The 2014 Stratford Festival: My Experience

I'm back from the Stratford Festival! Wow, those are six of the saddest words in my vocabulary. As anyone who followed my adventures on Twitter can attest, I had a simply marvelous time. Here are the comics I posted on various social media thingummys last week, with added commentary:

I love walking along the river in Stratford. Appropriately enough, it is called the River Avon, and, also appropriately enough, it is full of swans. And ducks. And geese. And seagulls. One of my favorite things to do is to find people who are engaged in feeding the birds and watching the subsequent swarming and panicked retreat. 

Right before the first show of my season (The Beaux' Stratagem), the Festival's director of communications, David Prosser, invited me to the administrative offices up to say hello. He treated me to refreshments on the green room patio. While we were chatting I saw several of my most revered Stratford actors appear on the patio, people whose work I have adored from afar (or at least from Row H) for decades. Naturally, as is my wont in such situations, I tried my best to pretend they were not there.

I'm such an idiot. 

This marked the halfway point in my Stratford sojourn. Let me just go through them one by one....

  1. The Festival copy machines looks pretty much like any other copy machines. But imagine the cool stuff they get to copy!
  2. Going to Stratford is like having a free licence to buy any Shakespeare-related books I can get my hands on, either from the excellent Fanfare Books downtown, or from the Festival's various theatre stores. 
  3. Having communicated with the estimable Ladies of Angiers on Twitter, I finally plucked up the courage to go to the stage door and meet Actual Actors in person. To my relief, surprise, and delight, they turned out to be wonderfully warm ans generous people, and were very patient to put up with my endless gushing. On this occasion the third Lady of Angiers had scarpered off before I reached the door, but I caught her later on in my visit.
  4. The jelly bean assault happened halfway through a production of Alice Through the Looking Glass, in which cast members romped up and down the aisles, hurling packets of jelly beans into the audience with great force and accuracy. 
  5. Appropriately enough, the skies opened up on the day I saw King Lear. I got drenched once, while fetching lunch from York Street Kitchen, and then, after a change of clothes, got partially drenched again while walking to the theatre. I had wet socks through all of the first act. 
  6. During the same performance of King Lear, one of those "live theatre" things happened and a speaker went haywire, filling the auditorium with static. It was the scene when Lear is confronting Regan and Goneril right before rushing out into the building storm, so for a while the audience wondered if it was just very poor sound design. Fortunately it was only a few minutes before intermission. The actors soldiered bravely on, not batting an eye or missing a beat, and the techies fixed the issue during intermission. 

I think this comic best sums up my relationship with theatre. I'm a very analytical and self-aware theatre-goer, with the result that I hardly ever cry during performances. However, I often get itchy-eyed after a particularly good show, when I realize that I will never, ever see it and experience it again

This season's A Midsummer Night's Dream was such a fantastic show, so fun, vivacious, and brimming of joy, life and happiness, that it made me extremely miserable for the rest of the day. That's just about the highest praise I can have for a show.

In recent years the Stratford Festival has organized a season-long Forum with numerous theatre-related events, including question and answer sessions with actors, a variety of workshops and demonstrations, and readings of plays both new and old. The result is that I spent 80% of my waking hours in Stratford sitting and watching fantastic performances, and the other 20% rushing from one performance to another. It's hard work, going to the theatre, but somebody's got to do it. 

This was probably one of the best Stratford Festival seasons that I can remember. It was so good that this next week is bound to be totally miserable for me as I suffer theatre withdrawal. 

Special thanks to all the actors who took the time to chat with me at the stage door, especially Brigit Wilson, Karack Osborn, Carmen Grant and Deidre Gillard-Rowlings, with whom I've exchanged random tweets and about ten minutes of real-life conversation, which I'm pretty sure makes us Best Friends Forever in this day and age.  Also, thanks to Scott Wentworth and Seana McKenna, for putting up with my starry-eyed gushing when I finally did meet them. Cheers especially to the Tom Patterson Theatre cast, most of whom had to put up with me ambushing them outside the stage door and garbling incoherent praise at them when I'm sure they'd much rather have been elsewhere.

Stop by again on Wednesday, when I'll be reviewing the plays themselves in more depth.