Celebrate 60 at the Festival one more time!

by Lisa Middleton

We can’t believe that there are only ten days left in our 2012 season – but that doesn’t mean there isn’t time to join us for one or two last hoorahs! With 25 performances left, you can enjoy one of these brilliant 60th season productions: The Matchmaker, Much Ado About Nothing, 42nd Street, The Pirates of Penzance and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

There’s always something special about the final performances of a run – the energy is great. I love coming to these performances to see how a show matures over the season, and I am always pleasantly surprised. Since it will be five long months until I see another production on the Festival’s stages, I always make sure I soak up every last second of the fun!

Here are a few of the moments I am excited to experience one last time before we bid our 60th season adieu on October 28.

  1. Taking my daughter to see You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown one last time!  We’ve become Peanuts-obsessed at chez Middleton this season!

  2. Enjoying a performance of The Matchmaker on October 25 with our fabulous social media followers. Want to join us? Click here to get $20.12 tickets and to join me and our Social Marketing Coordinator, Christi Rutledge, at our pre-show reception – good food, good friends and lots of laughs thanks to The Matchmaker!

  3. Getting to meet those “dancing feet” again! I love a good musical and I love tap dancing, and the cast of 42nd Street deliver both amazingly well.

  4. Watching real-life married couple Ben Carlson and Deb Hay fall in love on stage as the feuding foes Benedick and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing.

  5. Listening to the wonderfully funny songs of The Pirates of Penzance ! I’ll be there tomorrow with my daughter – if you’re in the audience I’d love to meet you at intermission, just tweet to me at @stratfest!

There’s still time before the curtain closes, folks! I’ll see you at the theatre!

p.s. If you’re not able to make it, you still have 10 days to enjoy all of the wonderful production footage we have posted on our YouTube channel!


Backstage at the Festival – Part II!

by Lisa Middleton

AHOY, MATEY!  Cap’n Lisa Middleton here fer’yer backstage voyage – part two!

Earlier this season we took you on a backstage tour of the Festival Theatre, if you missed the first part of the tour catch up here. It’s time to finish the tour, so let’s pick up where we left off…

The bijoux room! We have an incredibly talented group of people working to create all of the beautiful jewelry and ornamentation that you see on stage – from earrings, to rings, to necklaces, to the fine details that you see on hats, gloves and hairpieces!

And we have just about everything a girl could wish for when it comes to earrings!

Gigantic ring, anyone? And believe me, there are lots more!

Sorry. Button break! Let’s move on!

One of my favourite places backstage is the millinery room! When we say that we do it all here in Stratford, we really mean it! From the heels of the boots to the feathers on top of the hats, we’re making it all in-house – sized to fit!

Do you recognize these hats from Pirates and 42nd Street ?

I tried my hand in the dye room – a vat of vino? Nope, we’re cooking t-shirts today!

And the finished product:

 See if you can recognize any of the shoes from our 2012 season in the photos below:

I thought I would try making a pair of shoes… they kicked me out pretty quickly!

Gorgeous…  When can they custom-make me a pair?

Let’s move back to the prop shop!

So lifelike – and yet, no odour!

Served on a silver platter twice weekly at the Harmonia Gardens Hotel, on the set of The Matchmaker!
 If only this were made of actual silver.  Then I’d be in the money!

Our properties assistants are amazing at making something that looks very heavy feel very light! Ahhh, the magic of theatre!

The ladies of 42nd Street are oh-so syncrohnized in the “Dames” scene!  Me, not so much.
Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, “a pat on the back.”

These shields from Cymbeline are built for battle – and they’re heavy. Kudos to the actors who carry them!

One of my favourite props from the season is this steampunk-inspired “boat” from The Pirates of Penzance!

And that brings us to end of the tour – and the end for this unfortunate fellow, as well!
Thanks for joining me backstage at the Festival! Don’t forget to come see all of these amazing pieces on stage before they’re gone forever!

Have you been backstage at the Festival before?

Beyond the Stage: Festival Friday Chats | Late Night with Gilbert and Sullivan

by Madeleine Brown

I’m more early bird than night owl, but when the opportunity arises to have a late-night chat with some of the company members in Stratford’s production of The Pirates of Penzance, I’m willing to push my bedtime back.

Festival Friday Chats are free 30-minute post-show Q&A periods with the cast members of Festival productions. It’s the ideal opportunity to get the insider scoop on the show you just watched – or, in my case, a little late night entertainment. (You don’t have to have been to the performance to attend.)

