Preserving photos at the Festival | Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters

by Elizabeth Knazook, Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Photo Archivist

Today, we’re going into the Archives to see how the  photographs and documents are cared for behind the scenes.

Production photographs are taken each year to promote the current season’s shows. These valuable images have been collected and saved by Stratford Festival employees since the very first show in 1953.

Photo – two unidentified photographers discuss their shots with Director Tyrone Guthrie at the photo calls for 1953’s Richard III, photo by Peter Smith.

These photo files were and are still requested regularly by researchers, the media and Stratford Festival employees, so items were placed in easy-to-access filing cabinets.

To protect these rare vintage prints, the Archives is now removing them from the folders and storing them in acid-free boxes for long-term storage and preservation. High-quality digital scans are being made to provide easy access to Festival staff and other users. The Archives is also cleaning and restoring the prints when necessary. Let’s take you through the process of preserving  and cleaning a print with an example from the 1976 production of Three Sisters, part of the 24th season of the Stratford Festival.

Anton Checkhov’s Three Sisters was produced for the Avon Stage, directed by John Hirsch and designed by Daphne Dare. The cast of sisters, from left to right, featured Maggie Smith as Masha, Martha Henry as Olga and Marti Maraden as Irina.

Let’s take a look at the Three Sisters file. A typical photograph file includes all available prints from a production. The file folders and envelopes are acid-free archival materials, but over time some non-archival materials sneak in… I’m not so sure about this brown envelope.

Photo – Michael Liscinsky as Tusenbach and Marti Maraden as Irina, photography by Robert C. Ragsdale.

The first step in preservation is to look for duplicate images and evaluate all prints for damage. This print of Amelia Hall as Anfisa and Martha Henry as Olga, also taken by Robert Ragsdale, has some stubborn dirt in an obvious white area. We use a special conservation brush, or a scrub of ground-up eraser dust gently rubbed over the image to try and remove the dirt. Don’t try this at home! It’s easier to remove the appearance of dust with Photoshop than to take the scratches out of a print.

This close-up of Amelia Hall’s skirt shows the dirt is still there. It looks like ink pressed against the emulsion, probably from being stored with typed paper notes. Since the problem is on the surface of the print, we’ll try a chemical emulsion cleaner like PEC-12. We dab a tiny bit of cleaner onto the border of the image to make sure it’s safe to use on this print, and then proceed to lightly dab the problem areas.

The stain is wiped away clean!

After taking a scan of this print for digital access, the print is stored in an acid-free envelope in an acid-free box. Users are now able to view digital images of the 1976 Three Sisters . The original prints no longer need to be handled often and can be stored in climate and humidity-controlled conditions designed to preserve the rich tonal depth of these photos as long as possible.

Here are a few more examples of the stunning prints in our collection of Three Sisters prints by photographer Robert C. Ragsdale.

Frank Maraden as Solyony, Maggie Smith as Masha, Keith Baxter as Vershinin, Amelia Hall as Anfisa, William Hutt as Chebutykin, Martha Henry as Olga, Michael Liscinsky as Tusenbach and Alan Scarfe as Andrei.

William Hutt as Chebutykin.

Maggie Smith as Masha and Keith Baxter as Vershinin.

The Archives is open to the public; in-person access and on-site use are free of charge every Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information about out our Archives, visit our website or call us at 519-271-0055 (local) or 1-800-561-1233 (toll free).


Hirsch ticket giveaway! CONTEST OVER

We’re celebrating the last week of Hirsch with a special ticket giveaway to see this stunning production on Thursday, September 13, 2012 at 2:00 p.m., before it closes on Friday! Here’s what you need to do to qualify for a pair of tickets:

  • E-mail with your first and last name
  • Include your Festival account number (You can find this when you log in to and click on “My Account”)
  • Tell us which years John Hirsch was the sole Artistic Director of the Festival

Do all of this and you and a friend could be heading to see Hirsch tomorrow afternoon at the Studio Theatre!

