Stratford Festival announces 2021 playbill; hopes lockdown paves way to brighter summer

With hope that lockdown, vaccinations pave way for brighter times

Stratford, ONThe Stratford Festival is transforming, for this summer, into an outdoor festival offering a season of six plays and five cabarets reflecting on the theme of Metamorphosis, with performances held under beautiful canopies that will hark back to the Festival’s founding under a tent in 1953.

“We are hopeful that the current Ontario lockdown and the vaccination program will enable a successful outdoor summer season,” says Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino. “As butterflies shedding their cocoons, we are poised to emerge from this pandemic.

“This dream of transformation from our isolated lives informed my choice of theme for the 2021 season: Metamorphosis. The productions will embody our hope for a transition from lockdown to a new beginning, imbued with much needed social and political change. They examine souls kept apart by social convention, family feuds or racism. Souls that yearn for community, understanding and the union of love. Souls that emerge transformed from their trials into a brave new world of freedom.”

THE PLAYS

The 2021 season includes two Shakespeares, Romeo and Juliet – called simply R + J for this production – and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet share a plot – lovers kept apart. One, of course, is a comedy and the other a tragedy, but both share a source, Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Shakespeare seems to have loved Ovid’s work with its stories of profound and enduring transformations. Vibrant change as a response to enforced isolation is at the heart of our season. We are together again but as never before,” says Cimolino.

“The creative teams for both of these amazing works by Shakespeare are probing deep into their mystery. The actors they have brought together are some of the most accomplished and promising you are likely to experience.”

R+J, directed by Ravi Jain, features Dante Jemmott as Romeo, Eponine Lee as Juliet, Alex Bulmer as the Friar and Chorus, Tom Rooney as the Nurse, and Lisa Nasson. Casting continues. It is produced in collaboration with Why Not Theatre. The production is intended for blind, low-vision and sighted audiences.

“I first spoke to Ravi Jain about R+J in January 2020 and it’s a delight to see his exciting ideas becoming reality,” says Cimolino. “His work on Shakespeare over time has been strikingly innovative and I look forward to his unique perspective on this great story this summer.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Peter Pasyk, features Eva Foote as Hermia, Craig Lauzon as Oberon and Theseus, Trish Lindström as Puck and Egeus, Jonathan Mason as Demetrius, André Sills as Bottom, Amaka Umeh as Helena, Micah Woods as Lysander and Bahareh Yaraghi as Titania and Hippolyta.

“Peter Pasyk has directed numerous productions of exceptional clarity and nuance,” says Cimolino. “His vision for this beautiful and hilarious play about the transformative power of dreams captivated me immediately. Peter was to direct Hamlet this past season with Amaka Umeh, a production which I look forward to seeing on our Festival stage in the time ahead.”

Two plays from the 2020 playbill will also be presented, Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women and Tomson Highway’s The Rez Sisters.

“I’m delighted by the balance of these plays. In Three Tall Women a life is examined with humour and yet painful precision. The cast and creative team are extraordinary,” says Cimolino.

The production, directed by Diana Leblanc, features Martha Henry as A, Lucy Peacock as B, Mamie Zwettler as C, and Andrew Iles as The Boy.

“Diana Leblanc has for decades been one of this country’s most sensitive and compelling directors. Her work with Martha Henry over the years has been unforgettable,” says Cimolino.

The Rez Sisters also combines a brilliant group of artists with a great play,” he adds. “Tomson Highway’s story of endurance and resilience is as stirring and funny as it is heartbreaking.”

The Rez Sisters, directed by Jessica Carmichael, features Jani Lauzon as Pelajia Patchnose, Brefny Caribou as Zhaboonigan Peterson, Nicole Joy-Fraser as Annie Cook, Kathleen MacLean as Emily Dictionary, Zach Running Coyote as Nanabush, and Michaela Washburn as Marie-Adele Starblanket.

“The excitement within the cast, and the larger artistic community, in working with Jessica on this project is palpable,” Cimolino says. “The great care of her work on the text, her fresh perspectives and extraordinary sensitivity as a director make me so eager to see it come to life.”

The playbill is rounded out by two new plays: one about race and royalty, and one, a musical about the playwright to whom the Festival is dedicated.

Marcia Johnson’s Serving Elizabeth presents a story told over two distinct time periods: 1952 Kenya, when Princess Elizabeth is visiting, and 2015 London, when a production company is preparing to shoot an episode of a popular series that deals with that visit. It highlights the ironies of historical storytelling and helps us better understand the world then and now.

