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Stratford Festival to Celebrate Shakespeare's 450th Birthday All Season with KING LEAR, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM and More, 5/26-10/12

Stratford Festival to Celebrate Shakespeare's 450th Birthday All Season with KING LEAR, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM and More, 5/26-10/12

The Stratford Festival is celebrating the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare all season long, with five Shakespeare productions on its stages and a series of more than 20 special events at the Forum.

The 2014 season launches on May 26 with the opening of King Lear, directed by Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino and starring Colm Feore. Previews for this not-to-be-missed production begin on May 5.

For the first time in its history, the Stratford Festival is presenting two versions of the same Shakespeare play. A Midsummer Night's Dream will be presented on the main Festival Theatre stage, directed by Chris Abraham and starring Stephen Ouimette, Evan Buliungand Jonathan Goad. It runs from May 16 to October 11. A second version, reimagined by director Peter Sellars, uses four actors -Sarah Afful, Dion Johnstone, Trish Lindström and Mike Nadajewski - to explore the multiple worlds of Shakespeare's play. This production runs from July 11 to September 20.

Fresh from his hit Broadway productions of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and Richard III, Tim Carroll returns to Stratford to direct King John, starring Tom McCamus and Seana McKenna, running from May 21 to September 20. Director Gary Griffin takes the helm of Antony and Cleopatra, starring Geraint Wyn Davies and Yanna McIntosh, running from August 3 to September 20.

Paul Gross, Steven Page and Hawksley Workman are headlining the Stratford Festival Forum's Shakespeare Slam on Wednesday, April 23, at Toronto's Koerner Hall. This celebration marking Shakespeare's 450th birthday will be hosted by Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino, and will showcase the Festival's 2014 season theme of Madness: Minds Pushed to the Edge.

Two teams of spirited debaters will square off on whether madness is inherent in the artistic process. On the one side are actor Paul Gross, famed for his portrayal of Slings and Arrows' mentally overwrought artistic director Geoffrey Tennant, and Lisa Brown, founder and executive/artistic director of Workman Arts, which celebrates and promotes the work of artists living with mental-health and addiction issues.

Opposing them are Juno Award-winning musician, Festival composer and renowned troubadour Steven Page and the Festival's resident Rhodes Scholar, the hilarious and erudite David Goldbloom, who, in addition to being past chair of the Festival's Board, is the senior medical advisor for the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto and the chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Once they've hashed things over, the music begins! Hawksley Workman takes centre stage with his own brand of musical performance that is certain to leave you wanting more - which you'll be able to find in Stratford, September 11 to 20, when he presents his Bacchae-inspired cabaret The God That Comes at the Forum.

Steven Page will also offer up one of his exuberant musical performances, featuring songs combining humour and pathos in a memorable exploration of the evening's theme.

The event culminates in a truly joyous grand finale, featuring Slam headliners and members of the Festival company.

From August 16 to 20, the Stratford Festival Forum presents Shakespeare 450: A Celebration of the Bard, which features the following events, which serve as excellent complements to the productions on stage:

For the first time ever on August 16 and 17, the Festival will have the only Canadian copy of the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare's works on display at the Stratford Perth Museum, courtesy of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto.

Dr. Eric Rasmussen spent two decades studying the 232 surviving copies of the First Folio. While the only Canadian-held copy is on display, Dr. Rasmussen will share stories of those who have possessed, lost, stolen and treasured these priceless pieces of cultural history. The event will take place August 16.

On August 16, learn Elizabethan court dances and how they functioned in the social order with instructor Rebecca Harper.

Where is the soul in Shakespeare? Taking King Lear as their focus, Torrance Kirby and Paul Yachnin of McGill University ask what happens to the human spirit when people are pushed to the limits of endurance on August 17.

How hard could it have been for one man to have written Shakespeare's canon? In this fun, engaging Shakesprov workshop on August 18, led by notable improviser, Second City faculty member and Shakespeare enthusiast Marjorie Malpass, you will learn the keys to inventing your own Shakespeare play on the spot. Uncover the secrets of improvising in iambic pentameter. Play with imagery, invent words, find just the right insults - and discover the power of being your own bard.

Explore and immerse yourself in the power of Shakespeare's words on August 18. Led by Festival coaching staff and special guest artists, this three-hour workshop engages you in the processes our actors use to inhabit Shakespeare's worlds.

On August 19, immerse yourself in Shakespeare's history. Explore Stratford's playbill's three examples of Shakespearean chronicle: King Lear (legendary), King John (historical) and Antony and Cleopatra (Roman) and how their interpretations reveal the playwright's mind.