*Please note – failure to include any of the specified information above will render your entry null and void.

Try something new! Join us for one of our world premières for only $39.

by Christi Rutledge

Some of my absolute best theatre experiences have come out of seeing new shows. Last year, The Little Years absolutely blew me away. I didn’t know a whole lot about the production before I went to see it, but I went into it with an open mind and found it refreshing to see a new work! This year we have the incredible privilege of having not one, not two, but three world premières on our stages, all written by Canadians: The Best Brothers, by Daniel MacIvor; Hirsch, by Alon Nashman and Paul Thompson; and Wanderlust, by Morris Panych and Marek Norman. If you’ve never taken a chance on a new play or musical, I want to encourage you to join us this season for one or all three of our world premières.

I’ve been to see all three shows now, so let me give you a little bit more information about each of them!

The Best Brothers
By Daniel MacIvor; Directed by Dean Gabourie.

If you’ve ever had a sibling, mother or dog, or have lost a relative (that’s pretty much all of us), this show will hit home. The Best Brothers follows the brothers Kyle (played by John Beale) and Hamilton (played by Daniel MacIvor) as they cope with the death of their mother, Ardith “Bunny” Best. The two of them are like oil and water, which means that the already difficult task of arranging their mother’s affairs is even more trying. But together, through their struggle (which is coloured with humour), they come to learn more about themselves, each other and the woman who gave them life. The Best Brothers will have you laughing, crying and, more than likely, identifying with Mr. MacIvor’s beautifully imperfect characters.

“Best Brothers was excellent! Definitely in my top three plays of the year at the Festival.” – Facebook

By Alon Nashman and Paul Thompson; Directed by Paul Thompson.

Hirsch allows us a look at the personal and artistic life of past Stratford Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director John Hirsh, with powerful effect. A happy and art-filled childhood ends very darkly for a young John Hirsch, who was orphaned at age thirteen in the Holocaust. After three years wandering alone in Europe, Hirsch finds sanctuary in Winnipeg, Canada. Alon Nashman, who portrays Hirsch, highlights the director’s amazing talent and fiery temperament, which made him a fierce cultural force on the national and international theatre scenes. Throughout the play we are reminded of the painful formative experiences that shaped Hirsch’s life. On more than one occasion I found myself in tears as Mr. Nashman embodied them vividly on the stage of the Studio Theatre. But with the hurt there is also hope, humour and joy – all of which weave into a stunning tapestry of a life that was truly extraordinary.

“Just caught a preview of #ssfHirsch … wow, wow, wow!!! So inspired. Alon Nashman is brilliant!” – Twitter

Book by Morris Panych; Music by Marek Norman; Based on the poems of Robert Service with additional lyrics by Morris Panych; Directed by Morris Panych.

Wanderlust, a new musical based on the poems of Robert Service, has absolutely captivated me! If you’re expecting a biographical retelling of Service’s life, you might be in for a bit of a surprise. Morris Panych – who adapted and directed Moby Dick (2008) and wrote and directed The Trespassers (2009) – uses the poems of Service to tell a story about imagination and the liminal space between dreaming and doing. Tom Rooney takes the lead as the Bard of the Yukon, Robert Service, and Panych leverages Service’s fictional characters, Louise (played by Robin Hutton), Dan McGrew (played by Dan Chameroy), Mr. McGee (played by Randy Hughson) and Mrs. Munch (played by Lucy Peacock) as his real-life friends and foes. The result is pure imagination! Mr. Norman’s beautiful score is quite literally music to your ears. Unlike some modern musicals there is a beautiful sense of fluidity and use of melody that ties the production together. The set, the staging, and the lighting … well, you’ll just have to come and see for yourself!