I arrive in the Chalmers Lounge at the Avon Theatre by 10:00 p.m., suitably dressed in my blue starred pajama bottoms. The production’s finale is traveling through the auditorium into the Lounge. Curling up in one of the white leather armchairs, I think, I’ll just close my eyes for a second…

The theatre doors burst open, and I almost burst out of my seat.

The empty chairs arranged in the Chalmers Lounge fill in. Four cast members are close behind the crowd: Jennifer Stewart, Ayrin Mackie, Geoffrey Tyler and Kyle Blair.

Aside from an Avon Theatre usher keeping time on the sidelines, there’s no barrier between us and the company members. The cast is lively and energetic, and the audience is just as excited. They ask questions till a group conversation forms. My sleepiness is fading – I might just be able to pull off this late-night routine.

Mr. Blair tells us his favourite part of the show is singing “Oh, is there not one maiden breast?” to the female chorus.

“The girls are so present and there is such a feeling of ensemble,” he says.

Ms Mackie laughs, “Well it’s easy when you have someone wonderful like Kyle singing to you.”

An audience member asks the cast to define steampunk, the style on which the production’s design is based. They can tell us now, but admit they didn’t know what it was when they began rehearsing. (FYI Steampunk is inspired by 19th-century design, with added mechanical elements. Props specialist Eric Ball describes it in the video below.)

We also talk about things like the Festival’s audition and rehearsal processes, and the actors’ lives outside the Festival.

The event is truly a ‘chat.’ It’s relaxed, casual and completely open. I’ve had such a good time that by the end of it all at 10:30 p.m., I’ve forgotten that my usual bedtime has come and gone.

However, I head straight to bed when I get home, falling asleep to the sounds of Pirates:

“Hush, hush, not a word!”

Festival Friday Chats are free half-hour Q&A sessions with members of the Festival acting company. They occur following selected evening performances at their respective theatres on Friday nights in July and August. Join us for our upcoming chats with company members of The Matchmaker, The Pirates of Penzance, and Much Ado About Nothing! Dates and theatres are listed on our website.

Festival marks anniversary with opening of Henry V

July 9, 2012… The Stratford Shakespeare Festival continues to mark its 60th season this week with the world premières of three Canadian plays and the opening of Artistic Director Des McAnuff’s production of Henry V. The Festival has been heralded recently throughout North America as a top destination for travel and culture, giving it even more reason to celebrate.

Henry V, featuring Aaron Krohn in the title role, will open on Friday, July 13, the Festival’s anniversary. Wednesday sees the opening of Wanderlust, a new musical commissioned by the Festival from Morris Panych and Marek Norman, based on the poetry of Robert Service. Daniel MacIvor’s new play The Best Brothers, workshopped at the Festival and directed by Associate Artistic Director Dean Gabourie, opens Thursday afternoon, followed that evening by Hirsch, which celebrates the life and career of former Artistic Director John Hirsch. Developed at Stratford over the past three years, Hirsch was created and conceived by Alon Nashman and Paul Thompson.

“One of my proudest achievements at the Festival is to have mounted a celebratory 60th season that features Canadian works in such abundance,” says Mr. McAnuff, who concludes his tenure as Artistic Director at the end of 2012 and was recently appointed to the Order of Canada. “Fully 50 per cent of the productions on our playbill this year are written by Canadians. They represent an enormous range of dramatic genres, showcasing the talent that has developed in Canada’s rich theatrical landscape since the founding of the Festival 60 years ago.”

“This second round of openings heralds the beginning of the summer season in Stratford,” says General Director Antoni Cimolino, who has been named the Festival’s next Artistic Director. “We have recently been showcased as a top destination by a number of influential media outlets, establishing even further the appeal of this idyllic city. We hope people recognize what an ideal vacation spot Stratford is and include a visit to the Festival in their holiday plans. This year’s productions have won critical acclaim across the board and have been delighting audiences since the season began in April.”

Inspired by the success of Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway, The New York Times visited Stratford this spring and trumpeted the joys of the city and the Festival in its travel section in June. NPR (National Public Radio) in the U.S. has chosen to include Stratford in a feature of five significant cultural destinations in North America, the only one in Canada. Frommer’s included Stratford as a Top 10 Canadian Summer Vacation Destination; Reader’s Digest featured Stratford in its Top 10 Canadian Road Trips; and Trip Advisor named Stratford one of Canada’s Top 10 Cultural Destinations. Stratford has also been chosen as an iconic Canadian experience for travel writer Robin Esrock’s upcoming book The Great Canadian Bucket List.

