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The caveats first: It’s all tentative, and it’s all in tents.
Nevertheless, what great news for Canadian theatre that the Stratford Festival has publicly announced the shape of an intended season for 2021.
“Hope is in the air,” says Antoni Cimolino, artistic director of the country’s largest not-for-profit theatre.
As I first reported in January, the Ontario destination theatre is planning to perform six plays to 100-person audiences in a pair of open-sided tents starting in June, each production featuring a different cast of actors. (The festival normally presents plays in repertory – that is, with the same company of actors performing multiple roles in multiple plays.)
Over the weekend, Stratford revealed more details: six cabarets in addition to the six plays; casts limited to eight actors; and running times that won’t stretch much longer than 90 minutes (to avoid intermissions and mingling).
There will be three showtimes a day – 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. – and all the shows and cabarets will be filmed and edited to be shown later on the festival’s streaming service Stratfest@Home for those who can’t or don’t want to make the trek to Stratford, Ont.
Stratford’s new tents are quite enticing from a theatrical design perspective – as you might expect from a company that traces its origins to performances in a tent in 1953.
Hariri Pontarini Architects, the firm behind Stratford’s new, gorgeous and still-unopened Tom Patterson Theatre, has designed the one that will be set up on the second-floor, outdoor terrace of the Festival Theatre. With a spaced-out audience on three sides of the stage, the clamshell configuration will echo that of the venue’s famous thrust stage.
A new outdoor staircase that Cimolino describes as “stunning” may take audiences up to the terrace – but the festival is waiting for city approval on that part of the design. (If it doesn’t get it, there are three ways to get up to the terrace from inside the Festival Theatre. )
Behind the new Tom Patterson Theatre, meanwhile, Stratford will set up another tent it has ordered from a B.C. company called Tentnology that will feature a cross-over or runway stage, with audience members seated on each side and actors entering and exiting from the ends.
Both tents will likely have lives after the pandemic; the Hariri Pontarini one is designed to be a natural extension of the building, and potentially a performance space and/or restaurant.
In regular years, of course, Stratford doesn’t announce the shape of a season – it announces what plays will be in that season. But we live in unusual times.
The Stratford Festival is holding off until later this spring to reveal programming and start selling tickets, just in case. “What would stop us now is if the variants really broke out and suddenly the province is in a big red zone,” Cimolino says.
Job postings for stage managers, however, suggest that the season’s six main theatrical offerings will be two Shakespeare plays, a contemporary play, an “Indigenous play,” a “new Canadian play“ and a “play with music.” (The podcaster and journalist Jonathan Goldsbie first pointed this out on Twitter.)
Cimolino says the 2021 season will be themed around “metamorphosis,” a fitting theme given how the festival itself is transforming because of COVID-19.
“Shakespeare was a big fan of Ovid’s Metamorphoses,” Cimolino says – and there’s a hint in there. The two of Shakespeare’s plays most inspired by Ovid are Titus Andronicus and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The artistic director confirms that he is not producing the bloody and brutal play Titus this summer; as for Midsummer he says, “No comment.”
Young People’s Theatre in Toronto has announced its new artistic director: actor, playwright and director Herbie Barnes.
An Anishinaabe theatre artist from Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation on Manitoulin Island, Barnes has a long history of performing in plays by Drew Hayden Taylor, including Toronto at Dreamer’s Rock in 1989 and Cottagers and Indians in 2018.
The first play Barnes, who was raised in Toronto, ever saw was at YPT as a kid, and his first professional association with the theatre came when he acted in The Secret of Shhh in 1993. He’s since been involved with the company as an actor, director and playwright and through educational activities; his play Russell’s World, which he wrote and performed in, was part of YPT’s 40th Anniversary Season.
Barnes takes over from outgoing artistic director Allen MacInnis in the fall.
Last fall, I tuned into Jagged Live in NYC, the Broadway reunion concert for the cast of the jukebox musical based on Alanis Morissette’s classic album Jagged Little Pill. It’s re-airing on the streaming platform Stellar on Saturday, March 6, at 7 p.m. ET as a benefit for charity.
The concert gives you a good taste of what the show is like without making you feel as if you don’t need to see the actual musical whenever Broadway opens up – or producer David Mirvish brings it up here to Alanis-land some time in the future.