“#ssfwanderlust was amazing. The best, most innovative staging I have seen this year. Well done again @stratfest!” – Twitter

Try something new this year and join us for The Best Brothers, Hirsch and Wanderlust!  Here’s the best part: if you purchase tickets to any of these shows between today and Monday, July 9, at 11:59 p.m., you can take advantage of our special $39 world première ticket deal!

Here’s what you need to do to take advantage of this limited-time offer:

  1. Log into our website at with promotion code 44722
  2. Select any performance of The Best Brothers, Hirsch or Wanderlust in July (excluding their openings)
  3. Select your own seats
  4. Complete your checkout
  5. Enjoy the show! 🙂

*Offer may expire without notice. Not valid on MMP performances or in conjunction with any other promotion, including SSP, Family Experience, TiXX and PlayOn. Offer is not available on A+ seating. Promotion is only available online through our website or through Stratford Social Ticketing on the Festival’s Facebook page. Promotion excludes the July 11 performance of Wanderlust and the July 12 performances of The Best Brothers and Hirsch.

Hirsch starts previews ahead of July 12 première

June 20, 2012… Hirsch, a powerful new one-man show about the life of Canadian theatre legend and former Festival Artistic Director John Hirsch, begins previews at the Studio Theatre on June 20.

This world première production is a fiery invocation of one of the country’s theatrical pioneers. Performed by Alon Nashman and conceived and created by Mr. Nashman and director Paul Thompson, the play presents Hirsch as a trailblazing artist and unique personality, one who left a mark on Canadian theatre and Canadian theatre artists that endures to this day.

A native of Hungary, Hirsch lost his family in the Holocaust and survived years of wandering in post-war Europe, finally arriving as a refugee in Winnipeg in 1947. He then went on to help define the course of Canadian culture in the latter half of the twentieth century. His accomplishments were many: as well as co-founding the country’s first regional theatre, the Manitoba Theatre Centre, he was Head of Drama at the CBC in the 1970s and served two stints at Stratford, as Associate Director from 1967 to 1969 and as Artistic Director from 1981 to 1985.

The play, developed at Stratford in a series of residencies and workshops over the past three years, chronicles his life from his childhood in pre-war Hungary to his early death in 1989.

“John Hirsch’s contribution to the development of Canadian theatre was incalculable,” says Artistic Director Des McAnuff. “His work, both here at the Festival and elsewhere, was informed by his searing passion for truth in art and by his profound understanding of the darkness and the light that co-exist in the human soul. I am delighted that in this, our milestone sixtieth season, his spirit will spring to life on our stage once more.”

“John Hirsch was fearless. He lived an incredible life and brought all of the pleasure and pain of his experiences to his work,” says General Director Antoni Cimolino. “This play, which is a tribute to his many contributions to the theatre and a celebration of his extraordinary life, will be a touching and inspiring experience for all.”

The artistic team for this production includes Designer Gillian Gallow, Lighting Designer Itai Erdal, Sound Designer Verne Goode, Dramaturge Bob White and Stunt Coordinator Todd Campbell.

Production support is generously provided by Larry Enkin & Family in memory of Sharon Enkin.

This year, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival celebrates its 60th season, with 14 productions presented from April 12 to October 28:  Much Ado About Nothing42nd StreetThe MatchmakerHenry VYou’re a Good Man, Charlie BrownThe Pirates of PenzanceA Word or TwoCymbelineWanderlustElektraMacHomerThe Best BrothersHirsch; and The War of 1812.

It’s official – we’ve started our 60th season!

By:Lisa Middleton

After five months of darkened stages, empty lobbies and frosty evenings, we’ve started our 60th season!  Yesterday 42nd Street took the stage for its first preview, and it was amazing! What a celebratory way to kick things off —a perfect show for our diamond jubilee (sparkle included!). We know that the rest of the season will be just as thrilling. Here are some things to watch for while you plan your visit and some activities and shows you won’t want to miss!

P.S.  Shakespeare’s birthday is just around the corner – 448 years young – and we’re celebrating with a special gift to all our fans. Find out more next week!

