The Stratford Festival is planning for a return to something resembling normal next year, with 10 productions in repertory and all four of its indoor theatres in operation.
On Tuesday, artistic director Antoni Cimolino announced a 2022 season at Canada’s largest not-for-profit theatre company – a slate of shows he plans to augment if and as conditions change in terms of the continuing pandemic.
“There are things that may be added to what you see right now,” says Cimolino, who notes that 120 actors will be hired for the programming revealed at this point, which is set to run from early April into October.
“But rather than wait for everything to be worked out, let’s announce what we absolutely are sure of and revisit this in the months again. … Let’s start to give people a sense of certainty and optimism.”
The major celebratory event of Stratford’s 2022 season will be the long-delayed opening of the company’s new $72-million Tom Patterson Theatre.
Richard III, directed by Cimolino and starring Colm Feore in the title role, is still set to inaugurate that stage along with a production of All’s Well That Ends Well directed by Scott Wentworth.
That pair of Shakespeare plays has a particular significance in Stratford, Ont., as they were the two that originally opened the festival back in 1953.
The choice, which seemed perhaps overnostalgic two years ago, has fresh resonance now as the theatre company will indeed be rebirthing itself after a completely cancelled season in 2020 and a limited season that mostly took place outdoors in 2021. Because of capacity restrictions, it hosted just 34,000 theatregoers, less than a 10th of the usual attendance.
In a change from what was previously planned for the Tom Patterson, however, the third show at the new theatre in 2022 will be Death and the King’s Horsemen, a 1975 postcolonial classic by the Nigerian Nobel Prize-winning playwright Wole Soyinka.
Tawiah M’Carthy, the Ghana-born Canadian playwright best known for his searing solo show Obaaberima, will direct the production, which has been workshopped in Stratford twice and was previewed during the pandemic in an audio version produced with Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre Company.
Over in the Festival Theatre, razzle-dazzle director Donna Feore’s new production of Chicago, the Fred Ebb and John Kander musical about fame and crime in the jazz age, will be the first show on stage in any of Stratford’s theatres in April.
It will be followed on the festival’s famed thrust stage by Hamlet, directed by Peter Pasyk, and a production of Molière’s The Miser, directed by Cimolino, both of which had been originally announced for 2020.
In reprogramming these shows in a drastically different time, Cimolino says he heeded the advice of Martha Henry, the Stratford legend who died this fall, at 83, less than two weeks after her final performance in Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women.
“She kept saying to me, ‘Don’t worry about it, when you come to these plays, it will be different, it will reflect the times, because you will make it that way,’ ” he says.
Over at the Studio Theatre, three plays will have world premieres – an overdue one in the case of Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Hamlet-911, a new Shakespeare-inspired meta-play from the creator of Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) that was originally programmed for 2020.
The other two plays there will be Every Little Nookie, a comedy about swingers and suburbia by Sunny Drake that won a prize for as-yet-unproduced plays from the Playwrights Guild of Canada; and 1939, a work by Jani Lauzon and Kaitlyn Riordan set in the year of the title at a fictional church-run residential school in Ontario, where the students have been tasked with putting on a production of All’s Well That Ends Well for visiting royals.
That leaves the Avon Theatre – which, at the moment, is only set to see a single show on stage: Little Women, a new adaptation of both the novel of the same name by Louisa May Alcott and its sequel Good Wives. Jordi Mand is the playwright and Esther Jun is set to direct.
Just a month ago, the Stratford Festival leadership signalled that it would not be announcing a 2022 season until the new year.
But as other companies (such as the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Bard on the Beach in Vancouver and Toronto’s Canadian Stage and Soulpepper theatres, both of which have Shakespeare productions planned) have taken the plunge and revealed plans into next fall, the company started to feel more urgency to lock artists down and start appealing to audiences.
The 2021 season ended in a deficit, as planned, and a 2022 return into the black will hinge on government support that the festival is waiting for the details of, Cimolino says. Whether performances will all be at 100-per-cent capacity next season is a decision that the festival is waiting to make. Tickets don’t go on sale until March.
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