Stratford Festival 2020 Announces 15 Plays, A New Theatre, and More
Colm Feore will utter the first words on the Stratford Festival's newest stage, an echo of the inaugural performance in 1953, when Alec Guinness's opening speech in Richard III anticipated the "glorious summer" that was to come for Stratford. Feore, an internationally acclaimed stage and screen actor, is just one of a diverse company of accomplished actors who will present a repertory season of 15 productions in four remarkable theatres.
"2020 will be one of our most ambitious seasons ever. With 15 productions - five of them in the new Tom Patterson Theatre Centre - it will pay tribute to our storied past and look forward to a glorious future," says Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino, who spearheaded the development of the $70-million facility and now has the great pleasure of programming its first season, one he has designed around the theme of Power.
"There is a growing acceptance of the naked use of power. Brute force is in vogue on the world stage, from international trade to immigration and the arms race - and, closer to home, in elections, the workplace and even in social media engagements. Through comedy, tragedy, musicals and farce, the plays in our 2020 season explore the dynamics of power in society, politics, art, gender and family life," Cimolino says. "Come, taste the invigorating and intoxicating elixir of Power!"
In putting together the 2020 season, the first play that came to Cimolino as a must in the new Tom Patterson Theatre is the one that started the Stratford Festival: Richard III. "Here is a play about an individual who is shameless in his drive to achieve power," he says. "How do bad people rise to power? Why do we support those who are obviously corrupt and immoral?"
Cimolino will direct the great Shakespearean tragedy and Colm Feore will play Richard, a psychopath determined to seize the crown. "From the moment I first saw Colm Feore on stage I knew I was watching an extraordinary classical actor," says Cimolino. "Danger, intelligence and a razor sharp wit make him an extraordinary Richard III. He is part of the DNA of the Stratford Festival so I am thrilled to have him open the new theatre."
Feore, returning for his 18th Stratford season, has brought his classical skills to hundreds of stage and screen productions, becoming a favourite villain in super-hero blockbusters like Thor, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Gotham. He's also played key roles in House of Cards, The Borgias and Slings and Arrows. He has taken on roles as iconic Canadians Glenn Gould and Pierre Trudeau, while also creating the uniquely Canadian hero Martin Ward in two Bon Cop Bad Cop films. At Stratford he most recently played the title role in King Lear, a production that was a huge critical and popular success, launching the Stratford Festival on Film series and becoming one of the top-selling Shakespeares in the theatre's history. His latest film, Astronaut, was recently released and he is currently shooting the much-anticipated second season of The Umbrella Academy. Feore, an Officer of the Order of Canada, received the Governor General's Performing Arts Award for a lifetime of artistic achievement this past year.
Tom Patterson Theatre Centre Programming
Alongside Richard III Cimolino has programmed Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well, which was the companion piece to Richard III in 1953, when the Festival held its very first season in a massive tent overlooking the Avon River. Director Scott Wentworth will be at the helm of the Shakespearean comedy of heartbreak and deception that indeed works out in the end.
"Both Richard III and All's Well are about the birth of the modern world. They compare a set of values, a set of expectations about loyalty and service in a world that is already disappearing: a feudal era that is giving way to a modern world of capitalism," Cimolino says. "Because these plays are about both the past and the future, they are exactly the right plays to begin a theatre with, and I guess Tyrone Guthrie knew that when he selected them for the first season.
"Scott has created a number of magnificent Shakespeare productions for us recently. His Romeo and Juliet touched people's hearts. His Pericles made an often difficult play into a sweeping fairy tale. And his un-gendered Julius Caesar gave us a new window into one of Shakespeare's most rousing history plays. I'm delighted to have him taking on this important production at the new Patterson."
A new theatre calls out for new work so sharing the stage with these great classics are two brilliant Festival commissions.
