Beyond the Stage: Meet the Festival | Uncovering the Festival Archives

by Madeleine Brown

I step outside my house amidst a heavy downpour and pounding thunder—a beautiful July morning. Despite the weather I arrive safely at the Tom Patterson Theatre twenty minutes before the start of that morning’s Meet the Festival. The lobby is full and a line has begun to form. Audience members pass the time reading copies of the season brochure and Beyond the Stage pamphlets. At 9:25 a.m., just as the prospect of sitting has become truly enticing, the House Manager opens the door to the theatre.

The set of the Festival’s current production of Cymbeline adorns the theatre’s stage, with one addition: two plain black chairs in the centre. Soon there are three more additions—Pat Quigley, Education Consultant and moderator of Meet the Festival, Dr. Francesca Marini, Director of Archives, and Nora Polley, Archives Assistant. After welcoming everyone back for another season of Meet the Festival, Ms Quigley makes the introductions and takes a seat offstage—Dr. Marini and Ms Polley are now in the hands of the audience.

An eager arm shoots up.

“Is there one artifact that got away from the Festival archives? Is there a ‘Holy Grail’ of sorts out there that you are trying to find and return to the Festival?” a gentleman asks.

The audience leans forward.

“The collection is complete,” Dr. Marini states matter-of-factly.

The audience sighs in disappointment—quests to seek the Stratford Holy Grail are dismissed as quickly as they were imagined.

“Alec Guinness’ robe from the 1953 production of Richard III is our ‘Holy Grail,’ but we know exactly where that is,” she adds.

The audience nods in agreement.

Ms Quigley speaks fondly of visiting the Festival’s new permanent exhibition and seeing the monkey costume from the 2001 production of Inherit the Wind alongside footage of William Hutt discussing the costume.

A woman calls out, “I remember on a tour of the Festival Theatre a visitor asked, ‘How long did it take to train that monkey in Inherit the Wind?’ No one believed that it was only a costume!”

Clearly this is a testament to the quality of acting and the artisanal talent that the Festival is famed for – no monkey business here.

“Can you recall a particularly intriguing research project that has been done at the Archives?” asks another gentleman.

“Alon Nashman and Paul Thompson’s research for Hirsch was very exciting,” says Dr. Marini.

“What about when that one group came in and took your picture with William Shatner?” notes Ms Polley.

“Oh, yes! There were some movie makers who came in with William Shatner to research the productions he had worked on atStratford. And, I got to have my picture taken with him. But they didn’t end up using it in the movie,” Dr. Marini jokes.

The hour comes and goes as quickly as Dr. Marini’s possible film career. In that time I’ve learned about a branch of the Festival I hadn’t known before, and also been delighted by the stories of both the guest speakers and the audience. What a good way to start a rainy morning!

Meet the Festival is a series of free informal one-hour Q&A sessions with company actors and Festival staff moderated by Pat Quigley. They occur on Wednesdays and Fridays at 9:30 a.m. between July and August.

Take a tour of the Festival Archives (located at 350 Douro Street)! Tours are one hour. They occur on Thursdays and Fridays from June 21 to September 28 at 10:45 a.m.

Check out the brand new Festival Exhibition located at104 Downie Street(opposite the Avon Theatre). The Exhibition is open seven days a week until November 9 from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

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