Press Release | Stratford Festival unveils 2014 season | Madness: Minds Pushed to the Edge

August 20, 2013… Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino is delighted to announce the 2014 season, in which, through the prism of a dozen plays, the Stratford Festival will explore the theme of Madness: Minds Pushed to the Edge.

“What excites me about this playbill is it contains plays in which the protagonists are driven to extraordinary places,” says Mr. Cimolino. “Extreme stakes lead to great drama.”

“These plays explore minds that are driven out of balance by a variety of forces: love, war, poverty, age, sexuality. In today’s fast-paced global community, we are becoming ever more acutely aware of the consequences of such pressures. The issues behind them are interesting in themselves, but what they do to the human mind – to us – is ultimately the most fascinating thing. When the pressures of life become great enough, our minds give way to other realities. The result is often heartbreakingly tragic, but can also be a trigger for comedy.”

The season coincides with the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare, and to mark that occasion, Mr. Cimolino has programmed five Shakespeare productions, including two versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a play that revolves around the madness of young love.

“For the first time in our history, we will examine a Shakespeare play in two different productions within the same season,” says Mr. Cimolino. “The first will be directed by one of Canada’s most exciting young directors, Chris Abraham; the second by one of the most highly regarded, internationally acclaimed directors of Shakespeare, Peter Sellars: two very different approaches to Shakespeare’s text.”

The season will also feature King Lear; Antony and Cleopatra; King John; The Beaux’ Stratagem; Mother Courage; Hay Fever; Alice Through the Looking-Glass; Christina, The Girl King; and the musicals Crazy for You and Man of La Mancha.

“I’m very excited about the creative teams who’ll be working on this season with me,” says Mr. Cimolino. “In addition to Chris and Peter, our lineup of directors includes the great Martha Henry and others whose work has captivated Festival audiences in recent seasons: Donna Feore, Tim Carroll and Gary Griffin. I’m also looking forward tremendously to the Stratford debuts of artistic leaders from other major Canadian cultural institutions – Jillian Keiley from the National Arts Centre, Alisa Palmer from the National Theatre School and Vanessa Porteous from Alberta Theatre Projects – as well as Robert McQueen, whose work in opera and musical theatre has been acclaimed internationally.”

King Lear | By William Shakespeare | Directed by Antoni Cimolino | Festival Theatre #sfKingLear

The season will open at the Festival Theatre with the Shakespearean masterpiece King Lear, directed by Mr. Cimolino, whose sold-out production of Mary Stuart has been the runaway hit of 2013.

King Lear is the ultimate example of a mind pushed to the edge. When the aging king decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters, requiring each in turn to publicly profess how much she loves him, he sets in motion a train of events that will rob him of his home, his status and his sanity – everything except the honest love and loyalty of his youngest daughter, Cordelia. Meanwhile, the Earl of Gloucester is falsely persuaded by his illegitimate son, Edmund, that his other son, Edgar, is conspiring against him. Both these fathers pay for their misjudgements by being driven to the very limits of human endurance.

King Lear speaks to the simple, naked humanity shared by everyone from a monarch to the poorest of the poor,” says Mr. Cimolino. “It’s from that essential humanity, not the trappings of wealth or power, that we claim our right to exist. After Lear loses everything, he finds that he is no longer who he thought he was. This loss is a liberation. In his subsequent madness he sees his own folly, awakens to empathy and discovers his soul.”

Like Mary Stuart this season, Mr. Cimolino’s 2012 production of Cymbeline caught the public’s imagination, and was twice extended to meet demand for tickets. His production of The Merchant of Venice opened last week to unanimous acclaim. Mr. Cimolino’s other Shakespeare credits at Stratford include Coriolanus with Colm Feore and Martha Henry in 2006, As You Like It with Graham Abbey, Stephen Ouimette and Sara Topham in 2005, King John with Peter Donaldson and Stephen Ouimette in 2004, Love’s Labour’s Lost with Graham Abbey and Brian Bedford in 2003 and Twelfth Night with Domini Blythe, Peter Donaldson and William Hutt in 2001.

Crazy for You | Music by George Gershwin | Lyrics by Ira Gershwin | Book by Ken Ludwig | Directed and Choreographed by Donna Feore | Festival Theatre

Never before produced by the Festival, Crazy for You will be directed and choreographed at the Festival Theatre by Donna Feore, the force behind a growing list of hit musicals at the Festival, including one of this season’s hottest tickets, Fiddler on the Roof, as well as 2012’s You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, 2007’s Oklahoma! and 2006’s Oliver!

Set in the 1930s, Crazy for You is the story of Bobby Child, the scion of a wealthy banking family, whose dream in life is to be a Broadway dancer. Sent by his mother to foreclose on a struggling theatre, he faces a dilemma when he falls in love with a local girl whose affections he will lose if he carries out his mother’s commission. His solution: put on a show and pay off the theatre’s mortgage.

This high-energy romantic comedy – replete with mistaken identities, plot twists and stunning dance numbers – is packed with beloved Gershwin songs, including “I Got Rhythm,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” “Embraceable You” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

Crazy for You presents a joyous view of love and madness,” says Mr. Cimolino. “But the story is secondary to the powerful force of the Gershwins’ music. The bedrock of their work is the music of the Russian and Ukrainian steppes, which led the brothers to write brilliant, entertaining, lively music, with an energy and madness of its own. It is the music of adversity now finding itself in the new world, in what should be the land of milk and honey.”