Serving Elizabeth is a sparkling house of mirrors. It shifts seamlessly back and forth in time, bringing new perspectives and striking contrasts to the popular cultural pastiche that is the romanticization of the monarchy,” says Cimolino.

The production is directed by Kimberley Rampersad. Casting, which is in progress, includes Sean Arbuckle as Talbot and Maurice, and Cameron Grant as Montague and Steve. The play was commissioned by the Thousand Islands Playhouse and had its world première at Western Canada Theatre in February 2020.

“We are very happy to be presenting the second production of this exciting play while our colleagues at the Thousand Islands Playhouse remount the Western Canada production. New plays seldom see a second life and this play deserves many hearings and interpretations,” says Cimolino.

“Welcoming Kimberley Rampersad back for her Stratford directing debut is a great pleasure. Her compelling work has graced stages across Canada and we can’t wait to see what her talent and skills bring to Marcia Johnson’s play.”

I Am William, with text by Rébecca Déraspe, and music by Chloé Lacasse and Benoit Landry, tells an imagined story of Margaret Shakespeare, a young writer of great skill and imagination, who, with the help of her brother William, navigates a dangerous and deadly time to become one of the world’s greatest writers. The book, lyrics and score were developed at Théâtre Le Clou. It will be presented in an English translation by Leanna Brodie.

I Am William plays with the endlessly enduring question, ‘Who wrote the plays of Shakespeare?’, and gives a delightful, funny and enlightening answer. It is a joyful musical for young people of all ages and a perfect fit for a theatre like ours.”

Directed by Esther Jun, with choreography by Alyssa Martin and music direction by Njo Kong Kie, the production features Shakura Dickson as Margaret, Landon Doak as Will, Allan Louis as John and the Earl of Leicester, and Shannon Taylor as Mary and Queen Elizabeth I.

“Rébecca Déraspe is an exciting new voice in Quebec theatre,” says Cimolino. “Esther Jun’s wonderful direction is always lively and thoughtful. Together they will no doubt create a delectable treat for us all.”

Jessica Carmichael, Ravi Jain, Esther Jun and Peter Pasyk have all been part of the Festival’s Langham Directors’ Workshop.

THE CABARETS

As large-scale musicals are not possible under COVID restrictions, the Festival will present a series of five cabarets with a blend of musical theatre and other repertoire. Created and presented by some of the country’s most talented musical artists, these cabarets offer an opportunity to experience powerful performances in an incredibly intimate space, designed for COVID safety.

“The breadth of content and talent in these five cabarets is exhilarating. These outstanding artists share their deep desire to explore and celebrate a playful and ageless variety of music. Together, we’ll gain new understanding, while being richly rewarded with beautiful musical performances,” says Cimolino.

“In speaking to the exceptional curators – Thom Allison, Beau Dixon, Sara Farb, Robert Markus, Marcus Nance, Julia Nish-Lapidus, Steve Ross and James Wallis – I was so heartened to witness their excitement in beginning the creative process. They and the music directors, Franklin Brasz, Laura Burton and Reza Jacobs, have a collective talent, experience and energy that is singular. It’s very hard to imagine a more dynamic team.”

Why We Tell the Story: A Celebration of Black Musical Theatre, is curated and directed by Marcus Nance with music director Franklin Brasz; featuring Marcus Nance, Robert Markus and Vanessa Sears.

You Can’t Stop the Beat: The Enduring Power of Musical Theatre, is curated and directed by Thom Allison with music director Laura Burton; featuring Alana Hibbert, Gabrielle Jones, Evangelia Kambites and Mark Uhre.

Play On! A Shakespeare-Inspired Mixtape, is curated by Robert Markus along with Julia Nish-Lapidus and James Wallis, who will also co-direct, and music director Reza Jacobs; featuring Gabriel Antonacci, Celeste Catena, Jacob MacInnis and Jennifer Rider-Shaw.

Freedom: Spirit and Legacy of Black Music, is curated and directed by Beau Dixon, who is also the music director; featuring Robert Ball, Beau Dixon and Camille Eanga-Selenge.

Finally There’s Sun: A Cabaret of Resilience, is curated and directed by Sara Farb and Steve Ross, with music director Franklin Brasz; featuring Noah Beemer, Sara Farb, Germaine Konji and Steve Ross.

Each cabaret will run for about two weeks at the Festival Theatre canopy.

