Stratford Festival Announces MADNESS: MINDS PUSHED TO THE EDGE 2014 Season; Feat. Shakespeare, CRAZY FOR YOU & More
Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino has announced the 2014 season, in which, through the prism of a dozen plays, the Stratford Festival will explore the theme of Madness: Minds Pushed to The Edge.
"What excites me about this playbill is it contains plays in which the protagonists are driven to extraordinary places," says Mr. Cimolino. "Extreme stakes lead to great drama."
"These plays explore minds that are driven out of balance by a variety of forces: love, war, poverty, age, sexuality. In today's fast-paced global community, we are becoming ever more acutely aware of the consequences of such pressures. The issues behind them are interesting in themselves, but what they do to the human mind - to us - is ultimately the most fascinating thing. When the pressures of life become great enough, our minds give way to other realities. The result is often heartbreakingly tragic, but can also be a trigger for comedy."
The season coincides with the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare, and to mark that occasion, Mr. Cimolino has programmed five Shakespeare productions, including two versions of A Midsummer Night's Dream, a play that revolves around the madness of young love.
"For the first time in our history, we will examine a Shakespeare play in two different productions within the same season," says Mr. Cimolino. "The first will be directed by one of Canada's most exciting young directors, Chris Abraham; the second by one of the most highly regarded, internationally acclaimed directors of Shakespeare, Peter Sellars: two very different approaches to Shakespeare's text."
The season will also feature King Lear; Antony and Cleopatra; King John; The Beaux' Stratagem; Mother Courage; Hay Fever; Alice Through the Looking-Glass;Christina, The Girl King; and the musicals Crazy for You and Man of La Mancha.
"I'm very excited about the creative teams who'll be working on this season with me," says Mr. Cimolino. "In addition to Chris and Peter, our lineup of directors includes the great Martha Henry and others whose work has captivated Festival audiences in recent seasons: Donna Feore, Tim Carroll and Gary Griffin. I'm also looking forward tremendously to the Stratford debuts of artistic leaders from other major Canadian cultural institutions - Jillian Keiley from the National Arts Centre, Alisa Palmer from The National Theatre School and Vanessa Porteous from Alberta Theatre Projects - as well as Robert McQueen, whose work in opera and musical theatre has been acclaimed internationally."
King Lear | By William Shakespeare | Directed by Antoni Cimolino | Festival Theatre: #sfKingLear
The season will open at the Festival Theatre with the Shakespearean masterpiece King Lear, directed by Mr. Cimolino, whose sold-out production of Mary Stuarthas been the runaway hit of 2013.
King Lear is the ultimate example of a mind pushed to The Edge. When the aging king decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters, requiring each in turn to publicly profess how much she loves him, he sets in motion a train of events that will rob him of his home, his status and his sanity - everything except the honest love and loyalty of his youngest daughter, Cordelia. Meanwhile, the Earl of Gloucester is falsely persuaded by his illegitimate son, Edmund, that his other son, Edgar, is conspiring against him. Both these fathers pay for their misjudgements by being driven to the very limits of human endurance.
"King Lear speaks to the simple, naked humanity shared by everyone from a monarch to the poorest of the poor," says Mr. Cimolino. "It's from that essential humanity, not the trappings of wealth or power, that we claim our right to exist. After Lear loses everything, he finds that he is no longer who he thought he was. This loss is a liberation. In his subsequent madness he sees his own folly, awakens to empathy and discovers his soul."
Like Mary Stuart this season, Mr. Cimolino's 2012 production of Cymbeline caught the public's imagination, and was twice extended to meet demand for tickets. His production of The Merchant of Venice opened last week to unanimous acclaim. Mr. Cimolino's other Shakespeare credits at Stratford include Coriolanus with Colm Feore and Martha Henry in 2006, As You Like It with Graham Abbey, Stephen Ouimette and Sara Topham in 2005, King John with Peter Donaldson and Stephen Ouimette in 2004, Love's Labour's Lost with Graham Abbey and Brian Bedford in 2003 and Twelfth Night with Domini Blythe, Peter Donaldson and William Hutt in 2001.