Next year, Ms Feore will celebrate her 20th season with the Festival. To her musical credits, Ms Feore adds the choreography of more than 20 productions here, as well as the direction of the captivating production of Cyrano de Bergerac in 2009. Ms Feore’s other credits include directing The Very, Very Best of Broadway with Martin Short and Marvin Hamlisch; the Canadian Stage productions of Rock ’n’ Roll and It’s a Wonderful Life; the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Lecture on the Weather and A Soldier’s Tale with F. Murray Abraham; and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Mozart: A Life in Letters. Her film credits include Politics Is Cruel, Mean Girls, Eloise, Martin and Lewis, Stormy Weather and the opera films Romeo and Juliette and Don Giovanni Unmasked.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream | By William Shakespeare | Directed by Chris Abraham | Festival Theatre

Chris Abraham, hot off his spell-binding production of Othello, will direct his first Shakespeare on the Festival Stage, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

This delightful Shakespearean comedy of unrequited desire is imbued with the same life force that permeates Crazy for You. The madness of love runs riot as Hermia flees to the woods with her lover, Lysander, to escape her father’s command that she marry Demetrius. Demetrius follows, pursued by Helena, whose love he spurns. Their romantic problems intensify when the fairy world intervenes.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream explores the madness of young love – intemperate, powerful, blind, rash,” says Mr. Cimolino. “It is Romeo and Juliet with a happy ending. This young love, however, exists in a male-dominated world where parents want to control their children’s natural desires, causing a series of metamorphoses. Even the natural world revolts at man’s determination to subvert these desires, putting the climate in disarray.”

Mr. Abraham, who is Artistic Director of Crow’s Theatre in Toronto, will mark his fifth season at Stratford, where he has quickly established himself as a director of note with stellar productions of The Matchmaker, The Little Years and For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again to his credit. He has won numerous awards in his career, including a Dora for The Little Years, which he directed at Tarragon after its Stratford run. He also has received Doras for Eternal Hydra and Easy Lenny Lazmon, and a Gemini for I, Claudia, and was the recipient of the Siminovitch Protégé Award in 2002. His other credits include Someone Else, Seeds and BOXHEAD at Crow’s Theatre; The Patient Hour at Tarragon; Blue/Orange at Canadian Stage; Antigone and The Lesson at Soulpepper; and Hedda Gabler, The Glass Menagerie and Salt-Water Moon at the Saidye Bronfman Centre.

The Beaux’ Stratagem | By George Farquhar | Directed by Antoni Cimolino | Festival Theatre

Opening later in the season at the Festival Theatre is George Farquhar’s brilliant Restoration comedy The Beaux’ Stratagem, directed by Mr. Cimolino. It is the first Restoration comedy produced in Stratford since The Country Wife in 1995.

Written in 1707, The Beaux’ Stratagem follows the madly comic antics of two impoverished rakes, who, disguising their identities, arrive in the town of Lichfield seeking to restore their fortunes by wooing wealthy women. As the two connive to relieve ladies of their wealth, they must contend with a suspicious local innkeeper and his band of highwaymen, and with an acquaintance privy to their true identity.

“In The Beaux’ Stratagem, the necessity of coping with the realities of marriage and personal finance give way to a romp,” says Mr. Cimolino. “One of the last of the Restoration comedies, it was written by the amazing George Farquhar, who himself was dying and hoped the play would finance his family after his death. It is very funny and I look forward enormously to directing it.”

Hay Fever | By Noël Coward | Directed by Alisa Palmer | Avon Theatre

Alisa Palmer, Artistic Director of the National Theatre School English Section, makes her Festival debut at the Avon Theatre as the director of Noël Coward’s celebrated comedy Hay Fever.

As stylish as it is intoxicatingly absurd, Hay Fever introduces audiences to the Bliss family: a retired actress mother, novelist father and two children, all prone to their own outrageous eccentricities. The family’s self-absorbed antics astound and ultimately exasperate the various guests that each of them has invited to their country house for the weekend. Driven to distraction by a comic maelstrom of rousing fights, fevered flirtations and histrionic role-playing, the guests eventually flee, leaving the Blisses happily playing and bickering amongst themselves.

“This is one of the great opportunities for energetic comedy within the theme of madness,” says Mr. Cimolino. “Theatre is about taking ordinary situations and pushing them to the extreme – and what could be more delightful than experiencing this through the lives of a theatre family? These people pretend to have an interest in conventional living, in entertaining at their country property. But as we can see by the end, they really are in a world all their own. It’s as if they lived only on the stage – sheer madness!”

Ms Palmer is currently collaborating with Ann-Marie MacDonald and Torquil Campbell on a Festival commission to develop a musical reflection on Hamlet. An internationally award-winning director, playwright and producer, Ms Palmer has worked in a range of genres, including classics, contemporary plays, creation projects, musicals and operas. A former Artistic Director of Toronto’s Nightwood Theatre and long-time director at the Shaw Festival, Ms Palmer has directed across Canada, winning seven Dora Awards for her work, as well as two Chalmers Awards for her plays i.d. and A Play About the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. Her Shaw credits include Pal Joey, The Philanderer, The Women, Belle Moral: A Natural History, Sunday in the Park with George and Diana of Dobson’s. Her other credits include The Children’s Republic and East of Berlin at Tarragon, Cloud 9 for Mirvish Productions, the acclaimed Top Girls at Soulpepper, and Mrs. Warren’s Profession and The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.

Man of La Mancha | Music by Mitch Leigh | Lyrics by Joe Darion | Book by Dale Wasserman | Directed by Robert McQueen | Choreographed by Marc Kimelman | Avon Theatre

Robert McQueen, whose work in musical theatre and opera has been recognized both nationally and internationally, will make his Stratford debut at the helm of Man of La Mancha, to be staged at the Avon Theatre.

Featuring the timeless anthem “The Impossible Dream,” Man of La Mancha follows the saga of the aging Miguel de Cervantes, playwright, poet and tax collector, who finds himself in a dungeon in Seville awaiting trial by the Inquisition for an offence against the Church. When his fellow prisoners try to confiscate his few possessions, including the uncompleted manuscript of his most famous work, the novel Don Quixote, Cervantes defends his masterpiece by proposing that he present it to them as a play. To this end, Cervantes and his manservant transform themselves into Don Quixote and his fiercely loyal servant, Sancho Panza, recruiting prisoners to take on the roles of other characters. What follows is the stirring tale of the mad Quixote and his obsessive quest to attain the impossible dream. It is the lunatic who sees most clearly in Man of La Mancha, as in King Lear.

