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The play’s the thing again in Stratford

Its stages dark for more than a year, the Stratford Festival will have actors treading the boards once again starting July 10.

Easing of provincial restrictions allows the festival to resume, though at only 25 per cent capacity in its new outdoor canopies, where shows will run three times a day from July 10 until the end of September.

“We’re out in canopies outdoors, three performances a day at 11 a.m., 3 and 7 p.m. Nothing more than an hour and a half long, no more than eight people in a cast. Now we’re accommodating 600 a day where we used to entertain 7,000 a day,” said festival spokesperson Ann Swerdfager.

With a limited capacity, shows are expected to sell out fast.  As in the past, tickets will go on sale for the 2021 seasons to members first, an early sale that got underway  on July 6, said Swerdfager.

“Members always have an advance purchase opportunity, also in that advance sales period anyone who donated tickets back or kept tickets on hold can claim them, so beginning July 12 the public will have the opportunity to buy what is remaining,” she said.

Swerdfager says the transition to entertaining patrons outdoors hasn’t always been an easy one, but it’s the only one they can do for now.

It’s been an adjustment for actors and crews alike, she added, as there are restrictions even behind the scenes.

The provincial guidelines will only allow 100 people at each show. The festival began outdoor rehearsals earlier last month, and everybody involved is looking forward to moving indoors as soon as possible.

The 2021 season features six plays: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, R + J, Tomson Highway’s the Rez Sisters, Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women, Serving Elizabeth by Marcia Johnson, and I Am William, with text by Rebecca Deraspe, music by Chloe Lacasse and Benoit Landry, and English translation by Leanna Brodie.

“First of all, we want people to be cheered and well entertained. They are all performed by incredible performers by our company and beyond. People are really going to experience the emotion at those shows. Shakespeare’s a Midsummer Night’s Dream is about awakening from a dream and in a way with the pandemic we’re all going to relate to that,” noted Swerdfager.

“Romeo and Juliet, R + J, is being created for blind, low-sighted people. It’s going to be redone and is going to be fascinating.”

“We also have the Rez Sisters by Tomson Highway, written by Canada’s foremost First Nations writer. Given everything we’re experiencing right now, it’s important to honour these writers and artists. We’re going to be donating $5 from ticket sales from that show to the Native Women’s Association of Canada.”

The festival is also continuing its Stratfest @ Home program, an online viewing service that Stratford is incorporating this year due to the pandemic. There are plans to grow it, in fact.

“We’ve had a huge response from people with the online programming. In the first three months alone, we had over 1.2 million viewers. People have really been taking advantage – they have been subscribing to our email list. It is a wonderful way for us to get the festival out there and get people seeing it. And entertain our patrons. We’re going to film it and put it on our website,” added Swerdfager.

The subscription service has allowed the Stratford Festival to stay connected with their patrons while providing entertainment for the public even as live theatre was not permitted.

“I think it’s going to be beautiful to come to Stratford. It’s summer, things are reopening, al fresco dining – everyone’s making it come together.”

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