Stratford Festival

The Stratford Festival is a theatre festival which runs from April to October in the city of Stratford, Ontario, Canada.[1] Founded by local journalist Tom Patterson in 1952, the festival was formerly known as the Stratford Shakespearean Festival, the Shakespeare Festival and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. The festival was one of the first arts festivals in Canada and continues to be one of its most prominent. It is recognized worldwide for its productions of Shakespearean plays.

Stratford Festival
The Festival Theatre
GenreRepertory Theatre Festival
DatesApril to October
Location(s)Stratford, Ontario, Canada
Years active1953–present

The festival's primary focus is to present productions of William Shakespeare's plays, but it also runs a wide variety of theatre from Greek tragedy to Broadway-style musicals and contemporary works. In the early years of the festival, Shakespeare's works typically represented about a third of the offerings in the largest venue, the Festival Theatre. By 2017, however, only three of the 14 productions were Shakespeare's works.[2]

The success of the festival changed Stratford into a city where arts and tourism play important roles in the economy. The festival attracts many tourists from outside Canada, most notably British and American visitors.


The Festival was founded as the Stratford Shakespearean Festival of Canada, by Tom Patterson, a Stratford-native journalist who wanted to revitalize his town's economy by creating a theatre festival dedicated to the works of William Shakespeare, as the town shares the name of Shakespeare's birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Stratford was a railway junction and major locomotive shop, and was facing a disastrous loss of employment with the imminent elimination of steam power.[3] Patterson achieved his goal after gaining encouragement from Mayor David Simpson and the local council,[3][4] and the Stratford Shakespearean Festival became a legal entity on October 31, 1952.

Already established in Canadian theatre, Dora Mavor Moore helped put Patterson in touch with British actor and director Tyrone Guthrie, first with a transatlantic telephone call.[5] On July 13, 1953, actor Alec Guinness spoke the first lines of the first play produced by the festival, a production of Richard III: "Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this son of York."[6][7] Alec Guinness and Irene Worth were among the cast of Stratford's inaugural performance of Richard III, working for expenses only.[3][8]

This first performances (like the entire first four seasons) took place in a concrete amphitheatre covered by giant canvas tent on the banks of the River Avon. The first of many years of Stratford Shakespeare Festival production history started with a six-week season opening on 13 July 1953 with Richard III and then All's Well That Ends Well both starring Alec Guinness. The 1954 season ran for nine weeks and included Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and two Shakespeare plays, Measure for Measure and The Taming of the Shrew. Young actors during the first four seasons included several who went on to great success in subsequent years, Douglas Campbell, Timothy Findley, Don Harron, William Hutt and Douglas Rain.[9]

Fund raising to build a permanent theatre was slow but was helped significantly by donations from Governor General Vincent Massey and the Perth Mutual Insurance Company. The new Festival Theatre was dedicated on 30 June 1957, with seating for over 1,800 people; none are more than 65 feet from the stage. The design was deliberately intended to resemble a huge tent.[9] That season's productions included Hamlet, Twelfth Night, the satirical My Fur Lady, The Turn of the Screw and Ibsen's Peer Gynt.

The Festival Theatre's thrust stage was designed by British designer Tanya Moiseiwitsch to resemble both a classic Greek amphitheatre and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, and has become a model for other stages in North America and Great Britain.[10][11]

Tony Award-nominee Scott Wentworth has performed within the festival's stage productions on numerous occasions since 1985, beginning with The Glass Menagerie,[12] the festival has helped Sara Topham found herself with a career in acting, performing from 2000 to 2011,[13] and a young, unknown Christopher Walken appeared in Stratford's 1968 stage productions of Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream, portraying Romeo and Lysander respectively.[14]

Long-serving Artistic Director Richard Monette retired in 2007 after holding the position for fourteen seasons. He was replaced with an artistic team consisting of General Director Antoni Cimolino and Artistic Directors Marti Maraden, Des McAnuff, and Don Shipley. On March 12, 2008 it was announced that Shipley and Maraden would be stepping down, leaving Des McAnuff as sole Artistic Director.[15] In 2013 Des McAnuff was replaced by Antoni Cimolino as Artistic Director[16]

As of 2012, the Festival was in a deficit of $3.4 million, but had a surplus of $3.1 million by 2015, under the control of Cimolino and executive director Anita Gaffney. They had not yet reached the target of a half million ticket sales for the season (a previous record) but had achieved a significant increase in the number of new patrons to the theatres.[17]

The 2018 season offers a wide range of productions.[18] Those at the Festival Theatre include The Tempest, Julius Caesar, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Music Man. Two other Shakespeare plays, Coriolanus and The Comedy of Errors are joined by Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband and Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night.[19]

On 17 February 2015, AP News reported that the Stratford Shakespeare Festival plans to film all of Shakespeare's plays.[20]

