The Shaw Festival’s first half-century is, quite literally, in the book. Last May, Shaw corresponding scholar L.W Conolly published The Shaw Festival: The First 50 Years, a wonderfully illustrated look back at the festival’s roots and evolution for its golden anniversary. As the latest Shaw season kicks off this month, 2012 marks another important milestone: the beginning of the next 50 years.

“I’ve seen theatre all over the world so I’ve got some basis of comparison,” Conolly said, ”and there’s no doubt in my mind that the quality of (Shaw) production, acting, design, directing – all of that is of international class.”

The Shaw Festival is what Conolly calls “theatre for the mind and soul.” Along with the scenic Niagara-on-the-Lake locale and an ensemble that’s ripened over time like the grapes of nearby wine country, productions that challenge the audience are a festival hallmark.

“You’re getting that wonderful combination of Shaw and – his contemporaries where on many occasions you come out of the theatre, if not a changed person, (then) with new insights and different perspectives,” Conolly said.

As far as kicking off the next half a century, Shaw’s Odette Yazbeck says the 2012 season, “takes our patrons everywhere from to a French island, to a Chicago newsroom and the British countryside.”

Two Shaw plays, Misalliance and The Millionairess, as well as A Man and Some Women by Githa Sowerby and a production of Ragtime, are among the festival’s 2012 offerings.

When looking beyond 2012 to the next 50 years, Yazbeck says an injection of contemporary talent and a female touch are both in the festival’s future.

“(Artistic Director) Jackie Maxwell has taken the Shaw mandate to new heights by including more female playwrights,” Yazbeck said, “and-.contemporary playwrights who’s work demonstrates that Shaw’s was indeed part of a continuum of provocative playwriting that lives on today.”

Conolly also looks forward to the future, which he hopes sees the festival, “keep its identity with the spirit of Shaw, (stage) plays from parts of the world that we haven’t experienced before here, and always-.that core of provocative, challenging, entertaining theatre.”

In the meantime, for those looking to reminisce about Shaw seasons past, The Shaw Festival: The First 50 Years is the perfect companion for either reliving the last half-century, or to whet your appetite for the next one.

-Mike Crisolago

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