Home to one of the greatest theatre festivals in North America, Stratford lies in an unassuming, picturesque part of Ontario, Canada. Every April to October, the Stratford Festival brings together some of the best actors from the Canada, Great Britain, and the United States with productions of classical and contemporary work.
The Stratford Festival was originally dedicated to producing Shakespeare. Given the shared name between the Canadian town and Shakespeare’s birthplace, this no-brainer was a great economic and tourism boost for the town. Led by their first Artistic Director, British actor and director Tyrone Guthrie, the festival attracted many greats of the mid-century stage. Their premier season featured Alec Guinness and Irene Worth (Coriolanus and Happy Days) performing Richard III and All’s Well that Ends Well in repertory.
The festival has expanded to include four venues: the Festival Theatre, the Avon Theatre, the Tom Patterson Theatre, and the Studio Theatre and is now educational partners with the University of Waterloo. Many notable actors have trod the boards of these stages including Uta Hagen, Julie Harris, Christopher Plummer, and Maggie Smith.
Festivals provide a unique opportunity for audiences and theatre-makers alike. For the latter, a festival such as Stratford or Oregon Shakespeare, can provide a permanent home, offering near year-round employment in an industry known mainly for a lack of stability or regular work. For other actors, it can provide an escape from the various city theatre centers during the hottest and often least popular months for attending theatre.
Audiences can enjoy a nexus of theatrical power in an idyllic environment. Removed from the hustle and bustle of their respective cities, festival audiences often are enjoying an outdoor vacation, taking in natural sites while partaking of theatrical experiences. They enjoy seeing the work from long-time festival collaborators and one-time theatre-makers coming in for special events. Most of the festivals began with a focus on Shakespeare and have expanded from there to include other classic work, contemporary work, and musical theatre. (For a fun comedic look at this, check out comedy series Slings and Arrows.) The focus on Shakespeare has pushed the festivals to be at the forefront of interpretation of the Bard’s work. Oregon Shakespeare Festival, for example, has commissioned a slew of contemporary playwrights to reinterpret Shakespeare’s plays over the course of the coming years.
These festivals range in size and geography from the giants in Stratford, Ontario and Ashland, Oregon, both of which have multiple permanent venues all the way to smaller, one-stage festivals. Given the size of many of these festivals, patrons can take in multiple shows in one day and see 4-6 different productions over the course of a weekend. This is generally impossible outside of a few cities with strong theatrical traditions, and even in New York City, for example, one would be hard pressed to see more than two shows a day if there’s a matinee.
What makes Stratford so compelling is both its scope and draw. The scope of work on display is exceptional, from Shakespeare to musicals and everything in-between. The small town is buzzing with tremendous energy that makes any visit a thrill. A vacation here is one of the greatest gifts to give any theatre-lover in your life. Be prepared to watch a lot of theatre while you’re there.
If you can’t make it to Stratford, BroadwayHD brings the Stratford Festival to you with productions of Antony and Cleopatra, King John, and King Lear all available to stream and give you a taste of some of the best that this amazing festival has to offer.