Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Thoughts on the Stratford Festival and Shaw Festival 2016 Seasons
By David Grapes - Arts Journalist
December 23, 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!

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 and stunning visuals, but also become home to one of the finest acting ensembles in North America.

Director Maxwell, who has lead the theatre for more than a decade, will retire as Artistic Director at the end of the 2016 season and turn the artistic reins over to Tim Carroll. Maxwell, who is credited with expanding the Shaw’s mandate over the years, continues to produce excellent work.  For 2016 the Festival’s expanded artistic mandate will include newer Broadway musicals (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) and the modern classics (Our Town and “Master Harold”...and the Boys) works by Shaw, Wilde, Strindberg, and Chekhov and two world premieres.  As she departs, Maxwell leaves the new Artistic Director Carroll the best of all legacies: a world class acting ensemble, a balanced budget and a loyal audience.

As the Shaw Festival celebrates its 56th season this year, audiences will be in for some real treats including: another popular American musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street featuring Benedict Campbell and Corrine Koslo; the Athol Fugard’s gripping Off-Broadway play “Master Harold” ...and the Boys; two world premieres, Alice in Wonderland, adapted and directed by Peter Hinton, and a new Lunchtime One-Act, The adventures of The Black Girl in Her Search for God, adapted for the stage by Lisa Codrington; the marvelous Nicole Underhay in the title role of Shaw’s early social commentary Mrs. Warren’s Profession directed by Eda Holmes; the quintessential American play Our Town featuring the Shaw’s magnificent acting ensemble; Neil Barclay in the title role in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. And last but not least, a production of Oscar Wilde’s sparkling drawing room comedy A Woman of No Importance.

Another exciting development over the past seven years has been the 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 Stop Falling, Topdog/Underdog, Helen’s Necklace, The Mountaintop, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures and the 2013 megahit production of Tom Stoppard’s theatrical gem Arcadia, which later transferred to Toronto for an additional run in 2014. This year’s production will be the rarely produced August Strindberg masterwork The Dance of Death featuring the all-world cast of Jim Mezon, and Fiona Reid and directed by Martha Henry.


Festival Theatre

Alice in Wonderland  – April 27 to October 16

A Woman of No Importance – May 29 to October 15

Sweeney Todd – July 17 to October 16

Royal George Theatre

Our Town – April 9 to October 15

Mrs. Warren’s Profession – April 21 to October 16

Engaged – June 15 to October 16

Court House Theatre

Uncle Vanya – May 1 to September 11

The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God  – June 10 to September 11

“Master Harold”...and the Boys – June 30 to September 10

Studio Theatre
Dance of Death – July 13 to September 10

David’s Recommendations for the 2016 Season

Alice in Wonderland – (Directed by Peter Hinton)

Mrs. Warren’s Profession – (Starring Nicole Underhay)

A Woman of No Importance – (For the incomparable wit of Oscar Wilde)

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Directed by Jackie Maxwell)

Dance of Death – (Starring the remarkable Jim Mezon and 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 $121.00 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.

Watch my blog in August for reviews of many of the 2016 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.

Having completed a 50 million dollar capital and endowment drive a few years back, 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 five years ago, is now home to new works 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 entering his fourth season, the Bard returns once again as the artistic heart of the festival and will dominate the Festivals large Festival Theatre mainstage and the Tom Patterson Theatre in 2016.

This year Shakespeare lovers will again feast on four productions including Macbeth (Ian Lake), As You Like It (directed by Jillian Kelley), The Breath of Kings: Rebellion and The Breath of Kings: Redemption (Graham Abbey, Geraint Wyn Davies and Tom Rooney). The 64th season will also feature a large scale American musical classic A Chorus Line (directed and choreographed by Donna Feore) on the Festival Stage while Stephen Sondheim’s captivating A Little Night Music, another wildly popular West End musical Shakespeare in Love promises to provide standing room only audiences at the Avon Theatre.

There are many additional things to be excited about in the 64th anniversary season, including the return of Cynthia Dale to star in A Little Night Music, a timely production of Ibsen’s rarely seen John Gabriel Borkman, (which again pairs up Stratford’s grand dames Lucy Peacock and Seana McKenna along with Scott Wentworth in the title role) under the direction of Amerian Director Carey Perloff, a Martha Henry production of Arthur Miller’s majestic family drama All My Sons (featuring two of my personal favorites Lucy Peacock and Joseph Ziegler, who joined forces last year in She Stoops to Conquer) and an all star production of Moliere’s comic romp The Hypocondriac (starring Stephen Ouimette) under the steady hand of Cimolino himself. Add in The Aeneid; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the world premiere of Bunny 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 2016. 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

A Chorus Line – April 19 to October 30

Macbeth – May 3 to October 23

As You Like It – May 16 to October 22

The Hypochondriac – August 2 to October 14

Avon Theatre

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe – May 10 to October 22

Shakespeare in Love – April 29 to October 16

A Little Night Music May 21 to October 23


Tom Patterson Theatre

All My Sons – May 9 to September 25

Breath of Kings - Rebellion - May 30 to September 24

Breath of Kings - Redemption - May 31 to September 24

John Gabriel Borkman – August 2 to September 23

Studio Theatre

Bunny – July 29 to September 24

The Aeneid – August 2 to September 25

David’s Recommendations for the 2016 Season

John Gabriel Borkman ( Starring Lucy Peacock, Seana McKenna and Scott Wentworth)

The Hypochondriac (starring Stephen Ouimette) (Directed by Antoni Cimolino)

All My Sons (starring Lucy Peacock and Joseph Ziegler) (Directed by Martha Henry)

Shakespeare in Love (Directed by Declan Donnellan)

The Breath of Kings – Parts 1 and 2  (Conceived and adapted by Graham Abbey)


The Festival Forum

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  $20.00 to $189.00 (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 2016 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 of North Carolina at Greensboro. You can also read his work on Facebook at or follow him on Twitter @davidgrapes.

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