“This past year has challenged us as artists on many fronts, demanding us to transform the way we think of content and staging, inspiring us to create the deep change and meaningful connection that audiences are longing for as we strive to be a more inclusive society,” says Cimolino.

THE 2021 STRATFORD EXPERIENCE

Just as the season’s content responds to the times we are living in, so too does the delivery of that content. For the first time in its history, the Festival will not perform in repertory (in which actors perform in a number of productions concurrently). Rather each play will have a distinct group of actors, with no more than eight cast members per production. During most of the season, theatregoers will have three or more productions to choose from.

Performance times will be different, as will run times. Each production will be approximately 90 minutes in length, with no intermission. Shows will be held at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. The two canopied venues – one on the upper terrace of the Festival Theatre, overlooking the gardens, and one at the Tom Patterson Theatre near Morenz Drive – will accommodate 100 people each in physically distanced groups of one to four people, travelling and attending together. Capacity can change moderately in response to public health guidelines.

The Festival has earned the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Safe Travels designation, in recognition of the strict COVID protocols that will be in place throughout the Festival experience, with Plexiglas barriers between audience and performers, as required. All audience members must wear masks and undergo health screening, as must ushers and other staff.

The Festival is grateful to the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Resilient Communities Fund for $150,000 to support its public health protection measures, including contactless washroom door openers, UV washroom sanitation units, portable sanitization foggers, crowd control stanchions and Plexiglas barriers at all customer contact locations.

Productions will also be offered digitally, with the schedule of paid viewing parties to be released in the summer.

Still to be announced is The Meighen Forum programming, which will offer a combination of online and in-person events.

This unique season is made possible by special arrangements for producing in the time of COVID with the Festival’s union and association partners Canadian Actors’ Equity Association, IATSE, ACTRA and the Toronto Musicians’ Association.

The Festival’s four indoor performance spaces will re-open when indoor performances are viable, most likely in 2022.

“The world is longing for celebration and we look forward to providing opportunities for joyous rejuvenation this year and in the post-pandemic future, when we can return to large-scale indoor performances and officially launch our exquisite new Tom Patterson Theatre,” Cimolino says.

Tickets for the 2021 season are scheduled to go on sale to Members of the Stratford Festival beginning May 24. To become a Member and gain priority booking status, visit www.stratfordfestival.ca/membership. Those who generously donated the value of their 2020 tickets or agreed to hold that value on account will also be given priority access. Sales to the public are scheduled to begin June 4. For more information call the box office at 1.800.567.1600 or visit www.stratfordfestival.ca

THE 2021 SEASON IN DETAIL

FESTIVAL THEATRE CANOPY

Support for the 2021 season of the Festival Theatre Canopy is generously provided by

Daniel Bernstein & Claire Foerster.

Edward Albee’s

Three Tall Women

Directed by Diana Leblanc

Featuring:

Martha Henry as A

Lucy Peacock as B

Mamie Zwettler as C

Andrew Iles as The Boy

June 24 to July 25 | Opening Saturday, July 3

By turns acerbic, anguished and sarcastically funny, an old woman known to us only as “A” lays bare her inner life in sometimes shocking detail to two others: a middle-aged caregiver identified only as “B” and a young legal professional, “C.”

Originally programmed for the 2020 season, Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, which he called an “exorcism” of his own troubled relationship with his adoptive mother, is a profound meditation on aging, death and the very nature of the self: who are we really, and how do we become who we are?

In keeping with pandemic precautions, the play’s two parts – the second of which brings a startlingly different take on its characters – will be presented as separate performances, scheduled to be seen on the same day. Each ticket includes both parts.

Production support is generously provided by Sylvia D. Chrominska, Dr. Desta Leavine in memory of Pauline Leavine, Sylvia Soyka, The Westaway Charitable Foundation and by Jack Whiteside.

R + J

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Ravi Jain

Produced in collaboration with Why Not Theatre

Featuring:

Dante Jemmott as Romeo

Eponine Lee as Juliet

Alex Bulmer as the Friar and Chorus

Tom Rooney as the Nurse

Lisa Nasson

August 12 to September 26 | Opening Sunday, August 15

They say that love is blind – and with blindness comes the freedom to open the mind’s eye to a world of limitless possibility. Likewise, the challenge of staging the world’s most famous love story in a time of physical distancing brings with it the opportunity to explore modes of theatrical presentation that are both unexpectedly novel and as old as the art of storytelling itself.

