

Royal George Theatre 
The Madness of George III – April 11 to October 15 
Dancing at Lughnasa – May 14 to October 15 
An Octoroon – July 16 to October 14

Court House Theatre 
1837: The Farmers’ Revolt – May 7 to October 8 
Androcles and the Lion– June 6 to October 7   
Wilde Tales – June 8 to October 7 (Lunchtime One-Act)

Maxwell Studio Theatre
Middletown – July 13 to September 10 
1979 – October 1 to October 14

David’s recommendations for the 2017 season

Saint Joan – (Starring Sara Topham and Directed by Tim Carroll) 
Me and My Girl – (Starring Michael Therriault) 
The Madness of George III – (Starring Tom McCamus) 
An Octoroon – (Starring André Sills) 
1979 – (Written by master Canadian playwright Michael Healey)


Secret Theatre (For members of the new Secret Theatre Club)
Reading Series, Pre and Post-show Chats, Beyond the Stage Events
Friends Days, Shaw Conference, Teen Workshops, Summer Camps
Teacher Days, Niagara Falls Old Fort Erie/ Old Fort Niagara 
Wine country excursions, Lake activities, Theatre and Hotel Packages

Range from $25.00 CDN (student matinees) to $117.00 CDN (weekends and openings) 
Rush seats are available day of show
$30 rate for patrons under 30 years of age at any theatre
There are also excellent student discounts and group rates available


1-800-511-7429 or 905-468-2172



NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE CHAMBER of COMMERCE RESERVATION SERVICE (CCA) 905-468-1950. In the Court House on Queen Street, Box 1043, Niagara-on-the-Lake L0S 1J0. Reservation service for 1700 plus rooms, representing every hotel and a collection of approved inns, cottages and bed-and-breakfast homes. For a quality experience, let our trained specialists help you select CCA (Chamber of Commerce Approved) accommodation. All price ranges represented.

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE BED and BREAKFAST ASSOCIATION (BBA) 905-468-0123 or 1-866-855-0123. Box 1228, Niagara-on-the-Lake L0S 1J0. Members are identified by BBA in the listings. Call or visit our website for a free availability search or to book online. We maintain high standards and adhere to a code of ethics. Book with a member.

ABOUT HISTORIC BED and BREAKFASTS IN OLD TOWN CENTRE These private homes, built before 1850, are within 4 short blocks of a theatre, dining and shops. Visit our website or contact the following homes in the Bed and Breakfast section: Adam Lockhart’s Storrington House, Annette Twining House, Apple Tree Bed and Breakfast, Barrett Cottage, B&B’s “Pacific”, Blaney House, Burns House, Davy House, Regent House, The Rogers-Harrison House, Royal Manor, Saltbox 1820 Cottage, Schoolmaster’s House. Open year-round. Central air. Full breakfasts. Private parking. Smoke-free. All rooms have private en-suite bathrooms. $125-$225.

ACCOMMODATION ALTERNATIVES NIAGARA A fine selection of licensed cottages, apartments and homes in Niagara, suitable to those who prefer privacy and self-catering accommodations. Nightly from $130, weekly from $750.
Check this blog in August for reviews of many of the 2017 Shaw Festival productions.

The Stratford Festival

Located in the bucolic hills of Southern Ontario in the working class town of Stratford, The Stratford Festival has grown from its humble beginnings in 1953 (two Shakespearean plays produced in a tent) to one of the largest and most respected theatre festivals in the world, now under the capable leadership of Antoni Cimolino.

Having completed a 50 million dollar capital and endowment drive a few years back, long time patrons now enjoy improvements at all four of the Festival’s theatre venues, upgraded electronic services, and enhanced production quality on stage.  Exciting indeed has been the addition of a fourth stage known as the Studio Theatre located above the Avon Theatre. This small flexible space, which opened five years ago, is now home to new works by Canadian playwrights, workshops, productions, and for the first time in its short history – Shakespeare.  However, the Studio Theatre only seats 260 patrons, so if you want to see a popular production in the Studio Theatre, you need to purchase your tickets well in advance.

Variety has always been a hallmark of the Stratford Festival, where works by Shakespeare, Marlowe, Moliere and Ibsen share the stage with Broadway musicals and the comedies of Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward and although Shakespeare did not dominate the large Festival Stage under previous Artistic Director Des McAnuff, now that Director Cimolino is entering his fifth season, the Bard has once again returned as the artistic heart of the festival and will dominate the Festivals large Festival Theatre mainstage again in 2017.

