Shakespeare, Musicals, Premieres and More to Explore Free Will at Stratford Festival in 2018

Shakespeare, Musicals, Premieres and More to Explore Free Will at Stratford Festival in 2018

For the Stratford Festival's 2018 season, Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino has chosen 12 productions that explore the theme of Free Will.

"We long for liberty," says Mr. Cimolino, "but with it comes a heavy burden of responsibility. Often we agonize over making tough decisions. Occasionally we try to force our wills on others. Too seldom do we take responsibility for our actions. And there's a fascinating paradox at the heart of this theme. When Christopher Hitchens was asked if he believed in free will, he replied: 'I have no choice.' "

Exploring the season's theme within such dramatic contexts as families, communities, politics and art, the 2018 season will embrace a wide variety of theatrical genres and styles.

"We have some very special programming in the works," says Mr. Cimolino. "From The Tempest and The Rocky Horror Show to Coriolanus and our two newest plays, we're going to be offering our audiences some memorable new experiences."

The Tempest, for instance, which Mr. Cimolino will direct at the Festival Theatre, will feature Martha Henry as Prospero. "Martha's first role at Stratford was Miranda in The Tempest, and from that moment she has shown herself to be a master of theatrical magic. This play on some level is about accomplished artists reflecting on their body of work and preparing themselves for the future. The production will feature an incredible cast - all there because of Martha, an artist we love very much. It really will be an event."

Another master of theatrical arts, Donna Feore, will be pulling off a coup de théâtre, directing not one but two musicals, both of which will run for the entire season: Meredith Willson's Broadway classic The Music Man at the Festival Theatre, and the cult classic Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Show at the Avon Theatre.

"The Music Man is a wonderful show for the entire family," says Mr. Cimolino. "It is ideally suited to the rare talents of Donna Feore because not only does it have great music, but it also relies upon delicious book scenes - and it has the potential for extraordinary dance, which she will make the most of.

"Donna will also bring excitement and insight to The Rocky Horror Show, an iconic rock and roll musical that really speaks to our desire to live life in an uninhibited way. Those of us who came of age with Rocky Horror are thrilled to have it as part of the season. It is ripe for sharing with the next generation."

Genre-defying director Robert Lepage will take on Shakespeare's Coriolanus in his Festival debut. The production will use real-time video and elements of social media as it explores Shakespeare's play about morality, ethics, social responsibility and individual virtue.

A second Roman history play, Julius Caesar, will be directed by Scott Wentworth, the directorial hand behind two poignant and beautifully intimate Shakespeare productions at Stratford, this season's Romeo and Juliet and 2015's The Adventures of Pericles.

"These are two very different Roman plays," says Mr. Cimolino. "Julius Caesar shows us the end of Roman democracy and is a warning to all of us who are concerned about our individual freedom and about our ability to direct our future as a society. Scott Wentworth, who did such a beautiful job on both Pericles and Romeo and Juliet will be working with an extraordinary cast on this production.

"Coriolanus has a much earlier point of reference, but still in this very nascent democracy there was such tension between the average civilian and the elite, who had no patience for the population at large, that it led to civil war, nearly putting an end to democracy before it had a chance to flourish. Robert Lepage is an extremely gifted artist and for so many years I've hoped to bring him to Stratford. He has led workshops for us on this production and they point to an absolutely stunning version of this play."

The fourth Shakespeare is The Comedy of Errors, directed by Keira Loughran, who was at the helm of this season's haunting production of The Komagata Maru Incident and last year's heart-rending production of The Aeneid. "This is a hilarious comedy filled not only with slapstick fun but also with a profound yearning for completion," says Mr. Cimolino. "Under Keira Loughran's careful and imaginative direction, I sense it will be something not to be missed." The Comedy of Errors is tentatively slated for the Studio Theatre.

The American classic To Kill a Mockingbird will be directed by Nigel Shawn Williams in his Stratford directorial debut. "To Kill a Mockingbird is a play that is critically important to be heard today, especially among our young," says Mr. Cimolino, "and Nigel Shawn Williams - a gifted storyteller - is the perfect director to bring it to the Festival stage. After the events in Charlottesville, it's become clear that there is a vital need to come together as a community to protect each other and safeguard freedom and tolerance." The production will use Christopher Sergel's dramatization of Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

The season will feature another American classic, one of history's greatest plays, Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, directed by Miles Potter, the deft hand behind almost a dozen memorable StratfoRD Productions. The production is tentatively slated for the Studio Theatre. "Long Day's Journey Into Night, published posthumously, is O'Neill's great cri de coeur, a searing confessional about the tyrannies within his own family," says Mr. Cimolino. "An extraordinary cast led by one of Canada's finest directors will have the chance to explore this remarkable play under close scrutiny in the Studio Theatre. It promises to be an unforgettable experience."