Man of La Mancha is a beautiful contrast to Crazy for You,” says Mr. Cimolino. “The source material, Don Quixote, is from the Spanish Golden Age, and you can see that period’s theatrical influence on Shakespeare in the Romance plays. Man of La Mancha takes that source material and puts it through the lens of American musical theatre. It depicts a pure, chaste, romantic and mature love – love that elevates the beloved. It is an extraordinary musical because of the story and the characters. Despite dark content, it manages to be inspiring, making us question what is actually the saner choice: to live in filth and despair, or to pursue the romantic ideal.”

Mr. McQueen directed Caroline, or Change, the Acting Up Stage musical that took Toronto by storm in 2012. His recent work includes the direction and dramaturgy of the new musical theatre piece Where Elephants Weep, at the Cambodian Living Arts centre in Phnom Pehn, The Light in the Piazza and Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio, for Pacific Opera in Victoria. In 2009 he directed a Tokyo-based creative team and acting company in a Japanese-language production of Carousel at the Galaxy Theatre in Tokyo. For the Vancouver Opera he served as director and dramaturge for The Magic Flute. The project, for which he also adapted the libretto, was a collaboration with a 15-member creative team of Canadian aboriginal and non-native visual artists and theatre-makers. His other work includes directing La Bohème for the Canadian Opera Company and serving as associate director of the Broadway and national touring productions of Mamma Mia, as well as the direction of the Mexico City, Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires productions.

Alice Through the Looking-Glass | Adapted by James Reaney | Directed by Jillian Keiley | Avon Theatre

Twenty years after its Stratford première, the Festival is pleased to present Lewis Carroll’s wildly inventive fantasy Alice Through the Looking-Glass, in an adaptation commissioned by the Festival from nationally renowned playwright and poet James Reaney, a native son of Stratford. So popular was the 1994 production that it was re-mounted in 1996 to the great delight of audiences of all ages.

Jillian Keiley, Artistic Director of English Theatre at the National Arts Centre, will bring her remarkable creative vision to the piece, to be staged at the Avon Theatre and produced in association with the National Arts Centre.

“The underlying material for Alice Through the Looking-Glass is, of course, iconic and examines a fantasy world filled with some of the greatest and most familiar nonsense verse,” says Mr. Cimolino. “The characters – the Walrus and the Carpenter, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Humpty Dumpty and the Jabberwock – are the inhabitants of the farthest reaches of a child’s imagination.”

Deciding to explore the alternative world she sees inside her living-room mirror, Alice finds a place that in some aspects resembles her home yet differs from it in ways as delightful as they are surreal.

Ms Keiley won the 2004 Siminovitch Prize for her “startlingly original and radically imaginative” directing style, making her an ideal candidate to take on the sublime nonsense of both Lewis Carroll and James Reaney. She is also the recipient of the Canada Council’s John Hirsch Award. Her credits include Tempting Providence, which she created in collaboration with playwright Robert Chafe, and which, over a 10-year run, toured across Canada and abroad, as did Afterimage. She and Mr. Chafe, the co-founders of Newfoundland’s Artistic Fraud, also collaborated on Oil and Water, at Factory Theatre. Ms Keiley made a big splash with her first project as Artistic Director of the NAC, Metamorphoses, a play by Mary Zimmerman, which re-imagines 10 classical myths. Set around a giant swimming pool, this theatrical event allowed audiences to experience the consequences of humanity’s deepest desires. Ms Keiley’s Stratford connection dates back to 2008, when she was selected as a participant in the International Master Directors Summit.

Mother Courage | By Bertolt Brecht | Directed by Martha Henry | Tom Patterson Theatre

Considered one of the greatest plays of the 20th century – and perhaps the greatest anti-war play of all time – Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage will be directed by one of the Festival’s most celebrated artists, Martha Henry, returning for a remarkable 40th season with the Stratford Festival in 2014. Ms Henry’s contributions to the Festival include the direction of numerous critically acclaimed productions, including this season’s Measure for Measure, 2009’s Three Sisters, 2007’s Of Mice and Men and 2002’s Elizabeth Rex.

Mother Courage was written in 1939 as a response to the Nazi invasion of Poland. Set in 17th-century Europe and spanning 12 years, the story follows Mother Courage as she struggles to make a living and to protect her three children during the Thirty Years’ War. By the end of the play, having lost everyone she loves and almost everything she owns, she has truly been driven to the edge – yet somehow she finds the will to carry on.

“Mother Courage presents a world in which the madness of war becomes not only day-to-day but something that the people can’t live without,” says Mr. Cimolino. “It represents profit. It represents the new normal. In that respect it is like our world today. As the characters cynically take advantage of the opportunities for commercial gain that the war provides, they lose anything of real worth, including their souls. They lose their children, they lose their freedom, they lose their self-respect and eventually they lose their lives.”

A Companion of the Order of Canada and a recipient of the Governor General’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Ms Henry boasts a career without parallel in this country. Her work opposite the great William Hutt was truly the stuff of dreams, beginning with her portrayal of Miranda to his Prospero and also including Mary to his James Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey into Night. Her Shakespearean roles include Titania, Lady Macduff, Helena, Luciana, Cressida, Viola, the Countess of Rossillion, Cymbeline’s Queen, Lady Anne, Queen Eleanor, Cordelia, Goneril, Rosaline, the Princess of France, Thaisa, Desdemona, Lady Macbeth, Queen Margaret, Isabella, Beatrice, Paulina and Volumnia. As Director of the Festival’s Birmingham Conservatory, Ms Henry is training a whole new generation of classical actors.

