By JOSH WEISBERG
Having successfully outbid the competition at the Theatre For A New Audience Gala silent auction for a Stratford Festival ticket package, we scheduled a trip in August to see two productions and take part in a backstage tour. As first-time attendees of this well-established theater festival, we were eager to see whether it lived up to its good reputation. We’re happy to report that our experience did even more than that.
Created back in 1952 by a local entrepreneur, Stratford has grown into one of the world’s largest and best attended theatre festivals, seating more than 400,000 theatregoers every year. Over the course of six months, Stratford presents as many as twelve plays or musicals each year; judging from what we experienced and heard from others, the quality is uniformly high.
During our drive up, we stopped in Aurora, a small lakeside town in the Finger Lakes region, as well as Niagara-on-the-Lake. Both were resplendent in their summer attire and well worth visiting. If you’re a true glutton, you can take in more theatre at the GB Shaw festival, which is staged in NOTL during August. We limited our viewing to the unbelievable flower beds located throughout the town (see video).
For our two-day stay in Stratford, we had two Shakespeare productions, two musicals (Billy Elliot and Little Shop of Horrors), and three contemporary plays to choose from. We chose Othello and a new play called Mother’s Daughter by Kate Henning. Many visitors stay an entire week and see all twelve plays, but that’s a bit too hardcore for us. The two shows we attended were very well conceived and executed with high production values and excellent acting.
As it is a repertory festival, the productions are swapped out on a daily basis with incredible rapidity. For example, the main stage will turn a Little Shop of Horrors production into Othello in just a few hours. Actors also swap roles throughout the season, and our Othello was scheduled to play a role in Noel Coward’s Private Lives the following day. How the actors are able to keep track of their lines with the multiplicity of roles they play is beyond me.
However they do it, they do it well. We were impressed by the creativity and the quality of the productions and, during a backstage tour, received some insight into the process. A big part of the festival’s success is based on doing almost all the production work in-house and that includes costumes, scenery, millenary and wig-making. The tour of the costume shop showed the extent of the preparations for each character and actor, even to the extent of custom fitting each costume to the actor, or, in some cases, fitting the actor to the costume, as evidenced by the inventory of spare arms and “bums” on display.
Josh Weisberg co-founded WorldStages and Scharff Weisberg, Inc. He is now at Navolo Audio-Video. Josh is technical advisor to The Brief Chronicles.