Intended for blind, low-vision and sighted audiences alike, this radically reimagined version of Shakespeare’s beloved romantic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, invites you into an up-to-the-minute modern world of sound and music, a world that challenges the identities we construct when we use only our eyes, a world in which the entrenched hostilities of an older generation are challenged by the passions of young people who only want to love.

Production support is generously provided by Dr. M. Lee Myers and by Catherine & David Wilkes.

Why We Tell the Story

A Celebration of Black Musical Theatre

Curated and directed by Marcus Nance

Music Director: Franklin Brasz

Featuring:

Marcus Nance

Robert Markus

Vanessa Sears

June 24 to July 11 | Opening Saturday, June 26

Throughout the ages the African-American community has told stories of life, love, pain and hope through the glorious expressions of musical theatre and poetry. This update of the sold-out 2019 Meighen Forum concert, takes you on a journey with the voices of legendary Black poets and the music of the African-American musical theatre canon, including hits from Aida, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Caroline, or Change, The Color Purple, Hamilton, The Lion King, Once On This Island, Showboat and many more. As Maya Angelou said: “Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave.”

Production support is generously provided by Mary Ann & Robert Gorlin.

You Can’t Stop the Beat

The Enduring Power of Musical Theatre

Curated and directed by Thom Allison

Music Director: Laura Burton

Featuring:

Alana Hibbert

Gabrielle Jones

Evangelia Kambites

Mark Uhre

July 15 to July 31 | Opening Sunday, July 18

What is it about musical theatre that captures the hearts of millions of fans? Through wars, disasters, heartbreaks and triumphs, musicals have been there to give us a way to understand the human experience and flourish. Has there ever been a better way to represent our inner lives than in glorious Technicolor and song? This tune-filled ride celebrates why musicals have always been the ultimate tonic for the soul in good or troubled times.

Production support is generously provided by Nona Macdonald Heaslip.

Play On!

A Shakespeare-Inspired Mixtape

Curated by Robert Markus, Julia Nish-Lapidus and James Wallis

Directed by Julia Nish-Lapidus and James Wallis

Music Director: Reza Jacobs

Featuring:

Gabriel Antonacci

Celeste Catena

Jacob MacInnis

Jennifer Rider-Shaw

July 29 to August 15 | Opening Saturday, July 31

Shakespeare’s influence on Western culture extends even into your favourite pop hits. Whether it be direct lines from his plays appearing in Top 40 lyrics or whole songs inspired by his plots, whether the borrowers be Taylor Swift, Madonna, Elton John, The Beatles, Prince or Radiohead, Shakespeare is still there, lurking in the mainstream, as cool and as relevant as ever. This lively celebration of terrific tunes affords a great opportunity to introduce a younger audience to Shakespeare’s continuing role in popular culture.

Production support is generously provided by Barbara & John Schubert.

Freedom

Spirit and Legacy of Black Music

Curated and directed by Beau Dixon

Music Director: Beau Dixon

Featuring:

Robert Ball

Beau Dixon

Camille Eanga-Selenge

August 19 to September 5 | Opening Saturday, August 21

From the moment Black people landed on North American soil, their music took root and became the basis for much of the popular music we hear today. There is an endless list of exceptional Black musicians who have been lost to history while their white counterparts gained fame. From church hymnals to the blues, from jazz to rock ’n’ roll, R&B and rap, we owe much of our musical history to Black culture, and it’s time to give credit where it is due.

Production support is generously provided by Mary Ann & Robert Gorlin and by Sylvia Soyka.

Finally There’s Sun

A Cabaret of Resilience

Curated and directed by Sara Farb and Steve Ross

Music Director: Franklin Brasz

Featuring:

Noah Beemer

Sara Farb

Germaine Konji

Steve Ross

September 9 to September 26 | Opening Sunday, September 12

Reflecting on this “great pause” as we move forward and get back to living freely, Finally There’s Sun takes you on a musical journey through a year of enormous change and growth. It explores the isolation, the loneliness, the upheaval and the unexpected silver linings that came out of a time like no other.

Production support is generously provided by Jody & Deborah Hamade and by Dr. Robert & Roberta Sokol.