King John | By William Shakespeare | Directed by Tim Carroll | Tom Patterson Theatre

King John, the story of a monarch trying desperately to maintain his grip on power, will be presented at the Tom Patterson Theatre in a production directed by Tim Carroll.

King John looks at a mind driven by the dangerous combination of ambition and insecurity,” says Mr. Cimolino. “John commits horrible acts to secure a position he rightly holds. There is a wonderful range of characters in this play who navigate, with varying degrees of success, the pressures of politics, ambition, legitimacy and loss. From Hubert the mercenary, asked to commit an atrocity, to Constance, who wishes she were mad to escape the pain of her child’s murder, it is the Bastard (a very different bastard from Edmund in King Lear) who comes through the play with the most honour and integrity.”

Tim Carroll, who this season gave audiences the opportunity to see a Romeo and Juliet as Shakespeare might have presented it at the Globe Theatre, will transport audiences to the Blackfriars Theatre in a candlelit production of King John.

Mr. Carroll, former Associate Director of Shakespeare’s Globe in London, directed a sold-out production of Twelfth Night, starring Mark Rylance, which transferred from the Globe to London’s West End, garnering four Olivier nominations this year, and which will open on Broadway in the fall. Mr. Carroll is one of the world’s most respected directors of Shakespeare. His Globe credits also include Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, The Two Noble Kinsmen, The Tempest and The Golden Ass. For the RSC he directed The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. His international credits include Fair Ladies at a Game of Poem Cards, The Duchess of Malfi and Victory for the Barka Theatre in Budapest; All’s Well That Ends Well for the National Theatre in Craiova, Romania; Amadeus for the National Theatre in Portugal; and A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Sydney Opera House. He is a founding member of The Factory, in London, for which he directed three theatre experiments: Hamlet, The Seagull and The Odyssey. Mr. Carroll made his Stratford debut as director of the wildly popular Peter Pan in 2010.

Antony and Cleopatra | By William Shakespeare | Directed by Gary Griffin | Tom Patterson Theatre

Gary Griffin, Associate Artistic Director of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, will return for a fifth season to direct Antony and Cleopatra at the Tom Patterson Theatre.

The play, produced just four times before at Stratford, follows the relationship of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, with Mark Antony, who, having defeated Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar, is now one of the three rulers of the Roman republic. Criticized for neglecting his political and military responsibilities – and his wife in Rome – as he dallies in Alexandria with Cleopatra, Antony attempts to break free of Cleopatra’s spell, and returns to Rome to help crush an incipient rebellion. Once there, his wife having died, he agrees to a political marriage, enraging Cleopatra. But Antony cannot long endure his separation from the bewitching Egyptian queen: when war breaks out, he abandons his new wife and returns to Egypt, a choice that leads to his own and Cleopatra’s tragic ends.

Antony and Cleopatra examines older love and the pressures of being madly in love when you know better,” says Mr. Cimolino. “This play has some of the most incredibly lyrical and intense love poetry ever written, along with beautiful observations on life that speak to us today, in a world where second and third marriages have never been more common.”

Mr. Griffin has a string of hit productions to his credit at Stratford, including 42nd Street, Camelot, Evita and West Side Story. He won an Olivier Award for outstanding musical for his production of Pacific Overtures at the Donmar Warehouse in London. On Broadway, he was the director of Oprah Winfrey’s production of The Color Purple and of The Apple Tree. His Off-Broadway credits include Music in the Air, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Pardon My English and The New Moon for City Center Encores!, Saved at Playwrights Horizons; and Beautiful Thing at the Cherry Lane. He has won numerous awards for his work at Chicago Shakespeare, where his credits include Amadeus, Passion, A Flea in Her Ear, A Little Night Music, Sunday in the Park with George and Pacific Overtures.

Christina, The Girl King | By Michel Marc Bouchard | Translated by Linda Gaboriau | Directed by Vanessa Porteous | Studio Theatre

The Festival is delighted to present Linda Gaboriau’s translation of Michel Marc Bouchard’s Christina, The Girl King. Written by one of Quebec’s most celebrated playwrights, the play will make its English-language première at the Studio Theatre, directed by Vanessa Porteous, Artistic Director of Alberta Theatre Projects.

Commissioned as a translation by the Festival in 2010, the play is the story of Christina of Sweden, an extraordinarily modern character who was born just 10 years after Shakespeare’s death. Hers is a story of bringing sanity to an insane world. The enigmatic ruler showed a passion for philosophy, literature and the arts but her lifestyle and refusal to marry proved sources of great concern at court. Rather than bow to pressure to conform to the expectations of others, the 26-year-old queen abdicates in order to be free to pursue her own aspirations. Is this an act of madness? Or is Christina’s the story of a modern woman born out of her time – one whom the 17th century simply couldn’t contain?

“Michel Marc Bouchard has such a great gift for helping us understand the situation of the person who does not fit in,” says Mr. Cimolino. “In Christina, The Girl King, he has beautifully brought to life the story of a historical figure who had the courage to step outside of the society that attempted to bind her in. As the daughter of a Protestant warrior king – himself one of the driving forces of the Thirty Years’ War depicted in Mother Courage – she was expected to get married, have children and adhere to the spartan values of the Swedish nation as it was then. Instead she introduced foreign, and then radical scientific and philosophical ideas, and strained to remain unmarried and independent.

“Bouchard examines the pressures inherent in her sexual and personal self-discovery in a highly compelling play. The pressures in her life push her to the edge. Rather than give over to madness, which would be the only outcome of staying on as queen, she leaves her throne and her country, moving to Rome where she is free to live outside of marriage as a patron of the arts.”

