Brian Bedford in THE MERCHANT OF VENICE and More Set for Stratford Shakespeare Festival's 2013 Season

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Brian Bedford in THE MERCHANT OF VENICE and More Set for Stratford Shakespeare Festival's 2013 Season

Antoni Cimolino today announced the Stratford Shakespeare Festival's playbill for 2013, his first season as Artistic Director, and began to outline his vision for the Festival's future during his tenure.

Combining intimate chamber pieces with works of larger scope, the 2013 season offers a rich variety of repertoire, from classics to light-hearted comedy to powerfully emotive musicals. It also invites audiences to enhance their enjoyment of the productions by exploring various thematic strands that run through the playbill as a whole.

"I have selected a season that I hope will touch both the hearts and minds of our audiences, not only engaging them emotionally but also provoking discussion and debate," said Mr. Cimolino. "These plays complement and reflect one another, while at the same time connecting with contemporary social issues. Each will offer a complete and fulfilling experience on its own – but the experience will be even richer for those who see several of the productions and take advantage of the opportunity to draw connections among them.

"Our audiences have always expected us to tell the great stories, and to tell them superbly," he added, "but I believe that today they also want to explore, to ask questions, to interact with us and to better understand the artist's goals."

To that end, Mr. Cimolino will complement his playbill with a new initiative, the Forum: an interactive program of talks, discussions, music and dance, and other ancillary events that will offer a diverse range of perspectives and invite debate on the season's themes.

"Many of these plays, for instance, deal with the bonds that hold communities together and the differences that divide them," said Mr. Cimolino. "Several of them feature characters whose 'otherness' challenges the status quo. The Forum will invite our audiences to pursue these and other topics raised on our stages by participating in a lively exchange of ideas."

The 2013 season will open at the Festival Theatre with Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's great tragedy of young lovers who defy their families' ancient hatred. It will be directed by Tim Carroll, who helmed 2010's Peter Pan and is currently directing Mark Rylance in Richard III and Twelfth Night at Shakespeare's Globe in England.

Donna Feore, whose previous work on the Festival's thrust stage has included such hugely Popular Productions as Oklahoma! and Oliver!, will direct and choreograph one of Broadway's most celebrated musicals, Fiddler on the Roof, the humorous yet heart-wrenching story of a community whose traditions – and very existence – are assailed by the winds of change.

The solidarity of comrades-in-arms is pitted against the machinations of church and state in the swashbuckling adventure The Three Musketeers. Based on Alexandre Dumas's classic novel, this adaptation by Peter Raby was written in 1968 especially for the Festival stage and will appeal to audiences of all ages. It will be directed by Miles Potter, whose StratfoRD Productions include the highly lauded Richard III, Medea and Orpheus Descending.

Completing the line-up at the Festival Theatre will be The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare's perennially popular yet always controversial story of a despised outsider who seeks horrific vengeance for the abuse to which he has been subjected. It will be directed by Mr. Cimolino, whose prior Festival productions include the current season's widely acclaimed Cymbeline. The production will feature Brian Bedford as Shylock.

Mr. Bedford, whose recent double triumph as director and star of The Importance of Being Earnest thrilled audiences first in Stratford and then on Broadway, and was broadcast in high definition on cinema screens, will also direct Blithe Spirit, Noël Coward's hilariously witty comedy of ghostly visitation from the "other side." The production will be presented at the Avon Theatre.

Also at the Avon, Des McAnuff, whose tenure as Artistic Director ends after the 2012 season, will return to direct The Who's Tommy, which he co-wrote with Pete Townshend and for which he won a Tony for Best Director in 1993. The spectacular rock musical tells the story of a young man who, despite having lost the faculties of speech, sight and hearing, becomes a pinball virtuoso – and the centre of a celebrity cult.

In his first Shakespearean assignment at Stratford, Chris Abraham, director of this year's critically lauded production of The Matchmaker, will direct Othello, the classic tragedy of an interracial marriage fatally undermined by the deadly insinuations of a master manipulator.

At the Tom Patterson Theatre, Shakespeare's Measure for Measure will explore the problems and paradoxes inherent in the state's attempts to regulate sexual morality. It will be directed by Martha Henry, whose renowned StratfoRD Productions most recently included Chekhov's Three Sisters in 2009.

Meanwhile, at the same theatre, Mr. Cimolino will direct Friedrich Schiller's Mary Stuart. This gripping historical drama about the power struggle between Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, offers a timely exploration of the often dangerous relationship between religion and politics. Brian Dennehy will return for his third season at Stratford to play Talbot.

