Friday, June 29, 2007

2007 Stratford/Shaw Festival Preview


Thoughts on the Stratford Festival/Shaw Festival 2007
By David Grapes – Arts Journalist
June, 2007

Those of you 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 Festival and The Shaw Festival. You can find some excellent airfare deals into Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson airport for about $350.00 to $500.00 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.

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, celebrating its 55th season, actor turned director Richard Monette leads the festival for one last year before his announced retirement (after 14 remarkable years) at the end of the 2007 season. Once in financial peril during the late 1980’s, the theatre has enjoyed a remarkable rebound both artistically and financially under the capable stewardship of Monette and Executive Director Antoni Cimolino. Now nearing the completion of a 50 million dollar capital and endowment drive, long time patrons have enjoyed improvements to all three of the Festival’s theatre venues, an upgrade in electronic services, and enhanced production quality on stage. Exciting indeed was the addition of a fourth stage known as the Studio Theatre located above the Avon Theatre. This small flexible space, which opened three years ago, is now home to new work by Canadian playwrights, workshops, and other more experimental productions.

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 Noel Coward and the 2007 season is no exception. Outgoing Artistic Director Richard Monette has once again programmed a stunning and visionary season for 2007. Having already completed the Herculean task of producing the entire Shakespearian cannon at Stratford while artistic director (the only AD at Stratford to ever complete that task), Mr. Monette has once again challenged his audiences by programming a very diverse and eclectic 2007 season that will include: Brian Bedford as Lear, a production of the often controversial Merchant of Venice featuring film star Graham Greene as Shylock, a staging of Harper Lee’s quintessential American tale To Kill a Mockingbird with Peter Donaldson, the return of Stratford’s favorite songbird Cynthia Dale in the Gershwin musical revue My One and Only, and Albee’s A Delicate Balance, which was to have starred the recently deceased great Canadian theatre icon William Hutt. So, as Mr. Monette prepares to lay down the artistic reins of North America’s largest theatre festival, he has also thrown down the artistic gauntlet to his trio of successors.

While the US dollar has suffered this year against the Canadian dollar, this trip remains an outstanding value. With Broadway prices soaring to $100-$200 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
King Lear – May 1 to October 28
Oklahoma – April 10 to November 4
The Merchant of Venice - May 5 to October 27
An Ideal Husband – July 31 to October 27

Avon Theatre
To Kill a Mockingbird – April 30 to October 27
My One and Only – May 12 to October 26
The Comedy of Errors – May 17 to October 21

Tom Patterson Theatre
Othello – May 21 to September 22
Of Mice and Men – June 5 to September 22
A Delicate Balance – July 29 to September 23

Studio Theatre
The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead – May 17 to September 2
Shakespeare’s Will – June 23 to September 20
The Odyssey – July 27 to September 28
Pentecost – August 3 to September 21

David’s recommendations for the 2007 season
King Lear (starring Brian Bedford)
An Ideal Husband (directed by Monette and starring Tom McCamus)
The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead (starring Lucy Peacock)
Of Mice and Men (directed by Martha Henry)
My One and Only (starring Cynthia Dale)

A Salute to Richard Monette – September 17
Family Series Events
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 to $120.00 (Canadian $)
Rush seats are available day of show
There are also excellent student discounts and group rates available



I recommend the Swan Motel

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 two decades, under the artful and highly creative leadership of director/actor Christopher Newton, the Shaw not only earned a reputation for innovative programming, stunning visuals, but also witnessed Newton assemble one of the finest acting ensembles on the planet.

Now after firmly establishing her artistic credentials, Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell (now in her third season as Artistic Director) continues to explore the Festival’s expanded artistic mandate. For example under Newton’s more strict mandate the 2004 season production of the musical Floyd Collins, the 2005 productions of Gypsy and Belle Morale and the 2006 productions of The Magic Fire and The Invisible Man would have never been presented, even though they were all ideal pieces for the Shaw’s great acting ensemble. Last season’s continuation of the policy to produce a large American Musical on the Shaw mainstage (High Society) has paid off in spades – both artistically and financially. For 2007 Ms. Maxwell will attempt to build on that momentum when she again programs the rollicking albeit obscure Jerry Herman musical Mack and Mabel on the Festival Theatre stage. This season the Shaw Festival continues its tradition of producing 10 shows in their three unique venues.

Adding to the wealth of talent she inherited from Newton, Maxwell and her team have continued to deliver the artistic goods. This season she continues to expand the stylistic offers at the Royal George Theatre producing Somerset Maugham’s rarely produced mini-masterpiece The Circle, Shaw’s brilliant comedy The Philanderer and Tennessee Williams’s Summer and Smoke. Other highlights of the 2007 season include the return of Christopher Newton to direct The Cassilis Engagement – A Mothers Comedy by St John Hankin, Shaw’s brilliant comedy The Philanderer and Tennessee Williams’s Summer and Smoke.

Maxwell, who has already proved her metal with an outstanding productions of Picnic, Bus Stop and Gypsy, will take a whack at Shaw’s most demanding drama Saint Joan.


Festival Theatre
Saint Joan – April 21 to October 27
Mack and Mabel – April 3 to October 28
Hotel Peccadillo – May 31 to October 27

Royal George Theatre
The Circle – April 10 to October 28
The Philanderer – May 1 to October 7
Summer and Smoke – June 2 to September 24

Court House Theatre
A Month in the Country ¬– April 29 to October 6
The Cassilis Engagement – May 29 to October 5
Tristan – July 12 to October 6
The Kiltartan Comedies – June 20 – October 6 (lunchtime)

David’s recommendations for the 2007 season
Saint Joan
Hotel Peccadillo
The Circle
The Cassilis Engagement

Bell Canadian Reader’s Series
Niagara Falls
Old Fort Erie/ Old Fort Niagara
Wine country excursions
Lake activities
A wide assortment of classes, workshops, special events.


Range from $22.00 to $95.00 (Canadian $)
Rush seats are available day of show
There are also excellent student discounts and group rates available


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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 $85, weekly from $550.

Watch this space in August for reviews of many of the 2007 productions.

David Grapes has been a theatre producer/director/playwright and freelance theatre journalist for over thirty years. He holds a BA in Theatre from Glenville State College and an MFA in Acting/Directing from the University on North Carolina at Greensboro.

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