Ms Porteous makes her Festival debut with this production.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream | By William Shakespeare | A Chamber Play Directed by Peter Sellars

Peter Sellars, renowned for his transformative interpretations of artistic masterpieces, comes to the Festival for the first time to stage his reimagined version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. With a cast of four actors playing all of the roles, this staging will offer an intensely focused approach to Shakespeare’s examination of the role-playing, mercurial mood swings, delusional fantasy, deep hurt, and forgiveness and release at the heart of human relationships.

“What is extraordinary about Stratford is not that we do 12 plays in one year, but that we do them all at the same time, giving theatre-goers an opportunity to experience one play in light of another. Next season, for the first time ever, we will offer a chance for audiences to experience the same title in two very different productions, along with further opportunities for exploration in The Forum,” says Mr. Cimolino.

“I look forward to welcoming Peter to the Stratford Festival,” he adds. “I have greatly enjoyed his work in opera and Shakespeare for its beauty, vulnerability and intelligence. When Peter spoke to me about his ideas for Dream, I sensed an opportunity to create not only an exploration but a celebration of this great play.”

Mr. Sellars has worked with an extraordinary range of creative artists over the past three decades. His landmark staging of Sophocles’ Ajax, set at the Pentagon, was invited to tour Europe and ignited his international career. Other noteworthy theatre projects include a 1994 staging of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice set in southern California with a cast of black, white, Latino and Asian-American actors; a production of Euripides’ The Children of Herakles, focusing on contemporary immigration and refugee issues and experience; and, in 2009, Othello, inspired by and set in the America of newly elected President Barack Obama. Desdemona, Sellars’s recent collaboration with the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison and Malian composer and singer Rokia Traore, has been performed in Vienna, Brussels, Paris, Berkeley, New York, Berlin, Amsterdam and Naples, and was presented in London as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

Tickets for the 2014 season of the Stratford Festival go on sale to Members on November 11, 2013, and to the general public on January 4, 2014, with a special advance sale on Facebook beginning January 2.



 2014 Playbill Post 2


Press Release | Taking Shakespeare extended for second time

August 16, 2013… To meet popular demand, the Stratford Festival is pleased to announce a second extension of its production of John Murrell’s Taking Shakespeare, featuring Martha Henry and Luke Humphrey, and directed by Diana Leblanc.

Two matinée performances of Taking Shakespeare have been added to the 2013 schedule on Tuesday, September 24, and Friday, September 27. Tickets will go on sale to Members of the Stratford Festival on Saturday, August 17, and to the general public on Monday, August 19.

“Audiences have been so eager to see Taking Shakespeare that early demand for tickets caused us to add two performances to our schedule before the show even began previews,” says Executive Director Anita Gaffney. “It officially opened at the end of July and quickly became an even hotter ticket, with many performances selling out. I am delighted to offer our patrons additional opportunities to catch this outstanding production.”

A witty and compassionate celebration of the power of words, the play centres on an aging and disenchanted professor who begrudgingly agrees to tutor the university president’s son, Murph, who is floundering in his freshman English course and in his life. The professor is ready to give up before the end of the first session, until Murph asks for help with Othello – a play with special meaning for her. As they explore the text together, both draw new strength from Shakespeare’s extraordinary insights.

“The high demand for Taking Shakespeare is not only a testament to the incredible group of people involved in this production, but also proof positive that Shakespeare remains as appealing, relevant and valuable today as he was hundreds of years ago,” says Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino. “This play offers fascinating insight into Othello’s complex exploration of human nature and it is my hope that audiences will take advantage of this extension as an opportunity to see both plays and draw connections between them.”

Taking Shakespeare runs until September 27. For tickets, contact the box office at 1.800.567.1600 or visit

Production support is generously provided by Dr. David Goldbloom and Dr. Nancy Epstein.

Support for the 2013 season of the Studio Theatre is generously provided by the Parnassus Foundation, courtesy of Jane & Raphael Bernstein and Sandra & Jim Pitblado.

The Stratford Festival’s 2013 season runs until October 20, featuring Romeo and JulietFiddler on the RoofThe Three MusketeersThe Merchant of VeniceTommyBlithe SpiritOthelloMeasure for MeasureMary StuartWaiting for Godot and two new Canadian plays, Taking Shakespeare and The Thrill, along with more than 150 Forum events.


Promotional photos for Taking Shakespeare:

Media icons take part in the Festival’s July “Forum Foray”

July 4, 2013… The Stratford Festival is gearing up for its second “Forum Foray,” another supercharged week of fresh new performances, film screenings, provocative panels and talks by A-list guests. Following the season’s theme of community, many of this month’s events explore the idea of storytelling – at the heart of all drama – and its role in defining, challenging and changing communities. Offering more than a dozen exciting events, the Foray runs July 9 through 14.

Highlights of the week include: The Kind of Life It’s Been, in which acclaimed broadcaster Lloyd Robertson, in an interview with CTV National News correspondent Seamus O’Regan, looks at the stories that have shaped and changed his life, and his role in sharing those stories with the world; To 1982 and Back, in which award-winning broadcaster and best-selling author, Jian Ghomeshi, uses his book, 1982, to talk about growing up as a reluctant outsider in suburban Toronto and finding his way into the mainstream; and a Storytelling Workshop with First Nations storyteller James Adams, improvisational comedian Joanne O’Sullivan and actor and journalist Barbara Budd.

The Foray also includes The Playwright’s Crucible, an exhilarating performance in which Canadian playwright Carmen Aguirre inspires a director and five top-rate actors, including Festival favourite Stephen Ouimette, to create a new play right in front of the audience; a panel of Canadian playwrights, including Carmen Aguirre, Sky Gilbert and Djanet Sears discussing the drive to write and the theatrical forum in The Power of the Pen; and the second instalment of Geraint Wyn Davies Presents… “Wordplay”, in which he and members of the company will present Cardenio, Shakespeare’s “lost play”.