Next to open this season is A Word or Two, written, arranged and performed by Christopher Plummer, which is being presented as a special 60th season event. Directed by Mr. McAnuff, the production, which begins previews on July 25 and opens August 2, is an autobiographical journey through the literature that has stirred the actor’s imagination since youth. Mr. Plummer, who this year won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for his performance in the film Beginners, is one of the Festival’s most lauded alumni, first appearing at Stratford in 1956 in the title role of Henry V. This will be the third collaboration between Mr. Plummer and Mr. McAnuff at the Festival; their first two projects, Caesar and Cleopatra, in which Mr. Plummer played Julius Caesar, and The Tempest, in which he played Prospero, have also been captured on film for cinematic release.

The season’s final offering, Sophokles’ Elektra, translated by Canadian poet Anne Carson, will open August 11, featuring Yanna McIntosh in the title role and Seana McKenna as Clytemestra.

In addition to Henry V, the season features two other Shakespeares – Cymbeline, directed by Mr. Cimolino, which is being praised as one of the finest ever productions of this challenging classic, and Much Ado About Nothing. Three musicals are also on stage – 42nd Street, The Pirates of Penzance, and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown – as well as Thornton Wilder’s comedy The Matchmaker, which is being hailed as the feel-good show of the year. The War of 1812, by Canadian playwright Michael Hollingsworth, opened on Canada Day, and MacHomer, created and performed by Rick Miller, enjoyed a limited engagement at Stratford in May.

The Festival marked its 60th season by publishing Stratford Behind the Scenes, a full-colour book that reveals the complexities of season planning and captures the superb artistry carried out by the Festival’s costumes, props, sets and wigs departments. An ebook of Stratford Behind the Scenes will be launched this summer.

An archival exhibition, Most Rare Visions: 60 Years of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, is open to the public daily at 104 Downie Street, across from the Avon Theatre. It features costumes, unique artefacts and props, plus rare footage and new interviews with key players in the Festival’s history

Since its founding 60 years ago, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival has welcomed more than 25 million visitors. Originally conceived as an economic stimulus for the community, the Festival now generates about $140 million in economic activity annually. It employs 1,000 people and creates 3,000 full-year jobs.

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s 2012 season runs until October 28. To purchase tickets, visit www.stratfordshakespearefestival.com or call 1.800.567.1600.

Happy Birthday, Frederic!

By: Lisa Middleton

If any of you know the story of The Pirates of Penzance, you’ll know that February 29 is a very important date in the show! Frederic, one of the title characters, was apprenticed as a child to a band of tenderhearted pirates. Upon turning 21, Frederic rejoices that he has finally fulfilled his indentures and is now free to return to respectable society. But it turns out that he was born on February 29 – a leap year – and he remains apprenticed to the pirates until his 21st birthday. What will poor Frederic do?

To celebrate leap day, we have a special one-(and a bit)-day deal for you!

We’re offering $29 tickets to any performance on the 29th day of any month of the season. Hurry, though – this promotion is only available for 29 hours from February 28, 2012 at 7 p.m. to February 29, 2012 at 11:59 p.m.!* To redeem this online promotion, log in to our website using promotion code 42603.

What’s playing on the 29th? 
May 29: You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Cymbeline and 42nd Street
June 29: 42nd Street (PROMO PRICE SOLD OUT), You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, The Matchmaker, Wanderlust and Hirsch
July 29: Much Ado About Nothing, Elektra and Hirsch
August 29: Much Ado About Nothing, The Pirates of Penzance (PROMO PRICE SOLD OUT), Hirsch, Cymbeline and The Best Brothers
September 29: 42nd Street, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Elektra, Henry V and The Pirates of Penzance (PROMO PRICE SOLD OUT)

Find out more about our 2012 playbill and take a look behind the scenes on our YouTube channel and our Flickr page!

Fun fact: Did you know that 2012 will be the fourth time that The Pirates of Penzance will appear at the Festival?  Take a look at some photos of past productions of this much-loved Gilbert and Sullivan show!

*Promotion is not available on special 60th season performances, including A Word or Two and The War of 1812. Promotion is not available on already discounted tickets, including Family Experience, TiXX and PlayOn. Tickets are non-refundable, subject to availability and only available online in A, B and C seating zones.

C. David Johnson returns for major roles in Pirates, 42nd Street | Jennifer Rider-Shaw to play Peggy Sawyer in 42nd Street

January 23, 2012… The Stratford Shakespeare Festival is pleased to announce that C. David Johnson, currently starring on Broadway in Priscilla Queen of the Desert, will return to the Festival for the 60th season.