Canadian Music Hall of Famer Steven Page, Siminovitch Prize-winning playwright Daniel MacIvor and musical-theatre director extraordinaire Donna Feore will bring a brand new musical to a brand new stage. Here's What It Takes charts the musical highs and living-the-life lows of rock duo Walker and Rhodes on their journey from performing at children's birthday parties in the early '80s to the top of the pops in the '90s and on to the rocky roads of the new century.
"I can think of no better way to highlight the excitement of a new theatre than with a new musical," says Cimolino, "especially one created by this extraordinary team of outstanding Canadian artists. From his days in Barenaked Ladies on, Steven Page has been one of my favourite collaborators - he's been the composer for six of my productions here. Daniel MacIvor is a brilliant writer and dramatist who has brought dozens of celebrated projects to the stage and screen. His poignant play The Best Brothers came out of our New Play Development department. With the incredible Donna Feore central to our creative team, we are thrilled to be able to take on something of this scale. Here's What It Takes is a vibrant, funny and moving exploration of two lives lived creating music." The production is a Stratford Festival commission and has been in active development here since 2017.
Feore has directed a string of hit musicals for the Festival, including this season's Billy Elliot the Musical and Little Shop of Horrors, as well as the longest running show in Stratford history, The Rocky Horror Show. She recently directed and choreographed the world première of The Hockey Sweater: A Musical at Montreal's Segal Centre, as well as the National Arts Centre production of it.
From Morris Panych, co-creator of the landmark movement piece The Overcoat, and internationally acclaimed composer David Coulter, comes a thrilling new work: Frankenstein Revived. Focussing on Mary Shelley, who at just 18 wrote the most celebrated horror story in English literature, this exuberant and passion-filled movement piece explores the big question at the heart of her work: what does it mean to be human?
"As we struggle with the implications of creating Artificial Intelligence, we cannot help but consider Dr. Frankenstein, to whom Mary Shelley granted the power to create intelligent life," says Cimolino. "From her story, Morris Panych and David Coulter have created a beautiful and evocative piece that points to future concerns as well as aspirations for humanity. I am delighted to welcome Morris back to Stratford as a director. His work with both movement- and text-based pieces is truly inspiring." Panych wrote and directed The Trespassers in 2009 and was the director and librettist for the world première of the musical Wanderlust in 2012. He also adapted and directed 2008's Moby Dick, another movement-based work he created for the Stratford stage. Frankenstein Revived has been in active development in Stratford since 2016.
The new Tom Patterson Theatre Centre includes a second performance space, Lazaridis Hall, which will be home to The Meighen Forum as well as to the 2020 production of An Undiscovered Shakespeare, a spontaneous theatre creation developed and directed by Rebecca Northan, whose Blind Date has been an international sensation. "If you think improv is hard, try doing it in iambic pentameter!" says Cimolino, describing the key premise of this new piece, workshopped in the Festival's Laboratory. "Rebecca has a winning idea with this show and without fail creates a fabulous experience every performance."
Northan builds a hilarious performance around one audience member's love story and with a team of talented improvisers structures a mini Shakespearean five-act retelling of that love story, all in the poetic rhyming scheme used by the Bard himself. "If the experience of watching a play being created before your very eyes isn't enough, the laughs, the tears and the sheer theatrical virtuosity of this talented group of theatre makers will astound you."
An Undiscovered Shakespeare will have more than 30 performances, each one a unique, never-to-be-repeated theatrical event. Over the past three years, the Festival has presented workshop performances of the piece and in 2018 co-produced a "work-in-progress" production with the Grand Theatre in London.
In addition to raising $70 million for the new theatre, the Spirit of the Tent Campaign is raising $30 million to support the programs the facility will house - programs that will ensure the Tom Patterson Theatre Centre is a hive of activity.
An Undiscovered Shakespeare is a great example of the type of programming that will animate the new TPTC. Lazaridis Hall, a large, adaptable space, will be used for performances, concerts, readings and lively panel discussions, and will allow The Meighen Forum to grow to more than 300 events annually, including the popular CBC "Ideas at Stratford" series. The hall is positioned next to a new café, overlooking the beautiful Avon River.