Also of note: a screening of An Unlikely Obsession: Churchill and the Jews; author Barbara Kyle on Elizabeth and Mary, Rival Queens; a panel discussion with directors Chris Abraham, Tim Carroll, Antoni Cimolino and Martha Henry; and Marlis Schweitzer on Fiddler on the Roof and the 1960s Generation Gap.

The week’s schedule of events includes:


Geraint Wyn Davies Presents… “Wordplay”: Cardenio  

Studio Theatre, 8 p.m.

Members of the company join host Geraint Wyn Davies for a dramatic reading of Shakespeare’s “lost play”. Based on an episode in Cervantes’Don QuixoteCardenio is a thrilling story of a friendship betrayed, disguise, dishonour and deceit played out in the heat and dust of Andalusia in 17th-century Spain.

Admission: $25.


Storytelling Workshop  

Factory163, 163 King Street, 10 a.m.

First Nations storyteller James Adams, improvisational comedian Joanne O’Sullivan and actor and journalist Barbara Budd share thoughts, traditions and approaches to finding the universal myths of your own life.

Admission: $50. (Pre-registration is required.)

Barbara Kyle: Elizabeth and Mary, Rival Queens: A Study of Leadership Lost and Won
Festival Theatre lobby, 11 a.m.
Barbara Kyle, author of the recently published Blood Between Queens, will sign books following her talk.

Admission: Free.

An Unlikely Obsession: Churchill and the Jews  

University of Waterloo Stratford Campus, 125 St. Patrick Street, 5:30 p.m.

A screening of a powerful documentary examining a neglected aspect of one of world history’s most renowned leaders: Winston Churchill’s relationship to Jews and Jewish issues. Drawing on a treasure trove of interviews, the film explores the origins, implications and results of this world leader’s commitment to his generation’s most vulnerable people. Join director Barry Avrich and producer Michael Levine for a discussion following the screening.

Admission: $20.


Fiddler on the Roof: Song and Dance

Festival Theatre Lobby, 10:30 a.m.
Find out what it’s like to be in a musical at the Stratford Festival. Company members Matthew Armet and Julia Juhas teach a song and dance from Fiddler on the Roof. No observers, please.

Admission: $30.

The Playwright’s Crucible  

Studio Theatre, 11 p.m.

With only a script outline and character descriptions, Canadian playwright Carmen Aguirre inspires director Varrick Grimes and five top-rate actors, Laura Condlln, André Morin, Stephen Ouimette, Anand Rajaram and Kaitlyn Riordan, to create a new play right in front of your eyes. Created by Joanne O’Sullivan.

Admission: $20.


Marlis Schweitzer: Breaking with Tradition: Fiddler on the Roof and the 1960s Generation Gap
Festival Theatre lobby, Friday, July 12, at 11 a.m.
Talk by Marlis Schweitzer, associate professor of theatre at York University.

Admission: Free.

Jian Ghomeshi: To 1982 and Back
Studio Theatre, 5:30 p.m.
Jian Ghomeshi, the host and co-creator of CBC’s cultural-affairs program Q, uses his national bestseller, 1982, as a jumping-off point, as he shares hilarious and poignant anecdotes and insights of his journey from outside to inside: growing up Persian in Thornhill to being an award-winning, internationally renowned media personality.

Admission: $20.


The Kind of Life It’s Been  

Tom Patterson Theatre, 10 a.m.

Stratford-born broadcaster Lloyd Robertson speaks to CTV National News correspondent Seamus O’Regan, one journalist to another, about his life behind the headlines and the world as he sees it now.

Admission: $20.

The Power of the Pen  

Festival Theatre Lobby, 5:30 p.m.

Some of Canada’s most political and prolific playwrights, including Carmen Aguirre (The Refugee Hotel, Something Fierce – winner of 2012 Canada Reads), Sky Gilbert (Ban This Show, The Emotionalists) and Djanet Sears (Harlem Duet, The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God), discuss the drive to write and the theatrical forum.

Admission: $10.


Reform It Altogether: Directing Shakespeare Today
Studio Theatre, Sunday, July 14, at 11 a.m.
A panel discussion with directors Chris Abraham, Tim Carroll, Antoni Cimolino and Martha Henry. Chair: Communications Director David Prosser.

Admission: $10.

Hollywoodism: Jews, Movies and the American Dream  

University of Waterloo Stratford Campus, 125 St. Patrick Street, 8 p.m.

Based on Neal Gabler’s best-selling book An Empire of Their Own, this award-winning feature-length documentary tells the story of the men who founded Hollywood. All were immigrants, or children of immigrants, who wanted to reinvent themselves as Americans. In the process, they reinvented America. Join co-creator Stuart Samuels for a post-screening chat.

Admission: $20.


Late Night with Lucy – Back by popular demand!  

Fridays, July 5 and 19, August 9 and 23, at 11:30 p.m.

Join Lucy Peacock for her second series of after-hours cabarets with special guest performers from the acting company and from behind the scenes.

Admission: $25.

Table Talk

Paul D. Fleck Marquee, Festival Theatre, 11:30 a.m.

Buffet lunch followed by a talk on one of this season’s productions. Must book 48 hours in advance.

Admission: $37.

July 9: Mary Stuart led by David G. John – SOLD OUT

July 11: Blithe Spirit led by Alexander Leggatt

July 19: Measure for Measure led by Graham Roebuck

July 25: Fiddler on the Roof led by Bill Rudman

Tales Under the Tent
Festival Theatre Grounds, Wednesdays, July 10 to August 21, from 1 to 1:30 p.m.
Gather under the tent for family fun! Stratford Public Library staff provide stories and activities related to the play on stage at the Festival Theatre that afternoon. Look for the tent on the Festival Theatre grounds between the Discovery Centre and Upper Queen’s Park. Suitable for families with children ages 6 to 12. Cancelled in the event of rain.

Admission: Free.