TOM PATTERSON THEATRE CANOPY

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Peter Pasyk

Featuring:

Eva Foote as Hermia

Craig Lauzon as Oberon and Theseus

Trish Lindström as Puck and Egeus

Jonathan Mason as Demetrius

André Sills as Bottom

Amaka Umeh as Helena

Micah Woods as Lysander

Bahareh Yaraghi as Titania and Hippolyta

June 22 to July 25 | Opening Saturday, June 26

Spellbound lovers, quarrelling fairies, tradesmen with a fervour for amateur theatricals: they’re all mixed up together in the surreal world of Shakespeare’s great comedy of dreaming and desire.

This deep dive into the sometimes unsettlingly dark and dangerous realms of the subconscious famously culminates in a play within the play: a hilariously inept performance by Nick Bottom and his fellow would-be actors. But even as we laugh at the ham-fisted efforts of these “rude mechanicals,” we are won over by their heartfelt belief in the power of the imagination.

Taking its cue from that insight, this production deploys the most fundamental techniques of theatrical art in a magically inventive staging of a play that is itself a celebration of the imagination at its most extreme.

Production support is generously provided by the Harkins & Manning families in memory of Jim & Susan Harkins.

The Rez Sisters

By Tomson Highway

Directed by Jessica Carmichael

Featuring:

Jani Lauzon as Pelajia Patchnose

Brefny Caribou as Zhaboonigan Peterson

Nicole Joy-Fraser as Annie Cook

Kathleen MacLean as Emily Dictionary

Zach Running Coyote as Nanabush

Michaela Washburn as Marie-Adele Starblanket

July 13 to August 15 | Opening Thursday, July 17

They have their dreams and their difficulties, these seven women. One yearns for a singing career; another for a white porcelain toilet. One grieves for her lover, killed in a motorcycle accident; another harbours the memory of a horrific sexual assault. The cancer that afflicts one of them is not the only malignancy they confront.

But one dream they hold in common is that of winning “the biggest bingo in the world” – and one day, accompanied by the transformative spirit guide Nanabush, they leave their Manitoulin Island reserve and set out for Toronto to do just that.

Ribald, harrowing and mystical, this seminal work of Indigenous drama celebrates the spirit of resilience and the powerful beauty these women bring to the tough world in which they live.

Production support is generously provided by Karon C. Bales & Charles E. Beall and by M. Fainer.

Schulich Children’s Plays

I Am William

Text by Rébecca Déraspe

Music by Chloé Lacasse and Benoit Landry

English translation by Leanna Brodie

Book, lyrics and score developed at Théâtre Le Clou

Directed by Esther Jun

Choreographed by Alyssa Martin

Music Director: Njo Kong Kie

Featuring:

Shakura Dickson as Margaret

Landon Doak as Will

Allan Louis as John and the Earl of Leicester

Shannon Taylor as Mary and Queen Elizabeth I

August 4 to September 5 | Opening Sunday, August 8

Margaret Shakespeare has a dazzling talent for writing, which she yearns to put to serious use. But in an age lethally suspicious of female intellect and literacy, how can she find a way to fulfil her authorial ambitions yet still survive? Fortunately, she has a brother, William, who isn’t much of a writer but who wants to make it as an actor – and friends in high places have just the role for him.

Tapping into our fascination with the enigma of William Shakespeare’s life and how he came to write those plays – and the seemingly endless speculation in some quarters about whether he really did – this light-hearted yet genuinely passionate interweaving of comedy, song and poetic fancy spins a playful and witty yarn that will delight younger audiences and adults alike.

Serving Elizabeth

By Marcia Johnson

Directed by Kimberley Rampersad

Produced by special arrangement with Thousand Islands Playhouse

Featuring:

Sean Arbuckle as Talbot and Maurice

Cameron Grant as Montague and Steve

(Casting in progress)

August 24 to September 26 | Opening Saturday, August 28

In Kenya in 1952, Mercy, a restaurant proprietor, is hired to cater the impending visit of Princess Elizabeth. Meanwhile, in England in 2015, a young Kenyan-born Canadian, Tia, is working as an intern on a TV drama series about the British royal family – while writing a script of her own that re-envisions that 1952 visit from an African perspective.

These two time-frames intersect, with a twist, as Tia, in 2015, confronts the series screenwriter about his blind spots and biases, while Mercy, in 1952, does the same with the young queen-to-be.

Audiences are certain to enjoy this ingenious contemporary drama that keeps us guessing as it explores issues of colonialism, nationalism and the question of who gets to have a voice.

Production support is generously provided by John & Therese Gardner and by the Tremain Family.

For more information call the box office at 1.800.567.1600 or visit stratfordfestival.ca.

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