This year Shakespeare lovers will be treated to three productions including Twelfth Night (Rod Beattie, Brent Carver, Geraint Wyn Davies, Tom Rooney – under the direction of Martha Henry), Romeo and Juliet, and Timon of Athens (Joseph Ziegler). The 65th season will also feature another remount of lthe always popular American musical Guys and Dolls (directed and choreographed by Donna Feore) on the Festival Stage while Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore, makes a welcomed return to the the Avon Theatre stage.

There are other gems in the 65th anniversary season, including the return of Brent Carver to appear in Twelfth Night and Cimolino’s production of Sheridan’s Restoration comedy The School for Scandal, a timely production of Molière’s class comedy Tartuffe, (starring Tom Rooney and Graham Abbey) under the capable direction of Chris Abraham, an exciting adaptation of the Bakkhai (featuring Lucy Peacock and Mac Fyfer), and a production of The Madwoman of Chaillot (starring Seana McKenna). Add in Treasure Island, The Changeling, The Komagata Maru Incident and two world premieres of The Virgin Trial and The Breathing Hole and you have 14 amazing reasons to visit North America’s largest theatre festival this summer.

The US dollar has fluctuated in recent years against the Canadian dollar and it has been rising again this year, making the trip an outstanding value for 2017. With Broadway prices soaring to $150-$500+ a ticket, it is hard to imagine that you could get more “bang for your entertainment buck” anywhere in the world than in Ontario, Canada.


Festival Theatre
Guys and Dolls – April 15 to October 29 
Romeo and Juliet – May 3 to October 21 
Twelfth Night – May 13 to October 21 
Tartuffe – August 1 to October 13

Avon Theatre
Treasure Island – April 22 to October 22 
HMS Pinafore – May 4 to October 21 
The School for Scandal May 15 to October 21

Tom Patterson Theatre

Timon of Athens – May 8 to September 22 
The Changeling - May 25 to September 23 
Bakkhai - May 27 to September 23 
The Madwoman of Challiot – August 3 to September 24

Studio Theatre
The Virgin Trial – June 7 to September 23 
The Breathing Hole – July 30 to September 22 
The Komagata Maru Incident – August 5 to September 24

David’s recommendations for the 2017 season
Bakkhai – (Starring Lucy Peacock) 
The School for Scandal – (Starring Geraint Wyn Davies Directed by Antoni Cimolino) 
Timon of Athens – (Starring Joseph ZieglerDirected by Stephen Ouimette) 
Twelfth Night – (All star cast Directed by Martha Henry) 
Tartuffe  – (Starring Tom Rooney) 
The Virgin Trial – (A world premiere by playwright Kate Hening)


The Festival Forum, Family Series Events, Stageside Chats, Festival Tours, Celebrated Writers Series, Night Music – Special concerts each Monday evening June to August in the Festival Theatre, A wide assortment of classes, workshops, special events. 


Range from  $20.00 CAN to $189.00 CAN 
Rush seats are available day of show
There are also excellent student discounts and group rates available



Box Office E-Mail


I recommend the Swan Motel (Downie Street South)
Phone: 519-271-6376
Fax: 519-271-0682

Watch my blog in August for reviews of many of the 2017 Stratford Productions!

David Grapes has been a theatre producer/director/playwright/educator and freelance theatre journalist for over forty years. He holds a BA in Theatre from Glenville State College and an MFA in Acting/Directing from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. You can also read his work on Facebook at or follow him on Instagram @theatredavid or on Twitter @davidgrapes.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The 2016 Stratford Festival – Season Recap
By David Grapes
Arts Journalist

Set amid the bucolic rolling hills of Southern Ontario, the small industrial town of Stratford would appear at first glance to be an unusual location for a theatrical tourist mecca that draws hundreds of thousands of patrons each year from all over the world. However, for all those who enjoy a deep and abiding love for the plays of William Shakespeare and who also enjoy quality theatre in all its forms, tiny Stratford is a mecca indeed.

Originally founded in 1952 by Tom Patterson, who convinced the late Tyrone Guthrie to stage two plays in a tent the following summer starring Alec Guinness and Irene Worth, the Stratford Festival has since grown to become the largest summer theatre festival in North America with a budget exceeding 58 million dollars.  And while it is company based, the Festival continues to attract major talent to its stages. Maggie Smith, Christopher Plummer, Brian Dennehy, Brian Bedford, William Hutt, Lorne Greene, Paul Gross, and even William Shatner have all trod the boards at Stratford.

