Stratford Turns 60

Richard III starring Alec Guinness, was the inaugural production at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in July 1953 (Stratford archive photo)

The inaugural production at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in July 1953 was Richard III starring Alec Guinness (Stratford archive photo by Peter Smith)

On July 13, 1953 in Stratford, Ontario, Canada a theatrical tradition was born. The first performance of Richard III took place under the Stratford Festival tent along the Avon River, and the vision of one man, journalist Tom Patterson, became a reality.

The 1,826-seat Festival Theatre opened in 1957 (Stratford photo by Erin Samuell)

The 1,826-seat Festival Theatre opened in 1957 (Stratford photo by Erin Samuell)

Today the Stratford Shakespeare Festival is North America’s largest classical repertory theatre. From that initial production starring Alec Guinness and a second play, All’s Well That Ends Well, which opened the following night, the Festival has evolved into a program of a dozen plays or musicals performed from May to October at its four theatres, including one named for founder Patterson.

The 60th party guest list includes Romeo and Juliet, Tevye, a farmer, pinball wizard Tommy, The Three Musketeers and a ghost named Elvira. They’re waiting to hear from Godot.

As much as I talk about and study the program each year, Stratford is still on my To Do list. Maybe this will finally be the year I join the half-million or so playgoers and not only enjoy a show but take one of the behind-the-scenes tours and explore what local boosters call “Canada’s Premier Arts Town.” To do or not to do…

The 2013 playbill and opening and closing dates:

  • Romeo and Juliet – May 27-October 19
  • Fiddler on the Roof – May 28-October 20
  • Measure for Measure – May 29-September 21
  • Tommy – May 30-October 19
  • Mary Stuart – May 31-September 21
  • The Three Musketeers – June 1-October 19
  • Blithe Spirit – June 1-October 20
  • Waiting for Godot – June 27-September 20
  • Taking Shakespeare – July 30-September 22
  • The Thrill (World Premiere) – August 13-September 22
  • Othello – August 14-October 19
  • The Merchant of Venice – August 15-October 18

Enhance your visit to Stratford with the special exhibition, “Most Rare Visions: 60 Years of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.” Costumes, props, photos and other artifacts are on display, complemented by a series of talks about the history in July and August.

Check out The Forum for a busy schedule of panel discussions, tours, films, musical performances, a speakers series and “Table Talk,” a buffet lunch followed by a presentation one of the plays.

Admission and fees are charged for the 60th anniversary exhibit and activities at The Forum.

In an attempt to make Stratford affordable, performance ticket prices are at 2012 levels and the website offers Ways to Save including 2-for-1 Tuesdays (except opening nights), rush tickets, online deals for select performances, and special pricing for families and 16-to-29 year olds.

Visitor Info Clicks:

The Stratford Festival website carries plenty of information on lodging, dining, shopping and other area attractions and activities, including assistance with booking accommodations

Visit Stratford, Ontario

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All stories and photos copyright Kath Usitalo unless otherwise noted