The new TPTC will also be home to the Festival's Laboratory for the exploration of new work and theatre craft. Thanks to financial support from Laura Dinner and Richard Rooney, the TPTC will include a new facility where Canadian and International Artists will gather to share technique and develop skills. This space will also enliven the Festival's work with students.
Also receiving rejuvenation in the new TPTC is the Festival's newly named Foerster Bernstein New Play Development Program, which has produced three works for the 2020 season. With roughly 20 titles in development at any given time, its recent successes include Kate Hennig's Queenmaker plays (The Last Wife, The Virgin Trial and Mother's Daughter), Erin Shields's Paradise Lost, Hannah Moscovitch's Bunny, and Colleen Murphy's The Breathing Hole, as well as a number of recently staged translations and adaptations, including Birds of a Kind, Napoli Milionaria! and The Aeneid.
"We have all missed the Tom Patterson Theatre but I hope that the patrons who have been so supportive and understanding over these past two seasons without it will feel amply rewarded by the remarkable scope and range of work we offer in 2020 - not only in this wonderful new bespoke space but in all four of our treasured venues," says Cimolino.
Festival Theatre Programming
"Each of our theatres has different strengths, different personalities and the ability to deliver a certain kind of work in a very strong way - though of course you can deviate from that. The Festival Theatre is perfection on a large scale. It's this great stage that supports the players beautifully and has the audience in close proximity, even though they are a community of 1,800 people at that time - a real cross-section of humanity. Musicals do beautifully there and of course the great Shakespeares and classics - and that's what we will offer on our main stage in 2020."
Musical theatre fans will be thrilled to learn that the Festival has secured the rights to the first major production of Kander and Ebb's Chicago outside of New York and London in 30 years. The hit musical, which holds the record for longest running musical revival on Broadway, will be entirely reimagined by director-choreographer Donna Feore, whose work with musicals on the Festival stage has transformed classics and transfixed audiences.
"Barry Weissler, who controls the rights to Chicago, is a huge fan of the Stratford Festival and because of his enormous faith in Donna Feore, he went out of his way to allow us to do an entirely new production here in Canada," says Cimolino. "With Donna's creative guidance this will be a magnificent production, created especially for the Festival's thrust stage and unlike any version of the show you may have seen before. Chicago is totally a musical for our time. It's about celebrity culture; it's about corruption; it's about lawyers and cynicism; it's about the power of leveraging all your assets to do the wrong thing. And it's filled with incredible music!"
There will be three classic works on the Festival stage. First a great Shakespeare comedy: Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Chris Abraham, Artistic Director of Crow's Theatre, who created rollicking productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Taming of the Shrew and Tartuffe.
"Chris has brought some amazing comedies to the Festival stage and I'm so glad he is able to take the helm of one of Shakespeare's finest," says Cimolino. "Much Ado About Nothing takes place after a war but is primarily interested in the merry and not-so-merry wars amongst men and women in the early modern world. In an era of ever-changing attitudes towards marriage and power, Shakespeare presents us with a society at once filled with progressive feminist impulses and countervailing forces rooted in traditional patriarchal values. With his astonishing wit and insight, Shakespeare explores the complexities that underlie these growing social tensions - and it's exactly this exploration that I look forward to seeing brought to life in Chris's production."
Next, Shakespeare's most famous play: Hamlet, directed by Peter Pasyk. "Hamlet is important to do in a year when we have a fresh beginning because the play takes the pulse of the time: it shows the form and pressure of the age, allowing us to see ourselves as we are now. Not only is it a great tragedy, it is also a great mirror," says Cimolino. "Peter Pasyk was part of our Langham Workshop for Classical Direction and worked with me on Birds of a Kind and The School for Scandal. His direction in various productions of his that I've seen is always nuanced, insightful and compelling." A two-time Dora Award nominee for outstanding direction, Pasyk was at the helm of the recent critically acclaimed Toronto production of The Nether.
