Monday, February 28, 2011

Shaw/Stratford Festival Previews 2011

Thoughts on the Stratford Shakespeare Festival/Shaw Festival 2011 Seasons
By David Grapes – Arts Journalist - March, 2011

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 ($135 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 $350.00 to $600.00 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, stunning visuals, but also become home to one of the finest acting ensembles in North America.

And while Stratford had its artistic and administrative struggles under the leadership transition from Richard Monet to Des McAnuff, the Shaw Festival has managed to thrive under some very difficult economic times and its own leadership transition from Christopher Newton to Jackie Maxwell. Maxwell (now in her seventh season) continues to produce excellent work as she explores the Festival’s expanded artistic mandate including newer musicals and American classics. While many in the Canadian theatrical community have criticized her for being overly fixated on female directors and playwrights, she continues to fill most of the seats and balance the books.

As the Shaw Festival celebrates its 50th season this year audiences will be in for some real treats including: a splashy production of the musical My Fair Lady (based on Shaw’s own Pygmalion), another Christopher Newton Heartbreak House this time with the Canadian national treasure Michael Ball as Captain Shotover, a contemporary adaptation of Shaw’s rarely produced On The Rocks by Michael Healey (The Drawer Boy), a Cat on a Hot Tin Roof led by Moya O’Connell and Jim Mezon and the much anticipated return of Lorne Kennedy in 2008’s smash comic hit The President.

Another exciting development over the past three years has been addition of an intimate fourth performance venue – The Studio Theatre (which will seat 176 patrons). The new facility has hosted such diverse productions as John Osborne’s The Entertainer starring Benedict Campbell, Caryl Churchill’s provocative contemporary play Serious Money and this summer’s Topdog/Underdog.


Festival Theatre

My Fair Lady – April 13 to October 30
Heartbreak House – May 10 to October 7
The Admirable Crichton– June 22 to October 29

Royal George Theatre
Candida – April 7 to October 30
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – May 3 to October 23
The President – June 3 to October 9 (lunchtime)

Court House Theatre

Drama at Inish – A Comedy – May 6 to October 1
On The Rocks – June 14 to October 8
Maria Severa – July 19 to September 23

Studio Theatre

Topdog/Underdog – July 19 to August 27
When the Rain Stops Falling – August 11 to September 17

David’s recommendations for the 2011 season
Michael Ball in Heartbreak House (Directed by Christopher Newton
Peter Krantz and Steven Sutcliffe in On The Rocks (Directed by Joseph Ziegler)
Moya O’Connell and Jim Mezon in A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Directed by Eda Holmes)
Lorne Kennedy in The President (Directed by Blair Williams)

Contemporary Play Reading Series
Educational Seminars, Workshops and Symposiums
Summer Camps
Teacher Days
Niagara Falls
Old Fort Erie/ Old Fort Niagara
Wine country excursions
Lake activities


Range from $24.00 can (student matinees) to $106.00 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. 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 ensuite bathrooms. $100-$195.

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 $95, weekly from $650.

Check this BLOG in August for reviews of many of the 2011 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 three years ago, the Bard is still well represented and remains the artistic heart of the festival. For 2011 a large scale American musical (Camelot) will dominate the Festival Stage and another musical (Jesus Christ Superstar) takes up residence at the Avon. While there are many who would like to see musicals banned from the traditional repertoire they just pay too many bills. 2008’s banishment of a musical from the Festival Stage had a very negative impact on Stratford’s bottom line.

There are many things to be excited about for the 2011 season including the return of Brent Carver for the two musicals, Seana McKenna taking on the role of Richard III, the return of Brian Dennehy as Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night and Max in The Homecoming, Ben Carlson and Brian Bedford in The Misanthrope, Lucy Peacock and Geraint Wyn Davies in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Andrea Runge as Viola in Twelfth Night and Anne Page in The Merry Wives of Windsor, the return to the Festival stage of Roberta Maxwell and a production of Shakespeare’s rarely staged Titus Andronicus in the Tom Patterson Theatre.

The 2011 season has been dedicated to the memories of a number of Festival stalwarts who passed away this year. They include Michael Langham, Peter Donaldson, David William and Domini Blythe.

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.


Festival Theatre

Camelot – April 16 to October 30
The Merry Wives of Windsor – May 10 to October 14
Twelfth Night – June 26 to October 28
The Misanthrope – July 31 to October 29

Avon Theatre
The Grapes of Wrath – April 23 to October 29
Jesus Christ Superstar – May 16 to October 29
The Homecoming– July 26 to October 30

Tom Patterson Theatre
Richard III - May 19 to September 25
Titus Andronicus – June 23 to September 24

Studio Theatre
The Little Years – June 29 to September 24
Shakespeare’s Will– June 30 to September 2
Hosanna – July 26 to September 24

David’s recommendations for the 2011 season
Jesus Christ Superstar (starring Brent Carver)
Twelfth Night (Directed by McAnuff and starring Brian Dennehy)
Richard III (Starring Seana McKenna)
The misanthrope (Starring Brian Bedford and Ben Carlson)
Hosanna (Written by Canadian playwright Michel Tremblay)

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 $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 2011 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.

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