The Life and Adventures of Sam Wanamaker: The Man Who Built the Globe will take place August 19. This illustrated talk by Paul Prescott, of the University of Warwick, draws on previously unseen archival material to present key episodes in Sam Wanamaker's extraordinary journey from actor to cultural entrepreneur as the visionary behind Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.

In The Playwirght's Crucible, as in Shakespeare's day, watch a playwright contend with argumentative actors, demanding management and a temperamental director as they try to create his play before your eyes. Hosted by Joanne O'Sullivan, this event will take place August 19.

Rev. Dr. Paul Edmondson, from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and Drs. Paul Prescott and Susan Brock, from the University of Warwick, tell their story of reverse pilgrimage and shine a light on Shakespeare Festivals around North America on August 20.

Special Shakespeare-themed Forum events - ranging from a talk by Camille Paglia to a screening of the new film Still Dreaming - will be offered at other times during the season, as well. These include:

A screening of Still Dreaming, a 2014 film directed by Hank Rogerson and Jilann Spitzmiller, makers of Shakespeare Behind Bars, will take place June 28. Rogerson and Spitzmiller are retirees in the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, N.J., and directors from New York's Fiasco Theater stage A Midsummer Night's Dream.

"I Have a Dream," featuring Peter Sellars and guests, will take place July 7. Martin Luther King's words ring forward powerfully into the 21st century and back across human history where they meet, among other forebears and prophets, William Shakespeare. This seminar honours Shakespeare, the activist, and theatre, the catalyst.

Crazy for You playwright Ken Ludwig will host How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare on July 12. In it, he describes how he instilled a love of Shakespeare in his own children.

With the jagged rhythms of rap and the smoothness of rhythm and blues, New York hip-hop artist Devon Glover, The Sonnet Man, is set to inspire a new generation of Shakespeare lovers on July 12.

Lear's Shadow: Contemporary Reflections on Diagnoses, Abuses and Testamentary Capacity will take place on July 19. Does Lear suffer from dementia? Are his daughters guilty of elder abuse? Leading geriatric psychiatrists examine the play and its central character through the lens of their practice.

Dream a Little Dream, a drama workshop, introduces 10- to 12-year-olds to the story and characters of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Using pieces from the Costume and Props Warehouse, participants then rehearse and present a scene from the play. The workshop will take place July 20.

A seminar entitled Reweaving Shakespeare's Cosmology will take place July 23. This seminar explores Shakespeare's "great chain of being" as it links to Buddhist cosmology, Islamic theology and indigenous spiritualities in the West and the East. It features Peter Sellars and guests.

In Sans Teeth, Sans Eyes on July 24, Susan Krauss Whitbourne, psychologist and professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, explores the basis for ageism in Shakespeare's writing and how people today defy these stereotypes.

Apocrypha No More: Shakespeare's Collaborative Plays, will take place on August 15. Scholars Eric Rasmussen and Will Sharpe, with Festival artists, explore issues of authorship, collaboration and attribution surrounding Shakespeare's work.

Not with the Eye, a discussion on the aesthetics of gender - homosexuality, bisexuality and love - as portrayed on stage in Shakespeare's time, will take place on August 20.

Masks, Madness and Shakespeare's Sonnets, an entertaining and informative glimpse into aspects of the use of masks in the theatre and the "madness" of acting, will take place on August 21. Company members explore Shakespeare's sonnets using character half-masks. Directed and compiled by veteran Canadian theatre director Guy Sprung in collaboration with master mask teacher Brian Smith, this informal airing is an innovative window on the power and poetry of Shakespeare's sonnets.

Music, Such As Charmeth Sleep: Musical Interpretations of A Midsummer Night's Dream will take place on August 21. Musician and theatre scholar Lois Kivesto explores how composers such as Purcell, Mendelssohn, Britten and Henze have made this play their own.

In The Dark Women of Shakespeare on September 20, feminist and social critic Camille Paglia speaks about Shakespeare and misogyny - what is it about the mystery and ambiguity of women that so frightens men both then and now.

To purchase tickets to these events and productions, contact the box office at 1.800.567.1600 or visit

The 2014 season of the Stratford Festival runs from April 21 to October 12, featuring King Lear; Crazy for You; A Midsummer Night's Dream; The Beaux' Stratagem; Man of La Mancha; Alice Through the Looking-Glass; Hay Fever; King John; Mother Courage and Her Children; Antony and Cleopatra; Christina, The Girl King; A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Chamber Play; and more than 200 events in the Stratford Festival Forum.

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