Des McAnuff to be honoured with a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award

March 6, 2012… The Stratford Shakespeare Festival extends heartiest congratulations to Artistic Director Des McAnuff, who is the recipient of the National Arts Centre Award of the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards in recognition of his extraordinary accomplishments over the past performance year.

“Des is very deserving of this recognition,” says General Director Antoni Cimolino. “He has indeed had an extraordinary year, directing two large-scale productions at the Festival, filming one and taking the other on to La Jolla and then to Broadway. This is all in addition to his international accomplishments, which in themselves required super-human strength to complete. We all congratulate him on his achievements and this very great honour.”

At the Stratford Shakespeare Festival Mr. McAnuff directed a celebrated production of Twelfth Night starring Brian Dennehy and Stephen Ouimette. His acclaimed production of Jesus Christ Superstar enjoyed an extended run at Stratford, moved to La Jolla Playhouse in California, and is set to open on Broadway this month with its Stratford cast.

Mr. McAnuff opened the second North American tour of Jersey Boys in Philadelphia. He directed a new musical production of Doctor Zhivago, which played in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, Australia, and is now being performed in Seoul with an all-Korean cast. He directed Gounod’s Faust for the Metropolitan Opera starring Jonas KaufmannRené Pape, and Marina Poplavskaya. Mr. McAnuff’s achievements over the past year also include film, with his production of Faust shown in cinemas worldwide and his production of The Tempest, starring Christopher Plummer released in cinemas. (His production of Caesar and Cleopatra, which also features Christopher Plummer, enjoyed a similar release in 2009, while Twelfth Night is scheduled for cinema release this week).

The year 2011 also saw Mr. McAnuff planning Stratford’s 60th anniversary playbill, half of which are Canadian works, including three world premières – Morris Panych and Marek Norman’s WanderlusThe Best Brothers by Daniel MacIvor, and Hirsch by Alon Nashmon and Paul Thompson, about the former Stratford artistic director and legendary theatre artist John Hirsch. Mr. McAnuff will also be directing Shakespeare’s Henry V and Christopher Plummer’s one-man show A Word or Two.

The Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards will be presented in Ottawa in early May.


Get ready for the 2012 season!

By Christi Rutledge

Well, we officially wrapped up the 2011 season last weekend with the closing of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. It has been an absolutely fabulous season – and as sad as I am to see it close, I can’t help but get excited about 2012! We have a spectacular line-up to celebrate our 60th season of world-class theatre. Take a tour with me as we explore what’s being offered on our five (!) stages next year.

The Festival Theatre will host four productions: Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, 42nd Street and The Matchmaker. Henry V will return to the Festival stage for the first time in 11 years. Directed by Des McAnuff, this production will no doubt be spectacular and have lots to say about war, leadership and friendship. Expect to see a familiar face on stage as Aaron Krohn, who played Lenny in The Homecoming this year, takes on the title role. Mr. Krohn is joining the ranks of some luminous actors – the part of Henry V was first performed at the Festival by a man named Christopher Plummer.

Much Ado About Nothing is high comedy perfection – and with a cast featuring Ben Carlson and Deborah Hay as Benedick and Beatrice, it will be impossible for anyone to resist this performance. Expect to see a Brazilian flare to this witty comedy directed by Christopher Newton, former Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival.

The Festival is also extremely excited to welcome back Cynthia Dale, who will play Dorothy Brock in Gary Griffin’s production of 42nd Street. This smash Broadway hit tells the classic story of a small town girl moving to the big city to make a name for herself. And it’s full of sensational tap dancing!

And last, but certainly not least, the Festival stage will feature The Matchmaker– Thornton Wilder’s story of a wealthy merchant named Horace Vandergelder (played by Tom McCamus) who searches for a wife with the help of his matchmaker, Dolly Levi (Seana McKenna). This production will be directed by Chris Abraham, who brought you The Little Years (2011) and For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again (2010).

