Stratford Festival



  • The summer drama and music festival held annually in Stratford,Ontario. The first summer Shakespeare Festival was held in 1952 underthe direction of Tyrone Guthrie and the designer Tanya Moiseiwitschwho created a temporary theater featuring an Elizabethan open stageunder a canvas roof. The event subsequently expanded into a majorshowcase for classical drama, with concerts, opera, and a film festivalbeing added later.

    In 1956 Guthrie handed over control to another Englishman,Michael Langham, whose first presentation was Henry V starringChristopher Plummer. The following year an innovative permanent theaterwas built featuring a semicircular auditorium and the world's largestopen stage. Despite the size of the theater an intimate atmosphereis retained since no seat is more than 65 feet from the stage. A tent-likeeffect was created by having girders reach up to the conical rooflike the spokes of a wheel. The design has been the inspiration fornew theaters in New York, London, Minneapolis, Chichester, and othercities. In 1963 the Festival opened a second theater, the Avon, aproscenium design that seats 1100.

    The Canadians Jean Gascon and John Hirsch succeeded Langhamin 1968 and began an ambitious expansion. Plays by Ben Jonson andJohn Webster were added to the repertoire, together with less familiarShakespeare works, such as Cymbeline and Pericles. Gasconserved alone from 1969 until 1974 and in 1971 opened an experimentalvenue, the Third Stage (now the Tom Patterson). The Festival company toured worldwide and in 1978 completed its ambition of presenting all of Shakespeare'splays with a production of Titus Andronicus.

    When Gascon resigned in 1974, the young English director RobinPhillips was appointed to succeed him, provoking a storm of nationalisticprotest. He resigned in 1980 and after bitter infighting within theselection committee, John Hirsch became artistic director. Many leadingactors protested and boycotted the Festival, which suffered a financialcrisis. This was eased when John Neville took over in 1986 and presentedpopular revivals, such as Rodgers and Hart's The Boys from Syracuseand Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children. Subsequent directorshave included Richard Monette (1994 - 2007) and Des McAnuff (2008 - ),who has restored the original emphasis on Shakespeare. Two more venues havebeen added, the thrust stage Studio Theatre in 2002 and the outdoor Festival Pavilion in 2008.