Well known actors who have participated in the festival include Alan Bates, Brian Bedford, Martha Burns, Jackie Burroughs, Zoe Caldwell, Douglas Campbell, Len Cariou, Brent Carver, Patricia Conolly, Jack Creley, Jonathan Crombie, Hume Cronyn, Henry Czerny, Cynthia Dale, Brian Dennehy, Colm Feore, Megan Follows, Maureen Forrester, Lorne Greene, Dawn Greenhalgh, Paul Gross, Alec Guinness, Amelia Hall, Uta Hagen, Julie Harris, Don Harron, Martha Henry, William Hutt, Frances Hyland, Charmion King, Andrea Martin, Barbara March, James Mason, Roberta Maxwell, Eric McCormack, Seana McKenna, Loreena McKennitt, Richard Monette, John Neville, Stephen Ouimette, Lucy Peacock, Nicholas Pennell, David J. Phillips, Amanda Plummer, Christopher Plummer, Sarah Polley, Douglas Rain, Kate Reid, Jason Robards, Alan Scarfe, Paul Scofield, Goldie Semple, William Shatner, Maggie Smith, Jessica Tandy, Peter Ustinov, Christopher Walken, Al Waxman, Irene Worth, Geraint Wyn Davies and Janet Wright.[21]

Female directors at Stratford include Pam Brighton, Zoe Caldwell, Marigold Charlseworth, Donna Feore, Jill Keiley, Pamela Hawthorne, Martha Henry, Jeannette Lambermont, Diana Leblanc, Marti Maraden, Weyni Mengesha, Carey Perloff, Lorraine Pintal, Vanessa Porteous, Susan H. Schulman, Djanet Sears, Kathryn Shaw, Jennifer Tarver.


The Festival runs from April to October, and has four permanent venues: the Festival Theatre, the Avon Theatre, the Tom Patterson Theatre (currently under construction in time for the 2020 season[22]), and the Studio Theatre. Although the Festival's primary mandate is to produce the works of Shakespeare, its season playbills include a variety of classical and contemporary works and at least one musical.

The Stratford Festival Forum runs during the season, and features music concerts, readings from major authors, lectures, and discussions with actors or management.

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival is an industry partner of the University of Waterloo Stratford Campus.[23]

Artistic Directors

Executive Directors/General Managers

  • Victor Polley
  • William Wylie
  • Bruce Swerdfager
  • Gary Thomas
  • Mary Hofstetter
  • Antoni Cimolino
  • Anita Gaffney

2019 season

For the 2019 season, Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino has chosen 12 productions that explore the theme of Breaking Boundaries

2020 season (announced)

The 2020 season marks the opening of the Tom Patterson Theatre Centre.

See also


  1. Canadian Encyclopedia - Stratford Festival
  2. "WHAT'S ON". Stratford Festival. Stratford Festival. 2016. Retrieved 6 March 2017. DISCOVER OUR 2017 PLAYBILL
  3. "Obit: Tom Patterson". Telegraph. London, UK. 25 February 2005. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  4. Carolynn Bart-Riedstra and Lutzen H. Riedstra (1999). Stratford: Its Heritage and Its Festival. James Lorimer & Company. p. 57.
  5. "The Unlikeliest Idea". Stratford Festival. 2016. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  6. J. Alan B. Somerset. 1991. The Stratford Festival Story, 1st edition. Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-313-27804-4
  7. Tom Patterson. 1987. First Stage. McClelland and Stewart. ISBN 978-0-7710-6949-9
  8. Middleton, Lisa (10 July 2012). "Celebrate our 60th season with 1953 pricing!".
  9. "Our Timeline". Stratford Festival. Stratford Festival. 2012. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  10. Tyrone Guthrie. 1959. A Life in the Theatre. McGraw Hill. ISBN 978-0-86287-381-3
  11. Martin Hunter. Romancing the Bard: Stratford at Fifty. Dundurn Press. 2001. ISBN 978-1-55002-363-3
  12. Urquhart, Bruce (25 May 2013). "The challenges and rewards of repertory theatre". The Beacon Herald.
  13. Wilson, Gemma (10 February 2011). "Earnest Ingenue Sara Topham on the Generosity of Gavin Creel and Getting to Know All About Julie Andrews".
  14. Webb, Rebecca (18 February 1998). "Christopher Walken at Stratford".
  15. Posner, Michael (March 14, 2008). "All does not end well at Stratford". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on 2008-03-15.
  16. Stratford Festival vet Antoni Cimolino to take over for Des McAnuff
  17. Nestruck, J. Kelly (19 March 2016). "Stratford Festival 'back on track' with attendance boost, surplus in 2015". Globe and Mail. Toronto. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  18. "WHAT'S ON". Stratford Festival. Stratford Festival. 2017. Retrieved 21 November 2017. DISCOVER OUR PLAYBILL
  19. West, Ian (22 August 2017). "Stratford Festival to stage The Rocky Horror Show as part of 2018 season". Globe and Mail. Toronto. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  20. Kennedy, Mark (17 February 2015). "Stratford Festival plans to film all Shakespeare's plays". AP News. Retrieved 17 February 2015.
  21. Canadian Encyclopedia - Stratford Festival
  22. Williams, Patricia (February 16, 2018). "Stratford's new Tom Patterson Theatre to be a showstopper". Daily Commercial News. Retrieved September 12, 2019.
  23. "Industry Partnerships". University of Waterloo. Archived from the original on 16 April 2014. Retrieved 24 April 2014.

Further reading

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