Mr. Johnson was last seen at Stratford in 2001, when he played Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music opposite Cynthia Dale’s Maria. The two, who also starred as lovers on the popular CBC TV series Street Legal from 1987 to 1994, will be reunited in 42nd Street, as Pat Denning and Dorothy Brock.

Mr. Johnson will also play Major-General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance.

In his 30-year career, which began at Theatre New Brunswick, Mr. Johnson has appeared in numerous television series and on stages throughout Canada, including as Patrick Flanagan in Jitters, and Davison in Mary Stuart at Soulpepper; George Love in Tryst at the Segal Centre; and Helmut Schmidt in Democracy at Tarragon. He first appeared at Stratford in 1984, playing Speed in The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Poins in Henry IV, Part I. He is currently playing Bob in the Broadway production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

Mr. Johnson will be joined in 42nd Street by Jennifer Rider-Shaw, who will play Peggy Sawyer. Ms Rider-Shaw made her Stratford debut in 2010, appearing in Kiss Me, Kate and Evita, followed by Jesus Christ Superstar and Camelot last season. A graduate of Sheridan’s music theatre performance program, Ms Rider-Shaw was a contestant on CBC’s Triple Sensation, for which Cynthia Dale was a judge. She has also appeared in Ross Petty’s Robin Hood, Drayton Entertainment’s The Wizard of Oz, and Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story at Theatre Aquarius.

As previously announced, 42nd Street – directed by Gary Griffin – will also feature Sean Arbuckle as Julian Marsh and Kyle Blair as Billy Lawlor, with Naomi Costain as Anytime Annie, Kyle Golemba as Andy Lee, Gabrielle Jones as Maggie, and Geoffrey Tyler as Bert Barry.

The Pirates of Penzance – directed by Ethan McSweeny – will also feature Sean Arbuckle as the Pirate King, Kyle Blair as Frederic and Amy Wallis as Mabel Stanley, with Gabrielle Jones as Ruth and Steve Ross as the Sergeant of Police, as previously announced.

Production co-sponsors for 42nd Street are The Dominion of Canada General Insurance Company and Union Gas.

Production co-sponsor for The Pirates of Penzance is RBC. Production support is generously provided by Dr. Dennis and Dorothea Hacker.

Support for the 2012 season has been provided by the Canada Council, the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund and the Ontario Arts Council.

Tickets are now on sale for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s 2012 season, which features 14 productions presented from April 12 to October 28: Much Ado About Nothing; 42nd Street; The Matchmaker; Henry V; You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown; The Pirates of Penzance; A Word or Two; Cymbeline; Wanderlust; Elektra; MacHomer; The Best Brothers; Hirsch; and The War of 1812. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit stratfordshakespearefestival.com or call 1.800.567.1600.


What I’ll be taking my four-year-old to this season!

By: Lisa Middleton

Theatre has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Maybe it’s genetics, but my four-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Charlotte, has the theatre bug, too –  and having family-friendly productions to attend has made this art form come alive for her! I love watching the excitement and wonder in her eyes when she sees Brent Carver as Merlyn disappearing into the sky in Camelot and hearing her laughter when Stephen Ouimette sneaks across stage as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night.

As we approach our 60th season (which starts this April!), I’m getting more and more excited to share these productions with Charlotte:

  • You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. This wonderful show is being presented by Schulich Children’s Plays. It’s full of humour that she and I can both enjoy, as well as music and lyrics that we’ll be singing for years to come. We’ve already purchased the soundtrack and are gearing up for our big night out. We did the same thing with Jesus Christ Superstar, and within weeks Charlotte had memorized every lyric. She loved the show so much that we ended up seeing it six times! I’m expecting the same reaction to Charlie Brown.

Here’s a great video of our Artistic Director, Des McAnuff, and our General Director, Antoni Cimolino, discussing this must-see family production.

  • The Pirates of Penzance. This will be Charlotte’s very first time seeing a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. Given that she loves pirate shows and musicals (she saw Kiss Me, Kate when she was two and Peter Pan and Camelot when she was three), The Pirates of Penzance will undoubtedly sweep her off her feet.
  • Much Ado About Nothing. I can’t wait to take Charlotte to her second Shakespeare play. Last season we attended Twelfth Night together; I was a bit nervous that my four-year-old wouldn’t be able to sit still for three hours, but she proved me wrong. She’s fallen in love with Shakespeare at an early age and I am thrilled!

To prepare for this production Charlotte and I will read Lois Burdett’s  Shakespeare Can Be Fun: Much Ado About Nothing. It’s a fabulous resource for all parents interested in sharing Shakespeare with their children!

Going to the theatre is a really special family activity that creates wonderful memories. Did your parents or your school take you to see any live productions when you were young?