Over at the Avon Theatre, the greatly anticipated return of Gilbert and Sullivan has finally come with Ethan McSweeny’s staging of The Pirates of Penzance. The theatre will also house a one-hander called A Word or Two, written and performed by the legendary Christopher Plummer and directed by Des McAnuff. And there will be a production that appeals to the child in everyone – You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

It is always exciting for us at the theatre and for our patrons when we get to put on a show as magical as Pirates. It’s one of the first plays that my brother saw as a child here at the Festival, and I remember him coming home from his school trip in 1994 and telling me how fascinated he was by it. Filled with wit and with cherished musical numbers, this is a great play for children and adults alike.

A Word or Two will no doubt be difficult to get tickets to, so the sooner you order yours, the better. You won’t want to miss seeing Mr. Plummer back on our stage to offer an intimate look at his life-long love of literature. And Donna Feore’s production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown – presented for the first time at the Festival thanks to Schulich Children’s Plays – will be another heart-warming show to bring the family to. For all the baby-boomers out there, it also offers a chance to revisit a beloved childhood icon.

My favourite theatre, the Tom Patterson, will feature three productions next year: Cymbeline, Wanderlust and Elektra. I am particularly excited for this set of shows!

Cymbeline will be directed by Antoni Cimolino. After falling in love with The Grapes of Wrath this season, I can hardly wait to see how he interprets this fantastic Shakespearean romance.

Another show to get excited about is Wanderlust, a new Canadian musical by Morris Panych and Marek Norman. Wanderlust is a fictional story about the adventures of Robert Service, the great Bard of theYukon, as he grapples with his love for his co-worker Louise, who is engaged to a forbidding man. With songs based on Service’s poetry and Tom Rooney playing the lead (as well as Lucy Peacock playing his landlady, Mrs. Munsch!), this piece had me at “hello.”

Lastly, let’s take a look at Elektra – a play that should be on everyone’s must-see list for the 2012 season. This classic Greek tragedy will be led by the fabulous Yanna McIntosh in the title role, along with Seana McKenna as Clytemestra. Athenian director Thomas Moschopoulos will be making his Festival debut with this production; you may know him as the artist behind the Olympic closing ceremony in Athens in 2004.

The Studio Theatre is home to three productions in our 60th season: MacHomer, The Best Brothers and Hirsch. Rick Millers’ MacHomer, directed by Sean Lynch, reimagines Shakespeare’s Macbeth through the voices of more than fifty characters from The Simpsons. If you’re dying to see this hilarious production, make sure to book tickets soon – it’s only running through the month of May!

Daniel MacIvor’s The Best Brothers is another new Canadian play that we’re excited to feature in its world première. Associate Artistic Director Dean Gabourie helms this two-man show, in which Mr. MacIvor will star. It’s about two brothers, Hamilton and Kyle Best. Upon the unexpected death of their mother, Hamilton and Kyle mourn in very different ways, leading them to some profound realizations about each other and the woman who raised them.

The last play that we’ll be showing on the Studio stage is Hirsch, a play chronicling the life of John Hirsch, former Artistic Director of the Festival. Mr. Hirsch was orphaned at a young age by the Holocaust, but survived and eventually moved to Canada, where his fierce talent and stormy temperament won him acclaim in the theatre. It’s a gripping play, created and conceived by two celebrated Canadian theatre makers: Alon Nashman and Paul Thompson.

One final production, I promise, and then I’m done!

Next year we will be hosting special guest ensemble VideoCabaret in a brand new theatre space. The Studio Theatre Annex will be accessible through the Studio Theatre and will feature The War of 1812, a satirical examination of Canada’s past from Michael Hollingsworth’s series The History of the Village of the Small Huts.

PHEW – I got through them all! I am so excited to share more about our 2012 productions and hope that you find a great selection of shows to come see during our 60th season.

Any shows that you’re already looking forward to? Share your thoughts on our 2012 season!