Another 20th century classic, this one a comedy from Second World War Italy, will be presented at the Festival for the first time, in a newly commissioned translation by John Murrell. Napoli Milionaria, by Eduardo De Filippo, will be directed by Antoni Cimolino, a first generation Italian Canadian. This sparkling and warm-hearted comedy takes place in Naples near the end of the war, when a family becomes involved with the black market. As money begins to flow in, community ties are tested.

"This fantastic play came at a critical juncture for Italian society," says Mr. Cimolino. "Like Arthur Miller's All My Sons, it is about how the world must begin to pick up the pieces, take stock of the horrors and decide to live a more civilized peaceful life going forward. I have a passion for this playwright, having directed Richard Monette in Filumena in 1997. De Filippo is one of the 20th century's great writers and this is a rare chance to witness his magic here in Canada."

Also at the Avon will be Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband, directed by Lezlie Wade, who brought to life the season's captivating production of HMS Pinafore. It tells the story of a politician who is being blackmailed over an indiscretion he committed when young. "This great play has both dramatic and comic elements and reflects the personal tragedy of Oscar Wilde's own life," says Mr. Cimolino. "Lezlie Wade, who has profound love for plays of this period, having directed sparkling productions both here and at the Shaw Festival, is perfect for this project."

The 2018 season will feature two exciting new plays emerging from the Festival's Laboratory: Brontë: The World Without and Paradise Lost.

Brontë: The World Without, by Jordi Mand, tells the story of the famous literary sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. It will be directed by Vanessa Porteous, former head of Alberta Theatre Projects and the talent behind the extraordinary première of Christina: The Girl King at Stratford in 2014.

"Jordi Mand, among the very finest playwrights of her generation, has created a profoundly beautiful and detailed exploration of these three women, who - living in poverty with their ailing father and dissolute, dying brother - find desperately needed self-expression," says Mr. Cimolino. "In writing they find release but they also find competition as each one seeks to outshine the others, whom they nonetheless love very much. As this truly gripping story unfolds, we follow their personal victories and defeats as their individual fortunes rise and fall."

Paradise Lost, a theatrical adaptation by Erin Shields, will also have its world première in 2018, directed by Jackie Maxwell, who recently concluded a highly regarded tenure as Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival and made her Stratford debut this season with an exhilarating production of The Changeling. John Milton's epic tale of the battle between the forces of good and evil serves as the inspiration for this ultra-contemporary, funny and ultimately profoundly moving poetic meditation on loss.

"This script is brilliant: a cheeky, irreverent and fiercely engaging adaptation of the great epic poem by one of the country's most promising playwrights," says Mr. Cimolino. "The cast of characters includes God, his Son, the archangels, Adam and Eve, Satan and a host of devils - and it includes a play within a play performed by a heavenly choir. It is profound thought-provoking and delightful throughout. What would a season about Free Will be without an exploration of Adam and Eve's decision to eat that apple?"

Tickets for the 2018 season will go on sale to Members of the Stratford Festival beginning on November 12, 2017, and to the general public on January 5, 2018. For more information, visit stratfordfestival.ca.

NOTE: In anticipation of the planned reconstruction of the Tom Patterson Theatre, the 2018 season will be presented in the Festival, Avon and Studio Theatres. In the event the reconstruction does not proceed in the forthcoming months, some titles will be shifted to the Tom Patterson Theatre.


2018 LINEUP:

SHAKESPEARE:

The Tempest

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Antoni Cimolino

Festival Theatre

Coriolanus

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Robert Lepage

Avon Theatre

Created in collaboration with Ex Machina

Julius Caesar

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Scott Wentworth

Festival Theatre

The Comedy of Errors

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Keira Loughran

Studio Theatre (tentative)

MUSICALS:

Meredith Willson's The Music Man

Book, Music and Lyrics by Meredith Willson

Story by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacy

Directed and Choreographed by Donna Feore

Festival Theatre

Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Show

Book, Music and Lyrics by Richard O'Brien

Directed and Choreographed by Donna Feore

Avon Theatre

By arrangement with Rocky Horror Company Limited

MODERN CLASSICS:

To Kill a Mockingbird

Based upon the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee

Dramatized by Christopher Sergel

Directed by Nigel Shawn Williams

Festival Theatre

The Schulich Family Play for 2018

Long Day's Journey Into Night

By Eugene O'Neill

Directed by Miles Potter

Studio Theatre (tentative)

An Ideal Husband

By Oscar Wilde

Directed by Lezlie Wade

Avon Theatre

Napoli Milionaria

By Eduardo De Filippo

In a new translation by John Murrell, commissioned by the Stratford Festival

From a literal translation by Donato Santeramo

Directed by Antoni Cimolino

Avon Theatre (tentative)

WORLD PREMIÈRES:

Brontë: The World Without

By Jordi Mand

Directed by Vanessa Porteous

World première: A Stratford Festival commission

Studio Theatre

Paradise Lost

By Erin Shields

A theatrical adaptation of John Milton's Paradise Lost

Directed by Jackie Maxwell

World première: A Stratford Festival commission

Studio Theatre

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