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The Shaw Festival is set to spill over at the edges once again in its 2023 season.

On Wednesday, the Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., theatre’s artistic director Tim Carroll announced a jam-packed line-up of programming for next year that includes surprising shows presented at unexpected times and in unusual places.

For the second season in the row, the Shaw will kick things off in the winter instead of the spring with a special presentation.

Mahabharata, a contemporary retelling of the Sanskrit epic adapted by Ravi Jain and Miriam Fernandes and featuring a cast of performers entirely from the South Asian diaspora, is set to finally have world premiere on the Festival Theatre stage in the month of March.

This long-in-development Shaw-commissioned two-part show from Toronto’s Why Not Theatre is in that early time slot as it will departing afterwards on what Carroll calls “a major world tour”. Details of that cannot yet been revealed – but the prestigious Barbican Centre in London, England, is one of the named partners on the project and expected first stops for the show.

The Shaw’s spring-to-fall repertory season – which not long ago was its entire season – then begins in May with Gypsy, the classic Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim musical that was originally programmed for 2020. Longtime company member Jay Turvey is now slated to direct the resurrected production in the Festival Theatre.

Joining Momma Rose on the theatre company’s main stage is Noel Coward’s frequently produced supernatural comedy Blithe Spirit, directed by Tarragon Theatre artistic director Mike Payette, and the very infrequently produced James Baldwin play The Amen Corner, which will directed by Shaw associate artistic director Kimberley Rampersad and feature a gospel choir.

“I’m sort of surprised that Baldwin’s plays aren’t better known; he’s a wonderful writer of dialogue,” says Carroll. “I hope we’ll do some more of his plays in the future.”

Baldwin is not the only American writer better known for novels who will have a show in the Shaw 2023 season, either. Over at the Royal George Theatre, director Peter Hinton-Davis is set to stage The Shadow of a Doubt, a 1901 mystery play penned by The Age of Innocence author Edith Wharton that was only recently rediscovered by scholars in an archive in Texas.

“It’s not a perfect play, but it’s a fascinating play,” says Carroll – which makes it sound like the right job for Hinton-Davis, who took an imperfect but fascinating play by Mae West called Sex and turned it into a cracking night at the theatre in 2019.

Also set for the Royal George in 2023: A new adaptation of C. S. Lewis Narnia novel Prince Caspian by Damien Atkins, directed by Molly Atkinson; the 1933 Bernard Shaw two-hander Village Wooing, staged by visiting director Selma Dimitrijevic; and the rarely produced Tom Stoppard comedy On the Razzle, which will be directed by Craig Hall.

Meanwhile, at the Shaw Festival Studio Theatre that bears her name, artistic director emerita Jackie Maxwell will return to direct J. M. Synge’s Playboy of the Western World – and former associate artistic director Eda Holmes will be back to direct Bernard Shaw’s 1928 “political extravaganza” The Apple Cart.

Rounding out the programming in the theatre company’s most intimate space will be British playwright Helen Edmundson’s The Clearing, a play about Oliver Cromwell’s ethnic cleansing campaign in Ireland that Guardian critic Lynn Gardner once described as “lush, ripe, romantic and also about genocide”. Jessica Carmichael, who made a major impression with her production of The Rez Sisters at the Stratford Festival in 2021, will direct.

Sharp-eyed Shaw Festival-goers will realize that Carroll has not been named as the director of any of these shows so far listed. Indeed, he’s not directing anything on the Shaw’s indoors stages – but, instead, christening a new Spiegeltent that will be set up on the theatre company’s grounds with a production of Pierre de Marivaux’s The Game of Love and Chance.

The 1730 French romantic comedy will be presented “as improvised by the Shaw Festival ensemble” with a different cast at every performance. “I think you need to have those project that could really fall on their face and be disastrous,” says Carroll, who hopes the Spiegeltent will be a place for relaxed risk taking.

The onset of the pandemic in 2020 first spurred the Shaw Festival to begin seriously producing work on its grounds in the open-air and under canvas – and The Game of Love and Chance is part of the continuation of that stream of programming in the outdoors, most of which will be announced a later date. “We’ve almost added a whole new festival on top of the existing one,” says Carroll.

It was one of Carroll’s first changes to the Shaw Festival upon his arrival as artistic director in 2017 to also add a mini holiday season of programming – and that will be back again, too, in 2023. Brigadoon, first directed at the Shaw by Glynis Leyshon in 2019, and Carroll’s own adaptation of A Christmas Carol will both return to entertain a more local crowd in the company’s theatres in November and December.

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