Star Talks

Festival Theatre lobby and Tom Patterson Theatre stage, directly following performances

Toronto Star theatre critic Richard Ouzounian interviews the stars, following matinée performances in July and August.

July 7: Graham Abbey, Jonathan Goad, Luke Humphrey and Mike Shara (The Three Musketeers, Festival Theatre lobby)

Admission: Free.

Festival Exhibition

104 Downie Street, Wednesdays through Sundays, June 5 to October 20

Explore Present and Past Productions of Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Measure for Measure and The Merchant of Venice. A vast selection of costumes, props and artefacts from our Archives are displayed in a beautiful museum-style venue, with talks with Festival artists on:

July 6: Susan Coyne

July 20: Carmen Grant and Tom Rooney

July 27: Sara Topham

Cost included in admission to the Exhibition.

Festival Theatre Tours

Festival Theatre, Wednesday to Sunday, June 5 to October 20, at 9:15 and 9:30 a.m.

Take this one-hour walking tour to see and hear about the magic of the theatre. Our knowledgeable guides will share stories and information about both the current and past seasons.

Admission: $8 per person; $6 students and seniors.

For tickets, contact the box office at 1.800.567.1600 or visit

The third and final “Forum Foray” is scheduled for August 9 to 18. Through debates, talks, concerts, comedy nights, hands-on workshops and more, The Forum offers theatregoers more ways to discover and examine the themes running through this season’s productions.

For those unable to attend, 15 of the over 150 Forum events will be available via Livestream:

Support for the inaugural season of The Forum is generously provided by Kelly and Michael Meighen and the Province of Ontario, in partnership with the University of Waterloo, with media sponsorship provided by The Walrus. Support for the Speakers Series is generously provided in memory of Dr. W. Philip Hayman.

The Festival’s new Toronto bus service Stratford Direct is now available twice daily on performance days for only $20 return. Reservations can be made through the box office.

Support for Stratford Direct is generously provided by The Peter Cundill Foundation.

The Stratford Festival’s 2013 season runs until October 20, featuring Romeo and JulietFiddler on the RoofThe Three MusketeersThe Merchant of VeniceTommyBlithe SpiritOthelloMeasure for MeasureMary StuartWaiting for Godot and two new Canadian plays, Taking Shakespeare and The Thrill, along with more than 150 Forum events.


Two performances of Taking Shakespeare added to meet demand

May 1, 2010… To meet the demand for tickets, the Stratford Festival is adding two performances of Taking Shakespeare, the John Murrell play featuring Martha Henry and Luke Humphrey, directed by Diana Leblanc.

The new performances have been scheduled for Saturday, September 14, at 8 p.m., and Wednesday, September 18, at 8 p.m. Taking Shakespeare begins previews on July 13 and runs until September 22, with the official opening set for July 30.

“John Murrell wrote the role of the Prof in Taking Shakespeare especially for Martha Henry, one of Canada’s most respected actors,” says Executive Director Anita Gaffney. “This is the first opportunity theatre-goers will have to see her in the role, so it’s no wonder tickets are being snapped up.”

Taking Shakespeare explores the relationship between an aging and disenchanted professor whose career is on the wane and a struggling student, who is also the son of the university president. A chasm of difference lies between them, yet as they delve into the text of Othello together, they draw new strength from Shakespeare’s extraordinary insights.

Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino programmed Taking Shakespeare as a complement to the 2013 production of Othello. In a season exploring a number of inter-connected themes, this is one example of how the playbill becomes more than the sum of its parts.

“By coupling these two plays, we offer our audiences an opportunity to make connections between one of the great classics and our life today, something that will allow the productions to resonate more deeply and personally with each patron,” says Mr. Cimolino.

Tickets for the additional performances of Taking Shakespeare, and all of the 2013 productions, are available by calling 1.800.567.1600 or visiting

Production support for Taking Shakespeare is generously provided by Dr. David Goldbloom and Dr. Nancy Epstein.

Support for the 2013 season of the Studio Theatre is generously provided by Jane and Raphael Bernstein and Sandra and Jim Pitblado.

The Stratford Festival’s 2013 season features Romeo and JulietFiddler on the RoofThe Three MusketeersThe Merchant of VeniceTommyBlithe SpiritOthelloMeasure for MeasureMary StuartWaiting for Godot and two new Canadian plays, Taking Shakespeare and The Thrill, along with more than 150 Forum events.


Celebrate the birthday Bard with an amazing deal!

Shakespeare’s 449th birthday is nearly upon us! On April 23 we’re celebrating the Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon with the launch of The Forum – a.k.a. the Shakespeare Slam – at Toronto’s Koerner Hall. Join us for an evening of irreverent and provocative entertainment featuring the outstanding talents of Adam Gopnik, Torquil Campbell and Rufus Wainwright. Ticket information and other details are available here.

As part of our birthday celebration, we’ll also have an amazing ticket offer for some of the Festival’s 2013 Shakespeare plays!

2013-FB-BdayBard Get A or B seats for any May or June performance of Romeo and Juliet or Measure for Measure for the cost of a C seat – that’s just $49! But you’ll have to hurry – this great offer is only available from April 23 at 12:01 a.m. until April 24 at midnight, and only using Stratford Social Ticketing on the Festival’s Facebook page.

What can you expect from Romeo and Juliet and Measure for Measure?

Director and Shakespeare aficionado Tim Carroll joins us this season to direct the most powerful love story ever told, Romeo and Juliet.  Mr. Carroll’s extensive work on original practice at the Globe theatre in London has been widely praised by critics and fans alike, and we’re thrilled to have him back at the Festival this season directing a period production of Romeo and Juliet (he also directed Peter Pan in 2010). Festival favourite Sara Topham will play Juliet alongside a new face this season, Daniel Briere as Romeo.

Learn more about Daniel in this exclusive interview!

