A playful getaway to Stratford

Canadians can’t resist a good story, and one famous festival is sure to instil a love for all things theatre. Surprisingly modern and always innovative, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival lets you step into another world of drama, music and laughter.

On stage for nearly six decades, the festival continues to achieve its goal of bringing the theatre alive for its diverse audience. From its modest beginnings beneath a tent-coverage stage, the festival’s repertoire now features 12 productions each year on four stages. As the name suggests, the event’s original focus was the works of William Shakespeare — a tradition that is still alive and well with a selection of his comedies, tragedies and history plays. Even if you aren’t a big Shakespeare fan, the costumes, music and fresh take on the classic plays will have you taking a second look.

While the festival has become synonymous with The Bard, it’s also famous for its classic and contemporary plays as well as toe-tapping musicals. The festival has also been known to keep some impressive company. Past performers include big names like Christopher Plummer, Paul Gross, William Shatner, Megan Follows, Cynthia Dale and Brian Dennehy.

The variety isn’t just found in its selections: it’s in the architecture as well. Four distinct spaces shape the theatre experience, from the classical Avon Theatre, (once a vaudeville house and later a movie theatre) to the Studio Theatre (the newest space and home to experimental and rare classic works). The Tom Patterson Theatre, renamed to honour the festival’s founder, features a runway-style thrust stage to let viewers feel like part of the action. The Festival Theatre got its start as a stage covered by a tent, but was soon made into a permanent structure following the early successes of the festival.

And though you might think “the play’s the thing” that draws visitors every year, there’s more to the festival than the performances. Visitors can round out their theatre experience with concerts, tours, lectures, discussion groups and pre-performance activities. For instance, book a tour of the archives or see the Props and Costumes Warehouse. Drop in early for a free Lobby Talk before the performance, or stop by Thursday mornings for free “Talking Theatre” sessions with General Director, Antoni Cimolino, and Director of Education, Pat Quigley.

Many of the activities are free, while others have a modest fee. Shopping, local restaurants, a thriving arts community and other summer events can quickly fill up any itinerary. Don’t forget to sneak in a little sightseeing — you can even pre-order a picnic lunch from a theatre restaurant to enjoy outdoors.


What’s on 2012

Wondering what’s on stage this year? Here is a look at the 60th season:

A Word or Two – directed by Des McAnuff and starring Academy Award Winner Christopher Plummer
The Pirates of Penzance – by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan
You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown – based on the comic strip “Peanuts” by Charles M. Schulz; Book, music and lyrics by Clark Gesner

42nd Street – music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Al Dubin, book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble (Based on the novel by Bradford Ropes)
Henry V – by William Shakespeare
The Matchmaker – by Thornton Wilder
Much Ado About Nothing – by William Shakespeare

The Best Brothers – by Daniel MacIvor
Hirsch – created and conceived by Alon Nashman and Paul Thompson
MacHomer – created and performed by Rick Miller

Cymbeline – by William Shakespeare
Elektra – by Sophokles, translated by Anne Carson
Wanderlust – book by Morris Panych, music by Marek Norman

Tips for your trip

– Check out the Save at Stratford page for promotions and savings programs. For instance, students and seniors can purchase tickets for as little as $25 for certain performances, and there are 60 discount seats available for almost every performance (but you’ll have to book early!)

You’ll also find printable coupons for local businesses, including restaurants, accommodations and the festival gift shop.

– Got some flexibility in your schedule? Keep an eye on the festival’s Twitter feed and Facebook page for special deals. Also, “Rush Tickets” can be purchased up to two hours before a performance for 20-50 per cent off.

– Want to make a weekend out of it? The Stratford Festival has partnered with Theatre Vacations to offer one-night and two-night packages starting at $219 per person (based on double occupancy). Packages include tickets to a performance, accommodations and some meals. (Visit www.theatrevacations.com for more information) Some vacations even pair a trip to another nearby favourite event, the Shaw Festival.

Want to do it yourself? Book your own accommodations in the charming inns and hotels in the area.

– If you can’t get enough of the theatre, McMaster University runs a Stratford Shakespearean Seminar every July where you can view performances, attend lectures and discussion groups, learn what happens behind the scenes and even meet some of the cast.

– Plan ahead for parking. There are over 800 metered spaces in the city centre for a short stay, but free, day-long parking passes are often available through Tourism Stratford.

– Opting for a longer getaway? Stratford is an easy driving distance from London and Kitchener-Waterloo, and about two hours away from Toronto. Many cities offer bus tours to the festival, or you can take the train. (Stratford is on VIA Rail’s route.)


For more information, visit the Stratford Festival website and WelcometoStratford.com.

Festival Theatre, 2009. Photography by Erin Samuell.

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