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Opening night of the Stratford Festival’s 2018 season has been cancelled – and the 1826-seat Festival Theatre was evacuated just half an hour before a full-house performance of The Tempest was set to begin because of a bomb threat against the theatre.

Ann Swerdfager, publicity director at the festival, said on Monday that police had asked for the building to be evacuated.

In a news release, Ms. Swerdfager said the festival cancelled the opening performance of The Tempest “on the advice of police” owing to a bomb threat.

The Stratford Police Service wrote on Twitter that it received a call at 6:45 p.m. on Monday that said explosives had been placed “at the Stratford Festival.” The Festival Theatre and the Avon Theatre were evacuated.

At a 9:15 p.m. news conference at The Bruce Hotel, Sam Theocharis, acting deputy chief of the Stratford Police Service, said 15 officers were searching festival properties and grounds and would continue to do so into Monday night.

Aritstic director Antoni Cimolino said Stratford performances would go ahead as scheduled on Tuesday – including the opening night of The Music Man at the Festival Theatre. “We’re going to make sure our patrons are safe,” he said, saying there would be bag checks at the door for audience members and suggesting it was likely extra security would be hired until the nature and seriousness of the threat had been fully investigated.

Conservative MP John Nater, who represents the local riding of Perth—Wellington; Stratford mayor Dan Mathieson; former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson; and former Ontario premier David Peterson were among the dignitaries set to attend full-house performance of The Tempest at the 1826-seat Festival Theatre on Monday night – along with many of Canada’s best known stage actors and directors.”

Mr. Cimolino added it was the first time the opening night of the festival season had been cancelled.

Jackie Maxwell, former artistic director of the Shaw Festival, was at an opening night dinner in the theatre when, during dessert, she said people were asked to evacuate immediately.

“They said: ‘Get away as far from the building as possible,’” Ms. Maxwell said, standing among a crowd of well-dressed spectators kept at a distance from the theatre.

Ms. Swerdfager says all ticket purchases will be honoured and ticket holders for Monday’s performance will be contacted by festival staff.

With files from Canadian Press

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