Martha Henry makes her directorial return this season with Measure for Measure. Ms Henry’s film noir-inspired version of Measure will explore Shakespeare’s “problem” play in the world of 1940s Vienna. Measure’s star-studded cast includes Tom Rooney as Angelo, Stephen Ouimette as Lucio, Geraint Wyn Davies as Duke Vincentio and Carmen Grant in her break-out role as Isabella.

Read more about this year’s production of Measure for Measure.

To celebrate the birthday Bard with $49 tickets…

*Promotion not available on previously purchased tickets or in conjunction with any other offer. Offer is only redeemable through Stratford Social Ticketing on the Festival’s Facebook page and cannot be used to purchase A+ tickets. May expire without notice. Some conditions apply.

Meet D’Artagnan – Interview with Luke Humphrey

This week, we sat down with company member Luke Humphrey to talk about his upcoming roles at the Festival this year. In his third season, Luke will be taking centre stage, playing D’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers and Murph in Taking Shakespeare. Find out at bit more about your leading lad in this charming interview!

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Stratford Festival (SF): When did you first know that you wanted to be an actor?

Luke Humphrey (LH): Ever since I was a little kid I have enjoyed acting, but it was not till I was cast in my high school’s production of Romeo and Juliet that I fell head over heels in love with the craft. At the time I was focused on sports and music, and I was unsure about even auditioning. Finally, after a lot of thought, I decided to go for it, and I ended up being cast as Romeo. Doing that play changed my life. From that point on, it felt like the choice was out of my hands: acting was just something I had to do.

SF: This is your third season at the Festival and you’ll be performing two lead roles: D’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers and Murph in Taking Shakespeare. How does it feel to be taking centre stage?

LH: In all honesty, I’m a little nervous taking centre stage at a place as prestigious as Stratford, but what nerves I have are overshadowed by how giddy and excited I am for this season. This really is a dream come true for me. Not only do I get to tackle these amazing parts, I get to work with the most amazing and talented people – I could not be happier.

SF: The Three Musketeers is a much-loved and recognized story, and Taking Shakespeare is a relatively new work. As an actor, what excites you the most about working on a new play – and similarly, what excites you most about playing a role people know and love?

LH: With a role that people are familiar with, like D’Artagnan, there is always a little pressure to either compare yourself to or to replicate what has come before you. I think the key is to trust the material and the director and to discover the part as if it was the first time the play had ever been presented. That’s why we go and see great plays over and over again. We love seeing great stories told in a new way. Each production brings something new that we have never seen and helps to complicate and enrich our understanding of the story. Also, D’Artagnan is just so much fun. There is a reason the story and those characters have stayed with us: they are iconic and thrilling and somehow universal. It is an honour to try and bring these legends to life.

Taking Shakespeare has already proved such a thrilling experience for me. Being able to talk to the playwright, John Murrell, about the play as he is creating it and being able to read the different drafts as he shapes and hones the story is so exciting. I get to watch the characters and their journeys change and evolve as the story takes shape. In a new work there is a lot of freedom, which can both empowering and at times a little daunting, but overall it’s great to be able to take a new idea and breathe life into it. For me, that’s the thrill of being in the theatre: creating and sharing stories.

SF: Graham Abbey played D’Artagnan in 2000 and he’ll be playing alongside you as Athos in our upcoming production of The Three Musketeers. What does that mean for you as you create your version of the character?

LH: Trying to follow in the footsteps of Graham Abbey is quite the challenge, especially when he is there watching me! Luckily for me, Graham is a very supportive guy which should (hopefully) make things a little easier. I remember reading The Three Musketeers as a kid and running around with a fake sword in the backyard imagining I was D’Artagnan off on one of his adventures. I just love D’Artagnan’s attitude. He has this love for life and an insurmountable desire for adventure; it is contagious. For him, every challenge, every setback, every obstacle is an opportunity for something amazing. That, and the fact that he is incredibly dashing, honourable, brave, brilliant and daring all at once, makes him such an exciting and compelling character. This is an amazing opportunity for me to play out my childhood dream and hopefully bring some of that character that I fell in love with as a kid to life, to share with the audience.

SF: A lot of people are excited to see sword-fighting on stage in The Three Musketeers. Will this be your first time wielding a sword?

LH: I have a bit of experience with sword-fighting, mostly in college and in stage combat classes, but to prepare for the amount of sword-fighting in The Three Musketeers I started fencing and sword-combat training in my off-time. D’Artagnan is the best swordsman in France, he is a natural-born fighter, and he is legendary. I have to do my best to make sure I can fight up to his standards – not to mention show up the other Musketeers.

SF: You participated in the Festival’s Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre, led by Martha Henry, and now you’ll be acting alongside her in the two-hander Taking Shakespeare. How do you feel the Conservatory has helped you as an actor, and how does it feel to be taking the stage with Ms Henry?

LH: I don’t think I would have the confidence in myself and my work to take on this season if it was not for my time at the Birmingham Conservatory. It was actually Martha Henry who taught me the most valuable lesson I learned about acting. She taught me that I could bring myself to a part: not try to make it something but allow myself to discover, not impose, what is there in the script and to trust in what I find. That being said, working opposite Martha Henry is intimidating, I mean, she is a legend. I guess I just have to take her advice and trust myself.

Just for fun…

SF: If you could have dinner with any three people, living or dead, whom would you invite?

LH: Chef Ferran Adria for sure, but he would also have to cook the dinner. Comedian George Carlin; not sure how happy he would be to be back from the dead or about the state of world, but I would sure love to hear him rant about it. After a couple bottles of wine, I would imagine Giacomo Casanova would have some pretty interesting stories to tell, so I would have to go with him for the third.

SF: The most-played song on your iPod is…

LH: “Wolf Like Me,” by TV on the Radio.

SF: Any guilty pleasures?

LH: Butter tarts and board games. I really love board games.


How do you become a Musketeer? Take our crash course before seeing our upcoming production of The Three Musketeers!