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The Stratford Festival has set up a canopy next to the Festival Theatre where outdoor performances will begin on Saturday.J. Kelly Nestruck/The Globe and Mail

My family packed up the car and made our way from Toronto to Stratford, Ont., on Sunday. The drive took about two hours and the toddler miraculously napped for a solid portion of it. A good omen, I hope, for the summer to come.

We’ll be in Stratford for the next two months so I can observe and write about the reopening of this cultural city that is home to the Stratford Festival, North America’s largest not-for-profit theatre company, and also a disproportionately high portion of Canada’s artistic talent in live theatre and music.

I got my bearings on Monday by taking myself on a self-guided tour of the tents that have sprung up all over the city at this point in the pandemic – not quite the same as the ones that have popped up in the parks around me back in Toronto.

The Stratford Festival has set up two large, canopied stages where small-cast plays and cabarets are set to perform starting on Saturday.

One is right next to the Festival Theatre, a circular building that was designed by Robert Fairfield to pay homage to the tent that the festival played under for its first seasons starting in 1953 (things coming full circle).

The Tom Patterson Theatre has a canopied stage behind it where performances will soon begin.J. Kelly Nestruck/The Globe and Mail

The other canopy is to the side of the new, beautiful and still unopened Tom Patterson Theatre – and while a No Trespassing sign kept me at a distance, I peered over a fence to spy a catwalk-style stage that looks just like the one that lived in the old Tom Patterson Theatre.

These tents aren’t the custom-made ones (one of which was set to be designed by Hariri Pontarini, architect of the new Tom Patterson Theatre) that the Stratford Festival originally hoped to perform under this summer. Ontario’s restrictions on non-essential construction meant a pivot to premade canopies that, one wag on Twitter noted, look a bit like the white hats from The Handmaid’s Tale. (Perhaps one of these outdoor stages should be dubbed “The Atwood” after the novelist and long-time Stratford patron, who even wrote a book set in the Stratford universe.)

This may be just as well, however, as Ontario’s current regulations for outdoor theatre performance – which were only announced very last-minute – are confusing if you’re planning to stage a show in a custom structure. In the end, Stratford will be allowed to play to 100-person audiences under the canopies as they had long hoped (based on last year’s easier-to-follow restrictions from the province).

Elsewhere on my Stratford tour, I spied a rudimentary tent set up outside the festival’s costume and props warehouse where actors rehearsed before they were allowed to rehearse indoors (as they now are). Then there are a number of smaller ones that have cropped up outside of restaurants in the centre of town – these were packed (with distanced patrons, of course) as we arrived on Sunday. The city already seems alive even before theatre companies have begun to lure outsiders to town.

The Bruce Hotel in Stratford is home to the Here For Now theatre company’s New Works Festival.J. Kelly Nestruck/The Globe and Mail

I say “companies” because there is also a stage set up under a tent behind the Bruce Hotel, where the enterprising Here for Now Theatre Company’s New Works Festival began Tuesday – beating out the city’s slower-moving theatrical institution to opening night by four days.

I’ll be attending two shows there today, which also happens to mark exactly two weeks since my second vaccine shot. But more on that in this weekend’s paper.

With the Stratford Festival’s 2021 season a reduced one, with short runs of plays and cabarets featuring small casts, there are plenty of regular company members who have not landed work there this season. Actors like Gordon Patrick White, who I ran into on Monday outside of the local outpost of Balzac’s, the artsy coffee chain that started in Stratford in 1996.

White told me he was headed back out east this summer in a few days. Indeed, you can catch him onstage at the Watermark Theatre in Prince Edward Island, where he is performing in Drew Hayden Taylor’s Cottagers and Indians.

The Watermark kicks off its 2021 season this weekend with a free outdoor show called Mi’kmaq Legends – and then next week starts a run of D.L. Coburn’s classic two-hander The Gin Game, which was famously first performed on Broadway by Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn in 1977, during the period where the legendary actor couple could also be regularly seen on stage at the Stratford Festival (again, things coming full circle).

Meanwhile in PEI, the Charlottetown Festival is currently continuing its indoor, reduced-audience season with Dear Rita, a new musical that weaves Nova Scotian singer Rita MacNeil’s favourite songs around a script from Cape Breton’s Lindsay Kyte. It runs to Aug. 6.

Dear Rita is directed by Mary Francis Moore – who also happens to have officially begun her new job as artistic director of Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton on Monday. A belated congratulations to Moore on her appointment.

While I was on holiday last week, Ontario theatres were allowed to reopen outdoors. But the 7 Fingers, one of Quebec’s great boutique circus companies, were one of the first groups to hit the stage here. The troupe is currently in Markham, Ont., performing an outdoor show as part of an event called Together Apart, Summer Cirque at the Markham Fairgrounds complex until Aug. 1.

If you can’t make it there – as I sadly don’t think I will – the circus company’s excellent pandemic film Out of Order is now available on demand through its website. (I reviewed it back in March.)

In the 7 Fingers’ circus-obsessed hometown, meanwhile, the Montréal Complètement Cirque festival will be up and running soon with its 12th edition, back with in-person live shows once again. It’s a great place to sample all the Quebec circus companies that aren’t Cirque du Soleil (such as Cirque Alfonse, FLIP Fabrique and Kalabanté Productions). The festival runs outdoors around town and indoors at the city’s custom circus venue, TOHU, from July 8 to 18.

Two online picks for the week: Voice, one of my “theatrical experiences to look forward to in 2021,″ is streaming via Winnipeg’s Prairie Theatre Exchange until July 11; and Outside the March’s dyslexia musical Stupidhead!, which I wrote about last month, begins its live digital radio broadcast run on July 7.

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