Outside the city, Southern Ontario houses two hugely popular theatre festivals: the Shaw Festival (in Niagara-on-the-Lake) and the Stratford Festival (in its namesake city). Both have their origins in the classics but have since expanded to include more contemporary work, which they bring to life with vast, highly skilled acting ensembles. And though many think they only appeal to the grey-haired demographic, they’re working to change that: both have under-$30 round-trip Toronto buses and reasonably priced student tickets to boot. Here’s what’s worth making the trip for:
While Stratford’s Shakespeare productions tend to leave the bard’s text pretty intact, this “revolutionary adaptation” set at Studio 54 in the late 1970s will use text from sources other than the play — always a welcome choice. And with brilliant actor Stephen Jackman-Torkoff taking on the long, flowery speeches of the title king, this Jillian Keiley-directed production seems sure to excite.
Indigenous multi-hyphenate Frances Koncan’s comedy about three 19th-century women chatting about Louis Riel in the vernacular of present- day teenagers won the Toronto Fringe Best New Play Contest back in 2018. Now it’ll be on one of Canada’s most prominent stages, in a production marking the Stratford directorial debut of Canadian theatre giant Yvette Nolan. Big news on all fronts.
Peter Hinton-Davis is one of the country’s best directors, and he’s returning to Shaw with an intriguing project: a 1901 play by Age of Innocence author Edith Wharton that was only discovered in 2017. Gillian Gallow and Bonnie Beecher, who worked on the director’s last two Canadian Opera Company projects, will design.
Another work by an author better known as a novelist, this Harlem-set James Baldwin drama is getting brought to life by Shaw’s associate artistic director, Kimberley Rampersad. There’s music, too: the huge cast, many of whom are making their Festival debuts, will punctuate Baldwin’s incendiary prose with gospel choir harmonies.