Never before produced by the Festival, Crazy for You will be directed and choreographed at the Festival Theatre by Donna Feore, the force behind a growing list of hit musicals at the Festival, including one of this season's hottest tickets, Fiddler on the Roof, as well as 2012's You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, 2007'sOklahoma! and 2006's Oliver!
Set in the 1930s, Crazy for You is the story of Bobby Child, the scion of a wealthy banking family, whose dream in life is to be a Broadway dancer. Sent by his mother to foreclose on a struggling theatre, he faces a dilemma when he falls in love with a local girl whose affections he will lose if he carries out his mother's commission. His solution: put on a show and pay off the theatre's mortgage.
This high-energy romantic comedy - replete with mistaken identities, plot twists and stunning dance numbers - is packed with beloved Gershwin songs, including "I Got Rhythm," "They Can't Take That Away from Me," "Nice Work if You Can Get It," "Embraceable You" and "Someone to Watch Over Me."
"Crazy for You presents a joyous view of love and madness," says Mr. Cimolino. "But the story is secondary to the powerful force of the Gershwins' music. The bedrock of their work is the music of the Russian and Ukrainian steppes, which led the brothers to write brilliant, entertaining, lively music, with an energy and madness of its own. It is the music of adversity now finding itself in the new world, in what should be the land of milk and honey."
Next year, Ms Feore will celebrate her 20th season with the Festival. To her musical credits, Ms Feore adds the choreography of more than 20 productions here, as well as the direction of the captivating production of Cyrano de Bergerac in 2009. Ms Feore's other credits include directing The Very, Very Best of Broadwaywith Martin Short and Marvin Hamlisch; the Canadian Stage productions of Rock 'n' Roll and It's a Wonderful Life; the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Lecture on the Weather and A Soldier's Tale with F. Murray Abraham; and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's Mozart: A Life in Letters. Her film credits include Politics Is Cruel, Mean Girls, Eloise, Martin and Lewis, Stormy Weather and the opera films Romeo and Juliette and Don Giovanni Unmasked.
A Midsummer Night's Dream | By William Shakespeare | Directed by Chris Abraham | Festival Theatre: #sfDream
Chris Abraham, hot off his spell-binding production of Othello, will direct his first Shakespeare on the Festival Stage, A Midsummer Night's Dream.
This delightful Shakespearean comedy of unrequited desire is imbued with the same life force that permeates Crazy for You. The madness of love runs riot as Hermia flees to the woods with her lover, Lysander, to escape her father's command that she marry Demetrius. Demetrius follows, pursued by Helena, whose love he spurns. Their romantic problems intensify when the fairy world intervenes.
"A Midsummer Night's Dream explores the madness of young love - intemperate, powerful, blind, rash," says Mr. Cimolino. "It is Romeo and Juliet with a happy ending. This young love, however, exists in a male-dominated world where parents want to control their children's natural desires, causing a series of metamorphoses. Even the natural world revolts at man's determination to subvert these desires, putting the climate in disarray."
Mr. Abraham, who is Artistic Director of Crow's Theatre in Toronto, will mark his fifth season at Stratford, where he has quickly established himself as a director of note with stellar productions of The Matchmaker, The Little Years and For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again to his credit. He has won numerous awards in his career, including a Dora for The Little Years, which he directed at Tarragon after its Stratford run. He also has received Doras for Eternal Hydra and Easy Lenny Lazmon, and a Gemini for I, Claudia, and was the recipient of the Siminovitch Protégé Award in 2002. His other credits include Someone Else, Seeds andBOXHEAD at Crow's Theatre; The Patient Hour at Tarragon; Blue/Orange at Canadian Stage; Antigone and The Lesson at Soulpepper; and Hedda Gabler, The Glass Menagerie and Salt-Water Moon at the Saidye Bronfman Centre.
The Beaux' Stratagem | By George Farquhar | Directed by Antoni Cimolino | Festival Theatre: #sfStratagem
Opening later in the season at the Festival Theatre is George Farquhar's brilliant Restoration comedy The Beaux' Stratagem, directed by Mr. Cimolino. It is the first Restoration comedy produced in Stratford since The Country Wife in 1995.
Written in 1707, The Beaux' Stratagem follows the madly comic antics of two impoverished rakes, who, disguising their identities, arrive in the town of Lichfield seeking to restore their fortunes by wooing wealthy women. As the two connive to relieve ladies of their wealth, they must contend with a suspicious local innkeeper and his band of highwaymen, and with an acquaintance privy to their true identity.
"In The Beaux' Stratagem, the necessity of coping with the realities of marriage and personal finance give way to a romp," says Mr. Cimolino. "One of the last of the Restoration comedies, it was written by the amazing George Farquhar, who himself was dying and hoped the play would finance his family after his death. It is very funny and I look forward enormously to directing it."
Hay Fever | By Noël Coward | Directed by Alisa Palmer | Avon Theatre: #sfHayFever
As stylish as it is intoxicatingly absurd, Hay Fever introduces audiences to the Bliss family: a retired actress mother, novelist father and two children, all prone to their own outrageous eccentricities. The family's self-absorbed antics astound and ultimately exasperate the various guests that each of them has invited to their country house for the weekend. Driven to distraction by a comic maelstrom of rousing fights, fevered flirtations and histrionic role-playing, the guests eventually flee, leaving the Blisses happily playing and bickering amongst themselves.
"This is one of the great opportunities for energetic comedy within the theme of madness," says Mr. Cimolino. "Theatre is about taking ordinary situations and pushing them to the extreme - and what could be more delightful than experiencing this through the lives of a theatre family? These people pretend to have an interest in conventional living, in entertaining at their country property. But as we can see by the end, they really are in a world all their own. It's as if they lived only on the stage - sheer madness!"
Ms Palmer is currently collaborating with Ann-Marie Macdonald and Torquil Campbell on a Festival commission to develop a musical reflection on Hamlet. An internationally award-winning director, playwright and producer, Ms Palmer has worked in a range of genres, including classics, contemporary plays, creation projects, musicals and operas. A former Artistic Director of Toronto's Nightwood Theatre and long-time director at the Shaw Festival, Ms Palmer has directed across Canada, winning seven Dora Awards for her work, as well as two Chalmers Awards for her plays i.d. and A Play About the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. Her Shaw credits include Pal Joey, The Philanderer, The Women, Belle Moral: A Natural History, Sunday in the Park with George and Diana of Dobson's. Her other credits include The Children's Republic and East of Berlin at Tarragon, Cloud 9 for Mirvish Productions, the acclaimed Top Girls at Soulpepper, and Mrs. Warren's Profession and The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.
Robert McQueen, whose work in musical theatre and opera has been recognized both nationally and internationally, will make his Stratford debut at the helm ofMan of La Mancha, to be staged at the Avon Theatre.
Featuring the timeless anthem "The Impossible Dream," Man of La Mancha follows the saga of the aging Miguel de Cervantes, playwright, poet and tax collector, who finds himself in a dungeon in Seville awaiting trial by the Inquisition for an offence against the Church. When his fellow prisoners try to confiscate his few possessions, including the uncompleted manuscript of his most famous work, the novel Don Quixote, Cervantes defends his masterpiece by proposing that he present it to them as a play. To this end, Cervantes and his manservant transform themselves into Don Quixote and his fiercely loyal servant, Sancho Panza, recruiting prisoners to take on the roles of other characters. What follows is the stirring tale of the mad Quixote and his obsessive quest to attain the impossible dream. It is the lunatic who sees most clearly in Man of La Mancha, as in King Lear.
"Man of La Mancha is a beautiful contrast to Crazy for You," says Mr. Cimolino. "The source material, Don Quixote, is from the Spanish Golden Age, and you can see that period's theatrical influence on Shakespeare in the Romance plays. Man of La Mancha takes that source material and puts it through the lens of American musical theatre. It depicts a pure, chaste, romantic and mature love - love that elevates the beloved. It is an extraordinary musical because of the story and the characters. Despite dark content, it manages to be inspiring, making us question what is actually the saner choice: to live in filth and despair, or to pursue the romantic ideal."
Mr. McQueen directed Caroline, or Change, the Acting Up Stage musical that took Toronto by storm in 2012. His recent work includes the direction and dramaturgy of the new musical theatre piece Where Elephants Weep, at the Cambodian Living Arts centre in Phnom Pehn, The Light in the Piazza and Strauss's final opera, Capriccio, for Pacific Opera in Victoria. In 2009 he directed a Tokyo-based creative team and Acting Company in a Japanese-language production ofCarousel at the Galaxy Theatre in Tokyo. For the Vancouver Opera he served as director and dramaturge for The Magic Flute. The project, for which he also adapted the libretto, was a collaboration with a 15-member creative team of Canadian aboriginal and non-native visual artists and theatre-makers. His other work includes directing La Bohème for the Canadian Opera Company and serving as associate director of the Broadway and national touring productions of Mamma Mia, as well as the direction of the Mexico City, Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires productions.
Alice Through the Looking-Glass | Adapted by James Reaney | Directed by Jillian Keiley | Avon Theatre: #sfAlice
Twenty years after its Stratford première, the Festival is pleased to present Lewis Carroll's wildly inventive fantasy Alice Through the Looking-Glass, in an adaptation commissioned by the Festival from nationally renowned playwright and poet James Reaney, a native son of Stratford. So popular was the 1994 production that it was re-mounted in 1996 to the great delight of audiences of all ages.
Jillian Keiley, Artistic Director of English Theatre at the National Arts Centre, will bring her remarkable creative vision to the piece, to be staged at the Avon Theatre and produced in association with the National Arts Centre.
"The underlying material for Alice Through the Looking-Glass is, of course, iconic and examines a fantasy world filled with some of the greatest and most familiar nonsense verse," says Mr. Cimolino. "The characters - the Walrus and the Carpenter, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Humpty Dumpty and the Jabberwock - are the inhabitants of the farthest reaches of a child's imagination."
Deciding to explore the alternative world she sees inside her living-room mirror, Alice finds a place that in some aspects resembles her home yet differs from it in ways as delightful as they are surreal.
Ms Keiley won the 2004 Siminovitch Prize for her "startlingly original and radically imaginative" directing style, making her an ideal candidate to take on the sublime nonsense of both Lewis Carroll and James Reaney. She is also the recipient of the Canada Council's John Hirsch Award. Her credits include Tempting Providence, which she created in collaboration with playwright Robert Chafe, and which, over a 10-year run, toured across Canada and abroad, as did Afterimage. She and Mr. Chafe, the co-founders of Newfoundland's Artistic Fraud, also collaborated on Oil and Water, at Factory Theatre. Ms Keiley made a big splash with her first project as Artistic Director of the NAC, Metamorphoses, a play by Mary Zimmerman, which re-imagines 10 classical myths. Set around a giant swimming pool, this theatrical event allowed audiences to experience the consequences of humanity's deepest desires. Ms Keiley's Stratford connection dates back to 2008, when she was selected as a participant in the International Master Directors Summit.
Considered one of the greatest plays of the 20th century - and perhaps the greatest anti-war play of all time - Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage will be directed by one of the Festival's most celebrated artists, Martha Henry, returning for a remarkable 40th season with the Stratford Festival in 2014. Ms Henry's contributions to the Festival include the direction of numerous critically acclaimed productions, including this season's Measure for Measure, 2009's Three Sisters, 2007's Of Mice and Men and 2002's Elizabeth Rex.
Mother Courage was written in 1939 as a response to the Nazi invasion of Poland. Set in 17th-century Europe and spanning 12 years, the story follows Mother Courage as she struggles to make a living and to protect her three children during the Thirty Years' War. By the end of the play, having lost everyone she loves and almost everything she owns, she has truly been driven to The Edge - yet somehow she finds the will to carry on.
"Mother Courage presents a world in which the madness of war becomes not only day-to-day but something that the people can't live without," says Mr. Cimolino. "It represents profit. It represents the new normal. In that respect it is like our world today. As the characters cynically take advantage of the opportunities for commercial gain that the war provides, they lose anything of real worth, including their souls. They lose their children, they lose their freedom, they lose their self-respect and eventually they lose their lives."
A Companion of the Order of Canada and a recipient of the Governor General's Lifetime Achievement Award, Ms Henry boasts a career without parallel in this country. Her work opposite the great William Hutt was truly the stuff of dreams, beginning with her portrayal of Miranda to his Prospero and also including Mary to his James Tyrone in Long Day's Journey into Night. Her Shakespearean roles include Titania, Lady Macduff, Helena, Luciana, Cressida, Viola, the Countess of Rossillion, Cymbeline's Queen, Lady Anne, Queen Eleanor, Cordelia, Goneril, Rosaline, the Princess of France, Thaisa, Desdemona, Lady Macbeth, Queen Margaret, Isabella, Beatrice, Paulina and Volumnia. As Director of the Festival's Birmingham Conservatory, Ms Henry is training a whole new generation of classical actors.
King John, the story of a monarch trying desperately to maintain his grip on power, will be presented at the Tom Patterson Theatre in a production directed by Tim Carroll.
"King John looks at a mind driven by the dangerous combination of ambition and insecurity," says Mr. Cimolino. "John commits horrible acts to secure a position he rightly holds. There is a wonderful range of characters in this play who navigate, with varying degrees of success, the pressures of politics, ambition, legitimacy and loss. From Hubert the mercenary, asked to commit an atrocity, to Constance, who wishes she were mad to escape the pain of her child's murder, it is the Bastard (a very different bastard from Edmund in King Lear) who comes through the play with the most honour and integrity."
Tim Carroll, who this season gave audiences the opportunity to see a Romeo and Juliet as Shakespeare might have presented it at The Globe Theatre, will transport audiences to the Blackfriars Theatre in a candlelit production of King John.
Mr. Carroll, former Associate Director of Shakespeare's Globe in London, directed a sold-out production of Twelfth Night, starring Mark Rylance, which transferred from the Globe to London's West End, garnering four Olivier nominations this year, and which will open on Broadway in the fall. Mr. Carroll is one of the world's most respected directors of Shakespeare. His Globe credits also include Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, The Two Noble Kinsmen, The Tempest and The Golden Ass. For the RSC he directed The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night's Dream. His international credits include Fair Ladies at a Game of Poem Cards,The Duchess of Malfi and Victory for the Barka Theatre in Budapest; All's Well That Ends Well for The National Theatre in Craiova, Romania; Amadeus for The National Theatre in Portugal; and A Midsummer Night's Dream for the Sydney Opera House. He is a founding member of The Factory, in London, for which he directed three theatre experiments: Hamlet, The Seagull and The Odyssey. Mr. Carroll made his Stratford debut as director of the wildly popular Peter Pan in 2010.
The play, produced just four times before at Stratford, follows the relationship of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, with Mark Antony, who, having defeated Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar, is now one of the three rulers of the Roman republic. Criticized for neglecting his political and military responsibilities - and his wife in Rome - as he dallies in Alexandria with Cleopatra, Antony attempts to break free of Cleopatra's spell, and returns to Rome to help crush an incipient rebellion. Once there, his wife having died, he agrees to a political marriage, enraging Cleopatra. But Antony cannot long endure his separation from the bewitching Egyptian queen: when war breaks out, he abandons his new wife and returns to Egypt, a choice that leads to his own and Cleopatra's tragic ends.
"Antony and Cleopatra examines older love and the pressures of being madly in love when you know better," says Mr. Cimolino. "This play has some of the most incredibly lyrical and intense love poetry ever written, along with beautiful observations on life that speak to us today, in a world where second and third marriages have never been more common."
Mr. Griffin has a string of hit productions to his credit at Stratford, including 42nd Street, Camelot, Evita and West Side Story. He won an Olivier Award for outstanding musical for his production of Pacific Overtures at the Donmar Warehouse in London. On Broadway, he was the director of Oprah Winfrey's production of The Color Purple and of The Apple Tree. His Off-Broadway credits include Music in the Air, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Pardon My English and The New Moonfor City Center Encores!, Saved at Playwrights Horizons; and Beautiful Thing at the Cherry Lane. He has won numerous awards for his work at Chicago Shakespeare, where his credits include Amadeus, Passion, A Flea in Her Ear, A Little Night Music, Sunday in the Park with George and Pacific Overtures.
Christina, The Girl King | By Michel Marc Bouchard | Translated by Linda Gaboriau | Directed by Vanessa Porteous | Studio Theatre: #sfChristina
The Festival is delighted to present Linda Gaboriau's translation of Michel Marc Bouchard's Christina, The Girl King. Written by one of Quebec's most celebrated playwrights, the play will make its English-language première at the Studio Theatre, directed by Vanessa Porteous, Artistic Director of Alberta Theatre Projects.
Commissioned as a translation by the Festival in 2010, the play is the story of Christina of Sweden, an extraordinarily modern character who was born just 10 years after Shakespeare's death. Hers is a story of bringing sanity to an insane world. The enigmatic ruler showed a passion for philosophy, literature and the arts but her lifestyle and refusal to marry proved sources of great concern at court. Rather than bow to pressure to conform to the expectations of others, the 26-year-old queen abdicates in order to be free to pursue her own aspirations. Is this an act of madness? Or is Christina's the story of a modern woman born out of her time - one whom the 17th century simply couldn't contain?
"Michel Marc Bouchard has such a great gift for helping us understand the situation of the person who does not fit in," says Mr. Cimolino. "In Christina, The Girl King, he has beautifully brought to life the story of a historical figure who had the courage to step outside of the society that attempted to bind her in. As the daughter of a Protestant warrior king - himself one of the driving forces of the Thirty Years' War depicted in Mother Courage - she was expected to get married, have children and adhere to the spartan values of the Swedish nation as it was then. Instead she introduced foreign, and then radical scientific and philosophical ideas, and strained to remain unmarried and independent.
"Bouchard examines the pressures inherent in her sexual and personal self-discovery in a highly compelling play. The pressures in her life push her to The Edge. Rather than give over to madness, which would be the only outcome of staying on as queen, she leaves her throne and her country, moving to Rome where she is free to live outside of marriage as a patron of the arts."
Ms Porteous makes her Festival debut with this production.
Peter Sellars, renowned for his transformative interpretations of artistic masterpieces, comes to the Festival for the first time to stage his reimagined version of A Midsummer Night's Dream. With a cast of four actors playing all of the roles, this staging will offer an intensely focused approach to Shakespeare's examination of the role-playing, mercurial mood swings, delusional fantasy, deep hurt, and forgiveness and release at the heart of human relationships.
"What is extraordinary about Stratford is not that we do 12 plays in one year, but that we do them all at the same time, giving theatre-goers an opportunity to experience one play in light of another. Next season, for the first time ever, we will offer a chance for audiences to experience the same title in two very different productions, along with further opportunities for exploration in The Forum," says Mr. Cimolino.
"I look forward to welcoming Peter to the Stratford Festival," he adds. "I have greatly enjoyed his work in opera and Shakespeare for its beauty, vulnerability and intelligence. When Peter spoke to me about his ideas for Dream, I sensed an opportunity to create not only an exploration but a celebration of this great play."
Mr. Sellars has worked with an extraordinary range of creative artists over the past three decades. His landmark staging of Sophocles' Ajax, set at the Pentagon, was invited to tour Europe and ignited his international career. Other noteworthy Theatre Projects include a 1994 staging of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Veniceset in southern California with a cast of black, white, Latino and Asian-American actors; a production of Euripides' The Children of Herakles, focusing on contemporary immigration and refugee issues and experience; and, in 2009, Othello, inspired by and set in the America of newly elected President Barack Obama. Desdemona, Sellars's recent collaboration with the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison and Malian composer and singer Rokia Traore, has been performed in Vienna, Brussels, Paris, Berkeley, New York, Berlin, Amsterdam and Naples, and was presented in London as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.
Tickets for the 2014 season of the Stratford Festival go on sale to Members on November 11, 2013, and to the general public on January 4, 2014, with a special advance sale on Facebook beginning January 2.
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