This year’s schedule is again an eclectic mix of plays that includes four Shakespeare (Macbeth, As You Like It, Breath of Kings: Rebellion, Breath of Kings: Redemption), Ibsen’s symbolic opus on the nature of despair and loneliness (Jon Gabriel Borkman), a family offering (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), a provocative Canadian play (Bunny), two Broadway musicals (A Chorus Line, A Little Night Music), Moliere’s comic satire on all things medical (The Hypochondriac), Virgil’s classic (The Aeneid), Arthur Miller’s timeless family drama (All My Sons) Lee Hall’s new adaptation of the recent hit film (Shakespeare in Love) among others.

The thirteen show season is produced in a repertory format in the company’s four beautiful theatre spaces, which allows the avid theatre goer the opportunity to see two plays a day or five plays over a weekend. Last year’s attendance topped 450,000 patrons with nearly 40% coming from America. Now in his 4th year as Artistic Director, Antoni Cimolino has chosen the themes of “victory and defeat” for the 2016 season. In the annual Festival Playbill Cimolino introduces us to his 2016 season in this way - “We can be our own worst enemies – and our greatest victories consist of making ourselves more. When we overcome a failing, when we find true love, when we free ourselves from the compulsions and obsessions that distort or lives, when we see ourselves clearly for the first time: these are the victories that truly transform us.”

Those themes were certainly present in this year’s productions.

With the exception of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Aeneid, I was able to attend the remaining eleven productions in the 2016 season. These were my favorites:

All My Sons **** 4 Stars! 
This beautifully delivered ensemble production is the best of the best at Stratford this summer. An amazing cast delivers in spades. A must see!

Shakespeare in Love **** 4 Stars!
Shakespeare in Love is brilliantly acted and beautiful to look at, full of passion, memorable characters, evocative music and glorious costumes. It will make you laugh and cry and constantly remind you of why you love the theatre. See it!

A Chorus Line *** 3 ½ Stars!
Strong dancers, a kick ass band, and smart choreography by Donna Feore make this Chorus Line sizzle.

Macbeth *** 3 ½ Stars!
This Macbeth is a dark and rough edged delight. Lots of blood, mayhem and magic make for a memorable night in the theatre! This edition succeeds and navigates the fine line between vaulting ambition and unbridled lust where many other past productions at Stratford have failed.

The Hypochondriac *** 3 ½ Stars!
The Hypochondriac starring the ever constipated Stephen Ouimette delivers a healthy dose of comedy

Breath of Kings: Rebellion *** 3 ½ Stars!
Tom Rooney's magnificent performance as Richard II is the artistic glue that binds the first half of Breath of Kings together. He certainly delivers one of the best interpretations of Richard II that I have ever seen.

Breath of Kings: Redemption *** 3 Stars!
While not as tight dramatically as its first half, part two of Breath of Kings is still great theatre! One of the highlights here is having Rooney reappear as the chorus for Henry V.

A Little Night Music *** 3 Stars!
This production is long on style but short on heart. Average voices for a musical that demands much more vocal firepower.

Bunny *** 3 Stars!
Bunny is a wild ride! Raw, shocking, provocative, highly sexual and yet quite touching at the same time, it's quite an evening!

Not worth your time:

Jon Gabriel Borkman ** 2 ½ Stars!
Three of Stratford’s finest actors battle an undramatic and expository translation of this long and tedious Ibsen diatribe. Unfortunately the Script wins. 

As You Like It * 1 Star!
There is almost nothing to enjoy in this mess of a production. I found the whole evening to be self-indulgent. Layered with inane audience participation this sweet play will go down in Festival history the worst acted and misguided Shakespearian productions ever mounted on the Festival Stage. It should have never been let off the train from Newfoundland!

If you go: There are a number of convenient non-stop flights from the US to Toronto with numerous rental cars options available at the airport. Stratford is located at the mid-point between Detroit and Toronto with easy access from the QEW.

Ticket Prices: Ticket prices range from $25.00 to $189.00+ CAN. There are many ways to save on tickets via Stratford’s social media links. The season runs now through October 29, 2016. 

