Saturday, April 5, 2014


Thoughts on the Stratford Festival/Shaw Festival 2014 Seasons
By David Grapes – Arts Journalist
March 1, 2014

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 $700.00 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.

Director Jackie Maxwell, who just announced her retirement at the end of the 2016 season, continues to produce excellent work as she explores the Festival’s expanded artistic mandate, which now includes newer Broadway musicals (Cabaret) and modern classics (The Philadelphia Story) in addition to the work of Shaw and his contemporaries. While many large theatres have struggled in the post 2008 sluggish economy, Maxwell, now in her 12th year as Artistic Director, continues to balance the books, fill four theatres with 800 performances each season and entertain an audience that totaled 300,000 people each year.

As the Shaw Festival celebrates its 54rd season this year, audiences will be in for some real treats including: a large production of the popular American musical Cabaret featuring Shaw favorite Debra Hay who returns from a stint at the Stratford Festival), Moya O’Connell in Phillip Barry’s romantic masterpiece The Philadelphia Story, an all world production of Sean O’Casey masterwork Juno and the Paycock featuring Jim Mezon, Corrine Koslo and Mary Haney, two Shaw comedies The Philanderer and Arms and The Man, and a production of The Charity that Began at Home: A Comedy for Philanthropists which will complete St. John Hankin’s cycle of plays entitled, Three Plays with Happy Endings. The Shaw produced Hankin’s The Return of the Prodigal in (2001/2) and The Cassilis Engagement in (2007).

Another exciting development over the past few 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, When the Rains Stops Falling, Topdog/Underdog, Helen’s Necklace and last years SRO megahit production of Tom Stoppard’s little theatrical gem Arcadia. This year’s production will be The Mountaintop by African American playwright Katori Hall.


Festival Theatre
Cabaret  – April 10 to October 26
The Philadelphia Story – May 15 to October 25
The Philanderer – June 26 to October 12

Royal George Theatre
Arms and The Man – April 4 to October 18
When We Are Married – May 7 to October 26
Juno and the Paycock – June 28 to October 12

Court House Theatre
The Charity that Began at Home: A Comedy for Philanthropists – April 25 to October 11
The Sea – June 1 to October 12
A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur – June 28 to October 11

Studio Theatre
The Mountaintop – July 16 to September 7

David’s Recommendations for the 2014 Season
Debra Hay and Juan Chioran in Cabaret (Directed by Peter Hinton)
J. B. Priestley’s When We Are Married (Directed by (Joseph Ziegler)
Tennessee Williams’ One-act A Lovey Sunday for Creve Coeur
Jim Mezon, Corrine Koslo and Mary Haney in Juno and the Paycock (Directed by Jackie Maxwell)
Arms and the Man (Directed by Morris Panych)
The Charity that Began at Home: A Comedy for Philanthropists (Directed by Christopher Newton)

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


Tickets prices range from  $24.00 can (student matinees) to $113.00 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 ($29) senior rates ($40) and group rates available

1-800-511-7429 (SHAW)

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 $120, weekly from $750.
Check this BLOG in August for reviews of many of the 2014 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, who rocked critics and audiences alike with his Mary Stuart last season, the Festival seems poised for a period of artistic innovation not seen since the heyday of Robin Phillips.

Having completed of a 50 million dollar capital and endowment drive, 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 four 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. Thanks to Director Cimolino Shakespeare will again dominate the large Festival Stage along with a large American musical and a period classic. The remainder of the 62 nd season will feature another American musical (Man of La Mancha) on the Avon Stage while Classics like King John, Antony and Cleopatra and Mother Courage and Her Children takes up residence at the Tom Patterson. And in other good news the Festival’s highly popular Forum Series will return again this summer.

There are many things to be excited about for the 62nd anniversary season including the return of Colm Feore to star in King Lear, another all star cast for The Beaux’ Stratagem under the direction of Cimolino, the return of Chilina Kennedy in Crazy for You and Man of La Mancha, Lucy Peacock as Judith Bliss in Hay Fever, Geraint Wyn Davies as King John and a Martha Henry production of Mother Courage and Her Children at the Tom Patterson starring Seana McKenna.

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 $150-$300+ 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 5 to October 10
Crazy For you – May 27 to October 12
A Midsummer Night’s Dream - May 16 to October 11
The Beaux’ Stratagem – July 31 to October 11

Avon Theatre
Man of La Mancha – May 8 to October 11
Alice Through The Looking Glass – April 30 to October 12
Hay Fever – May 28 to October 11
Tom Patterson Theatre
King John - May 21 to September 20
Mother Courage and Her Children – May 15 to September 21
Antony and Cleopatra - August 3 to September 20

Studio Theatre
Christina – The Girl King – July 29 to September 21

Stratford Masonic Concert Hall
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A Chamber Play July 11 to September 20

David’s Recommendations for the 2014 Season
King Lear and The Beaux’ Stratagem  (directed by Antoni Cimolino)
Antony and Cleopatra (starring Geraint Wyn Davies)
King John (starring Tom McCamus)
Mother Courage and Her Children (starring Seana McKenna) (directed by Martha Henry)
Hay Fever (starring Lucy Peacock)

Forum Events
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.


Ticket prices range from  $20.00 to $135.00 (Canadian $)
Rush seats are available day of show
There are also excellent student discounts and group rates available



I recommend the Swan Motel (Downie Street South)

 Watch this space in August for reviews of many of the 2014 Stratford Shakespeare Festival productions.

David Grapes has been a theatre producer/director/actor/playwright/educator and freelance theatre and performing arts journalist for nearly forty 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.  You can also find his theatre news and reviews on Twitter @davidgrapes and on Facebook at