Monday, January 19, 2015


Thoughts on the Stratford Shakespeare Festival/Shaw Festival 2015 Seasons
By David Grapes – Arts Journalist
January 20, 2015

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!

2015 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 Maxwell, who has announced that she will retire as Artistic Director 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 (Sweet Charity) and modern classics (Light up the Sky) in addition to the work of Shaw and his contemporaries. While many large theatres have struggled in the sluggish economy, Maxwell continues to fill most of the seats, balance the books and produce many great nights in the theatre.

As the Shaw Festival celebrates its 55th season this year, audiences will be in for some real treats including: another popular American musical Sweet Charity featuring Julie Martell, the recent Off-Broadway sensation Peter and the Starcatcher and a new play The Devine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt with the brilliant Fiona Reid in the title role from Maxwell, Shaw’s early romantic comedy You Never Can Tell directed by longtime Shaw stalwart Jim Mezon, and an all star cast production of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls featuring Fiona Bryne, Tara Rosling, Catherine McGregor, Claire Jullien, Laurie Paton, Julia Course, Tess Benger and directed by Vikki Anderson. And last but not least, a production of Shaw’s seminal work Pygmalion from director Peter Hinton, who many of you will remember from his magnificent production of Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan a couple of seasons back!

Another exciting development over the past six years has been addition of an intimate fourth performance venue – The Studio Theatre (which seats just under 200 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, The Mountaintop and the 2013 megahit production of Tom Stoppard’s theatrical gem Arcadia, which transferred to Toronto for an additional run in 2014. This year’s production will be Tony Kusner’s controversial play The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures starring Jim Mezon, Kelly Fox and Steven Sutcliffe.


Festival Theatre

Sweet Charity  – April 17 to October 31
Pygmalion – May 31 to October 24
Light up the Sky – June 25 to October 11

Royal George Theatre

Peter and the Starcatcher – April 8 to November 1
You Never Can Tell – April 26 to October 25
The Devine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt – July 5 to October 11

Court House Theatre

The Lady from the Sea – April 30 to September 13
Top Girls – May 23 to September 12
The Twelve-Pound Look – June 11 to September 12

Studio Theatre
The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism
and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures – July 11 to October 10

Studio Underground
The Next Whisky Bar  - A Kurt Weill Cabaret
August 21, 22, 28, 29 and September 4, 5

David’s recommendations for the 2015 season!

Shaw’s Pygmalion - directed by the ever-inventive Peter Hinton
Peter and the Starcatcher (Directed by Jackie Maxwell)
Top Girls – for its all-world cast
You Never Can Tell (Directed by Jim Mezon)

The Devine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt – featuring the divine Fiona Reid



Contemporary Play Reading Series
Pre and Post-show Chats
Shaw Seminar and Symposium
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 can (student matinees) to $116.00 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 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 2015 Shaw Festival productions.


2015 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 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 and although Shakespeare did not dominate the large Festival Stage under previous Artistic Director Des McAnuff, now that Director Cimolino is fully in charge the Bard is once again the artistic heart of the festival and will dominate the Festivals large Festival Theatre mainstage in 2015.

This year Shakespeare lovers will feast on four productions including Hamlet (Jonathan Goad), The Taming of the Shrew (Ben Carlson and Deborah Hay), Love’s Labour’s Lost (Mike Shera) and The Adventures of Pericles (Evan Buliung). The 63rd season will also feature a large scale American musical classic The Sound of Music (featuring Nashville/Broadway songbird Stephanie Rothenberg) on the Festival Stage while another popular Broadway musical Carousel takes up residence at the Avon Theatre.

There are many things to be excited about for the 63rd anniversary season, including the return of Chris Abraham to direct The Taming of The Shrew, a timely production of The Diary of Anne Frank under the direction of Jillian Keiley a Martha Henry production of the rarely produced Restoration comedy She Stoops to Conquer featuring two of my personal favorites Lucy Peacock and Joseph Ziegler and an all star production of Ben Jonson’s comic romp The Alchemist under the steady hand of Cimolino himself. Add in Oedipus Rex, The Physicists, The Last Wife and Possible Worlds and you have 13 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 2015. 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

The Sound of Music – April 21 to October 18
Hamlet – May 1 to October 11
The Taming of the Shrew – May 11 to October 10
Love’s Labour’s Lost – July 30 to October 9

Avon Theatre

The Diary of Anne Frank – April 22 to October 10
Carousel – May 5 to October 11
She Stoops to Conquer – May 16 to October 10


Tom Patterson Theatre

The Adventures of Pericles - May 8 to September 19
The Physicists – May 12 to September 20
Oedipus Rex – June 30 to September 18
The Alchemist – August 1 to September 19

Studio Theatre

Possible Worlds – July 1 to September 19
The Last Wife – July 30 to September 20

David’s recommendations for the 2015 season

Stephanie Rothenberg and Ben Carlson in The Sound of Music  (Directed by Donna Feore)
Hamlet (starring Jonathon Goad) (Directed by Antoni Cimolino)
She Stoops to Conquer (starring Lucy Peacock and Joseph Ziegler) (Directed by Martha Henry)
The Taming of the Shrew (Directed by Chris Abraham)
The Alchemist  (Directed by Antoni Cimolino)


The Festival Forum
Family Series Events
Stageside Chats
Festival Tours
A Concert Version of Sondheim’s Passion featuring Cynthia Dale
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 $170.00 (Canadian $)

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 2015 Stratford Shakespeare Festival 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 on North Carolina at Greensboro. You can also read my work on Facebook at or on Twitter @davidgrapes.