2010 THEATRE PREVIEW
Thoughts on the Stratford Shakespeare Festival/Shaw Festival 2010 Seasons
By David Grapes – Arts Journalist
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 has improved again this year against the Canadian dollar, so the entertainment value when compared to the costs of theatre tickets for Broadway ($125 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 $250.00 to $500.00 from most major US airports. Rental cars are readily available at the Toronto airport. (Try Hotwire.com 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 two decades, under the artful and highly creative leadership of Christopher Newton and Jackie Maxwell, the Shaw not only earned a reputation for innovative programming, stunning visuals, but also become home to one of the finest acting ensembles in North America.
And while Stratford continues to have its artistic and administrative struggles under Des McAnuff, the Shaw Festival has managed to thrive under some very difficult economic times. Current Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell (now in her sixth season) continues to produce excellent work as she explores the Festival’s expanded artistic mandate including newer musicals and American classics.
While the acting ensemble remains strong for 2010, Maxwell has lost several of her best actors (Ben Carlson, peter Hutt) to Stratford last season and with McAnuff still at the helm at Stratford, I fear that this will be an ongoing issue, as he will no doubt attempt to “cherry pick” a few of Shaw’s best actors each season. The good news for 2010 is that there were no major losses to the Festival acting company.
Maxwell has proven herself to be a capable producer and savvy administrator. In 2009, her programming of the entire one-act canon (across three theatres) of Noel Coward’s Tonight at 8:30 met with strong box office but uneven critical success. Many of the plays were “star vehicles” and simply did not suit the talents of the ensemble. Some actors faired better than others. Performers like Patrick Galligan and Deborah Hay had much to do while Shaw stalwart Michael Ball was wasted in a parade of small servant roles. This years season returns to a more familiar formula which should better serve the acting ensemble.
Another exciting development has been addition of an intimate fourth performance venue – The Studio Theatre (which will seat 176 patrons). The new facility which was christened with a production of John Osborne’s The Entertainer starring Benedict Campbell will now host Caryl Churchill’s provocative contemporary play Serious Money this summer.
SHAW SEASON AT A GLANCE
An Ideal Husband – April 9 to October 31
The Women – May 12 to October 9
The Doctor’s Dilemma – June 10 to October 30
Royal George Theatre
Harvey – April 1 to October 31
One Touch of Venus – May 16 to October 10
Half an Hour – June 26 to October 9 (lunchtime)
Court House Theatre
The Cherry Orchard – April 20 to October 2
John Bull’s Other Island – June 18 to October 9
Age of Arousal – July 23 to October 10
Serious Money – July 31 to September 12
David’s recommendations for the 2010 season
Peter Krantz in Harvey (Directed by Joseph Ziegler))
The Doctor’s Dilemma (Directed by Morris Panych)
John Bull’s Other Island (Directed by Christopher Newton and starring Benedict Campbell and Jim Mezon)
An Ideal Husband (Directed by Jackie Maxwell)
ALSO OF INTEREST AT OR NEAR THE SHAW FESTIVAL
Contemporary Play Reading Series
Educational Seminars, Workshops and Symposiums
Old Fort Erie/ Old Fort Niagara
Wine country excursions
Range from $23.00 can (student matinees) to $105.00 can (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
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. www.niagaraonthelake.com 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. www.bba.notl.on.ca 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 www.historicbb.com 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 ensuite bathrooms. $100-$195.
ACCOMMODATION ALTERNATIVES NIAGARA www.accommodationalternativesniagara.com A fine selection of licensed cottages, apartments and homes in Niagara, suitable to those who prefer privacy and self-catering accommodations. Nightly from $95, weekly from $650.
Watch this space in August for reviews of many of the 2010 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. 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 Richard Monette (who past away suddenly last year just as he was starting his retirement) 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 four of the Festival’s theatre venues, an upgrade in 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 three years ago, is now home to new work 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 Noel Coward and although Shakespeare will not dominate the large Festival Stage as he did last year. The Bard is still well represented and remains the artistic heart of the festival. For 2010 a large scale American musical (Kiss Me Kate) will dominate the Festival Stage and another musical (Evita) takes up residence at the Avon. While there are many who would like to see musicals banned from the traditional repertoire they just too many bills. And last 2008’s banishment of a musical from the Festival Stage had a very negative impact on Stratford’s bottom line. Last year, a glorious production of West Side Story on the Festival Stage nearly carried the rest of the festival on its back attracting huge crowds.
Marti Maraden (a fine director and a member of 2008’s ill fated artistic triumvirate) who upstaged McAnuff for the majority of the 2009 with her critically acclaimed and powerful stagings of All’s Well That Ends Well and The Trojan Women will return to direct The Winter’s Tale. McAnuff, who has been traversing the world staging permutations of the hit Broadway musical Jersey Boys not to mention a short lived Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls had a much better summer last year. While his productions of Shakespeare has yet to catch fire he has delivered the goods with the musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra .He is certainly capable of providing strong artistic leadership, if he chooses to concentrate his energies in Stratford rather than in New York or London. The large ensemble continues to yearn for a “leader in residence.” It is now up to McAnuff to build on last year’s successes and continue to move the company forward. The challenge is to remain true to the company’s history while instituting bold new initiatives to grow the audience and donor base.
While the US dollar has fluctuated in recent years against the Canadian dollar, this trip remains an outstanding value. And the US dollar has shown some renewed this past year. 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.
STRATFORD SEASON AT A GLANCE
As You Like It – May 22 to October 31
Kiss Me Kate – April 11 to October 31
Dangerous Liaisons - May 29 to November 1
The Tempest – August 7 to October 30
Peter Pan – May 9 to October 30
Evita– May 23 to October 31
Tom Patterson Theatre
The Winter’s Tale May 9 to October 3
Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris – May 27 to October 2
For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again – August 6 to October 3
King of Thieves – July 26 to October 4
The Two Gentlemen of Verona – August 11 to October 3
Do Not Go Gentle– August 12 to October 3
David’s recommendations for the 2009 season
As You Like It (starring Brent Carver)
The Tempest (Directed by McAnuff and starring Christopher Plummer)
The Winter’s Tale (Directed by Marti Maraden and starring Ben Carlson)
Kiss Me Kate (Directed by John Doyle)
For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again (Written by Canadian playwright Michel Tremblay)
ALSO OF INTEREST AT STRATFORD
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 $25.00 to $111.00 (Canadian $)
Rush seats are available day of show
There are also excellent student discounts and group rates available
I recommend the Swan Motel
Watch this space in August for reviews of many of the 2010 Stratford Festival 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.