What the Stratford Shakespeare Festival Means to Me

As another season of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival comes to a close I am reflecting again on how lucky we are to be just thirty minutes down the highway from this amazing experience. I got a chance to see New York last year for the first time and there are not enough superlatives to describe how I feel about New York. I loved every minute, including the two shows we saw. But, here’s the thing: the city aside, I’ve seen just as good at Stratford, year after year.

My first experience at the festival was a school trip in Grade 9 to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That was the Elizabethan year somewhere in the mid-seventies and I was very confused about why all the heroines were wearing red curls and neck ruffs. I’ve since seen Dream twice more. Last year’s production with the bad biker fairies was by far the best. Throughout my high school years I got involved with musical theatre (as an orchestra member) and we put on a production of Jesus Christ Superstar in 1979 that the locals still talk about (well, those of us that were in it, I mean). Cast parties went on for a year after, and a big group of us have become lifelong friends. Such is the power of theatre.

I attended shows sporadically at Stratford when my kids were little and priorities were different, but in the past few years we’ve started going regularly, and I’m so glad to be back. What impresses me about the festival is that it really is for everybody. There are serious plays, there are comedies, there are big productions, and there are one man/woman shows. The spectacle of Peter Pan and the intimacy of The Little Years in the Studio Theatre. And there is a price for everyone, too. Don’t let anyone tell you that you need to have money to go to the theatre. I don’t have any. I buy tickets to previews, rush seats, end of season sales, and I watch for deals on Facebook and Twitter. In the past I have been fortunate to have friends at the theatre who have watched for deals for me too. If you can afford it you can have a luxurious experience in the best seats in the house. But if you can’t, there are other options, and they’re just fine. My daughters and I, and occasionally my son too, try to catch three or four shows over the season, and if we weren’t so busy with our own theatre/music projects we would probably see more.

As the tickets for 2011 go on sale I am already excited about next season. It’s about time to see Twelfth Night again. I’ve never seen Richard III and I think I should, the last time I saw Camelot was the Toronto show with Richard Burton around 1980, so I’ll put that on the list, and, what was that other show again? OH YEAH, Jesus Christ Superstar!! You can bet I’ll be there for that!

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