Tickets and Information at:

The 2016 Shaw Festival – Season Recap
By David Grapes
Arts Journalist

Although the Niagara-on-the-Lake region is known primarily for its booming wine tourism industry, this bustling little tourist town is also home to the Shaw Festival, which despite its humble beginnings has grown to become the second largest summer theatre festival in North America with a budget exceeding 31.5 million dollars. 

Originally founded in 1962 to promote the works of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries, the artistic mandate was expanded in 2003 and 2009 to include the work of  “contemporary Shavians” — writers whose work, like Shaw’s, continues to question the status quo in new and different ways. This year’s schedule mix of plays that includes one of Shaw’s best social commentaries (Mrs. Warren’s Profession), an American classic (Our Town), a lost comic gem from playwright W.S. Gilbert (Engaged), a Broadway musical (Sweeney Todd), Oscar Wilde’s stylish comedy/melodrama (A Woman of No Importance), Anton Chekhov’s sentimental comedy (Uncle Vanya), a new adaptation from Peter Hinton of (Alice in Wonderland), an adaptation of a Shaw’s controversial 1932 novella (A Black Girl in Search of Her God) and August Strindberg’s rarely produced black comedy (Dance of Death).

The ten show season is produced in a repertory format in Shaw’s four beautiful theatre spaces, which allows the avid theatre goer an opportunity to see two plays a day or five plays over a weekend. And come they do. Last year’s attendance topped 232,671 patrons, with over 33% of whom were American patrons.

Now in her final season as Artistic Director, Jackie Maxwell has decided to close out her tenure at the Shaw Festival by producing a season that proudly showcases the great diversity of work we have built into our programming over my fourteen-year tenure … not to mention some of my absolute favourite plays!” Judging from the 9 productions that I had the pleasure of attending in early August, Maxwell again delivers a great season of high quality entertainment that is certain to have broad appeal across multiple age groups. I found this year’s productions to once again to be evocative, superbly acted, beautifully designed and often surprising in their concept and/or staging.

With the exception of Master Harold and the Boys (highly praised by the Canadian Press), I was able to attend the remaining nine productions in the 2016 season. These were my favorites:

A Woman of No Importance **** 4 Stars!
This was a stylish and articulate production that really captured that wonderful Wilde mix of comedy and melodrama. The first act is particularly funny and full of jokes about Americans, which the Canadian audience enjoys. And although the play takes an unexpected tour into more serious drama, the director never lets the play get maudlin or sentimental. This is the Shaw ensemble at their best. Creating powerful characters who inhabit stunning landscapes and say the most wicked things.

Dance of Death **** 4 Stars!
Directed by Canadian stalwart Martha Henry, this rarely produced dark dark comedy by August Strindberg is choc full of bravado acting from a trio of the Shaw’s most charismatic actors, Jim Mezon, Fiona Reid and Patrick Gallegan. Think of it as an unintended salute to the late Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf – only on steroids. It is a bit like watching three characters all experiencing a nervous breakdown at the same time. You are riveted to the chaos even through you would like to get up and escape the emotional violence.  Quite an evening for any true lover of great theatre!

A Black Girl in Search of Her God *** 3 1/2 Stars!
Part stand up comedy, part lecture and part political debate this quirky plot less  lunchtime one-act offering is pure unadulterated fun!

Our Town *** 3 1/2 Stars!
The Shaw acting ensemble really sinks its teeth into the masterwork by Thornton Wilder, giving it a depth and nuance seldom seen in its thousands of productions over the decades.  And while you may think you know and understand this all too familiar play, these brilliant actors will take you on an evocative journey to small town New Hampshire that will stay with you long after the final curtain comes down.

Also worth your time: Mrs. Warren’s Profession *** Three Stars! – Uncle Vanya *** Three Stars! - Engaged *** Three Stars!  I did not care for Sweeney Todd ** Two Stars! - Alice in Wonderland ** Two Stars!

If you go: There are a number of convenient non-stop flights from all major US cities to Toronto with numerous rental cars options available at the airport. Niagara-on the-Lake is located at the Northern end of the scenic Niagara Parkway about fifteen miles from the Canadian Falls and eighty miles south of Toronto with easy access from the QEW.

Ticket Prices: Ticket prices range from $25 to $117 CAN. There are many ways to save on ticket prices, from Super Sundays to preview tickets to $30 tickets for patrons under the age of thirty. In 2015, the average cost of a theatre ticket at The Shaw was a little more than $68.00 The Shaw season runs now through October 30, 2016. 

Tickets and Information at: