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Cara Ricketts as Maria in Twelfth Night.Cylla von Tiedemann Photographer /Courtesy of Stratford Shakespeare Festival

Already running out of content to watch on Netflix, Amazon Prime and CBC Gem this pandemic? How about signing up for another streaming service created by Canada’s biggest not-for-profit theatre company?

The Stratford Festival launched a new “digital content subscription” it’s calling Stratfest@Home on its website this week. It costs $10 a month.

All the filmed Shakespeare productions Stratford screened for free on YouTube for a limited time earlier in the pandemic are now available on demand on this platform – with other, older films and brand-new digital content from comedy series to cooking shows to podcasts set to be added each week.

Those of us still mourning the recent lost of the great Brent Carver will be able to revisit his performance in the 2000 film of Timothy Findley’s Elizabeth Rex on Stratfest@Home as of Nov. 19.

And fans of Christopher Plummer will get access to a double dose of the Oscar-winning actor’s performances on Stratford’s famed thrust stage in December – when the 2008 and 2010 productions of Caesar and Cleopatra and The Tempest he starred in are uploaded.

But first, on Thursday, Stratfest@Home will add the recording of its 2011 production of Twelfth Night directed by then-artistic director Des McAnuff to its database.

Brian Dennehy, the great American actor who died in April at age 81, played the rogue Toby Belch in that show, forming a double-act of sorts with Stephen Ouimette as Andrew Aguecheek.

To my mind, however, it was most notable for Tom Rooney’s superb performance as Malvolio, which was particularly superb in that deluded character’s famous secret-letter scene. As I wrote in my review at the time, “Here are five exhilarating minutes of discovery, hilarious, poignant and downright priceless.”

Another fun fact about that Twelfth Night production: Its gorgeous and funny design is by Debra Hanson, who just won an Emmy for Outstanding Contemporary Costumes for her work on Schitt’s Creek.

Brian Dennehy as Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night.Cylla von Tiedemann Photographer 2011 /Courtesy of Stratford Shakespeare Festival

Some of the original content being created for Stratfest@Home coming down the pipeline looks promising, such as: a comedy series by Stratford ham-in-residence Dan Chameroy called Leer Estates in which he will play multiple characters; an “early modern cooking show” featuring Stratford Festival executive chef Kendrick Prins and company member Qasim Khan; and an English-language translation of selections from Paris-based playwright Wajdi Mouawad’s Journal de confinement, a poetic audio diary that got me through some of the tough early days of the pandemic.

I’ll be exploring Stratfest@Home’s offerings in the coming weeks – and am sure I’ll write more about it once I’ve explored a bit.

The aforementioned Stratford production of Twelfth Night starring Brian Dennehy will also be available to watch for free on the theatre company’s YouTube channel this Thursday at 7 p.m. ET – and remain up there for a day. This marks the beginning of Stratford once again hosting free weekly “watch parties” online.

That makes it a very special week for fans of Dennehy’s stage work, as the Goodman Theatre in Chicago is also streaming a 2000 recording of his Tony-winning performance as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. It will be accessible from Wednesday to Sunday on as a fundraiser for the Actors Fund’s COVID-19 relief effort.

In usual times, there is quite a lot back-and-forth between Chicago’s theatre scene, where Dennehy often tore up the stage, and the Canadian theatre scene.

This week, the International Voices Project in Chicago revives that spirit of cross-border collaboration on a play by the Canadian-born, New York-based playwright Kareem Fahmy called A Distinct Society. American actors in Chicago and Canadian actors in Edmonton (the Citadel Theatre is involved) will perform a reading of this show, which is set in a library that straddles the U.S.-Canada border, to be livestreamed on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Central Time. From the plot description: “When an Iranian family, separated from one another by the ‘Muslim ban,’ use the library as a meeting place, the head librarian, a U.S. Border Patrol officer, and a local teenager have to choose between breaking the law and saving themselves.”

Also on my radar this week online:

  • Studio 180, a Toronto theatre company that previously produced British playwright Mike Bartlett’s plays King Charles III and Cock, will stream a free “digital presentation” of a Bartlett play called Contractions on October 23 at 7:30 p.m. ET. Here’s the description: “Emma’s been seeing her co-worker Darren. She thinks she’s in love. Her boss thinks she’s in breach of contract.” Director Sabryn Rock has reimagined this two-hander as a “series of intimate online meetings” – and she’s got a great cast in Virgilia Griffith and Ordena Stephens-Thompson.
  • Vancouver-based singer/songwriter and musical-theatre composer Veda Hille is streaming her autobiographical show, Little Volcano, which premiered at the PuSh Festival last year, live from the Cultch from October 22 to 25. Tickets for the show are available online – and there’s an album of songs from the show being released on Bandcamp this week too.

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