Jennifer Tarver, who won international plaudits for her 2008 production of Krapp's Last Tape featuring Mr. Dennehy, will continue her exploration of Samuel Beckett's work with Waiting for Godot, a 20th-century classic that raises fundamental questions about the meaning of human life in a seemingly indifferent universe. She will once again be working with Mr. Dennehy, who will play Pozzo.

Two Canadian plays will be presented at the Studio Theatre. Diana Leblanc, whose remarkable career includes the Festival's celebrated 1994 production of Long Day's Journey into Night, returns to direct John Murrell's Taking Shakespeare, in which a disenchanted professor and her student undertake an exploration of Othello, a journey that leads them to a new understanding of themselves and each other. The play will feature Martha Henry as the Prof, a role that was written expressly for her.

Dean Gabourie, who this year is directing the première of Daniel MacIvor's The Best Brothers, will bring another world première to the stage in 2013: Judith Thompson's The Thrill. Commissioned by the Festival, this spirited new play concerns a disability activist who confronts a champion of the right-to-die movement – with results that catch them both unawares.

In outlining his future plans, Mr. Cimolino –­ a 25-year Stratford veteran – said that he intends to build in three specific ways on the achievements that have already earned the Festival its reputation as North America's leading classical theatre company.

"First, I will put the actor and the text firmly at the centre of what we do. That was the principle on which our Festival was founded 60 years ago, and I think it has become even more important today. In a culture that has become so visually oriented, I think people crave the kind of storytelling that relies above all on the uniquely compelling power of the spoken word.

"At the same time, I want the Festival to be a world leader in artistic innovation and exploration. The very act of exploration, of trying things in new ways and expanding the skills we have, is critically important to a great company examining the classics. With that in mind, I shall also launch a second initiative, the Laboratory, which will be for the artist what the Forum is for the audience."

Incorporating the Festival's existing new play development activities into a program with wider aims, the Laboratory will enable playwrights to work on a grander scale, emulating the scope of the classics. It will also provide opportunities to experiment with existing works.

"The Laboratory will be a workshop but also a playground," explained Mr. Cimolino. "It will enable us to work with artists from other countries and to form partnerships with other disciplines. It will encourage innovative approaches to the great classical texts, so that we can find new ways of telling these familiar stories, and it will also enable us to explore classics with which we are less familiar, so that we may discover the overlooked treasures of other eras and other cultures.

"My third goal for the future," he added, "is to establish our Festival and its beautiful city of Stratford as an unrivalled spiritual, emotional and intellectual retreat. Tyrone Guthrie, our first Artistic Director, conceived of Stratford as a place removed from a major metropolis where you could lay aside for a moment the demands of daily life and give yourself time to enjoy, to think and to feel – and then go home refreshed, restored and inspired. Hence my introduction of the Forum as a means of enabling audiences to enjoy theatre in a deeper and more dynamic way, using the work they see on our stages to prompt ideas, raise questions and open the door to good-hearted and open-minded debate."

Specific details regarding casting, the Forum and the Laboratory will be announced at a later date.

"We are excited about both the 2013 playbill and the vision for the Festival outlined by our incoming Artistic Director," said Dr. David Goldbloom, Chair of the Board of Governors. "It reconfirms our commitment to classical theatre while promoting new talent and innovation through the Laboratory. Antoni's plans for the playbill bring a coherence to the offerings that we hope provokes curiosity and discussion – not only before and after performances but also in the Forum."

THE 2013 PLAYBILL

FESTIVAL THEATRE

Romeo and Juliet

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Tim Carroll

Fiddler on the Roof

Music by Jerry Bock, Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, Book by Joseph Stein
Directed and choreographed by Donna Feore

The Three Musketeers

By Peter Raby
Adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas
Directed by Miles Potter

The Merchant of Venice

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Antoni Cimolino

AVON THEATRE

Blithe Spirit

By Noël Coward
Directed by Brian Bedford

The Who's Tommy

By Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff
Based on the album Tommy by The Who
Directed by Des McAnuff

Othello

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Chris Abraham

TOM PATTERSON THEATRE

Measure for Measure

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Martha Henry

Mary Stuart

By Friedrich Schiller
Directed by Antoni Cimolino

Waiting for Godot

By Samuel Beckett
Directed by Jennifer Tarver

Studio Theatre

Taking Shakespeare

By John Murrell
Directed by Diana Leblanc

The Thrill

By Judith Thompson
Directed by Dean Gabourie
World première of a Stratford Shakespeare Festival commission

Pictured: Antoni Cimolino

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