Cimolino and Colm Feore come together again for the late opener at the Festival: Molière's The Miser. In 2014 they had a similar collaboration with the great Shakespearean tragedy King Lear and the hilarious Restoration comedy The Beaux' Stratagem, both of which were huge hits that season. Feore will play the title character, Harper. The production will use the translation by Ranjit Bolt, whose modern translation of Tartuffe was such a success in Stratford in 2017 that it moved on to Toronto in 2018.
"Molière's great comedy is not only deliciously funny, but points to what I think is the greatest malady that humanity has: our belief that through money we can get security and happiness, when in fact money seems to drive the exact opposite," says Cimolino.
Studio Theatre Programming
The Studio Theatre, modelled on the Festival Theatre but even more intimate, provides an opportunity to watch plays under intense scrutiny. "New work is very important to the whole season," says Cimolino, "but the Studio Theatre gives us an opportunity to put new work alongside a great American modern classic and a great Canadian modern classic."
The American classic is Edward Albee's Three Tall Women, with Diana Leblanc directing. "This play is like an x-ray, examining unresolved and unresolvable relationship conflicts as experienced by different generations of women," says Cimolino. "Diana is a Canadian treasure and a pioneering director in this country. She has brought us so many beautiful plays, including heart-rending productions of Long Day's Journey Into Night in 1994 - one of the most memorable shows ever staged here - Death of a Salesman, The Cherry Orchard, A Delicate Balance, and many more. With her expert hand and an exceptional cast, we are going to have a production that will be unforgettable."
Another group of unforgettable women will be gathering at the Studio Theatre under the direction of Jessica Carmichael in Tomson Highway's The Rez Sisters, a seminal theatrical work. "In putting this play together, Tomson Highway worked with a group of First Nations actresses who improvised the various scenes so he could more accurately capture the female Indigenous voice," says Cimolino. "This will have an Indigenous team, led by Jessica Carmichael, a gifted director who has been part of our Langham directing program. It's a beautiful, moving piece and I'm very proud we are going to be presenting it with such an accomplished group of artists." Carmichael, who is an assistant professor at Concordia University's theatre department and former artistic director of Carousel Players, served as assistant director for The Aeneid in 2016 and Christina, The Girl King in 2014.
Alongside these classics is Hamlet-911, a new play created by a powerhouse team of Canadian theatre-makers, Ann-Marie Macdonald, a brilliant playwright, novelist, broadcaster and actor, and Alisa Palmer, a key leader in the Canadian theatre community, a respected director and head of The National Theatre School's English Division. "Workshopped over almost a decade at Stratford, this play is a testament to the development cycle of a work of art," says Cimolino. "What has emerged from this inspiring process is an extraordinary play, which uses the bones of Shakespeare's great tragedy to tell a story very much about our time. It looks at the issues that young people face today, particularly around the contemplation of ending our lives, and the relationship of a son to a father and a mother, and of a girlfriend to a boyfriend. It's extremely moving."
Avon Theatre Programming
Finally, the Avon Theatre, the Festival's proscenium arch stage, will feature three very different 21st-century adaptations from across the pond.
First, the North American première of Wendy & Peter Pan by Ella Hickson. A retelling of the beloved J.M. Barrie story through Wendy's eyes, this will be the Schulich Children's Play, directed by Keira Loughran, whose recent work at Stratford includes last year's sold-out gender-bending production of The Comedy of Errors. Loughran has a keen interest in movement-based theatre (seen in her 2016 production of The Aeneid) and will be working with choreographer Allen Kaeja, who pioneered Kaeja Elevations, which includes a groundbreaking approach to flying.
Commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, this family show won tremendous praise when it was first staged in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2015 and at Edinburgh's Lyceum Theatre in 2018. "This beautiful new retelling of the Peter Pan story makes sense of Neverland in a way I've never seen before," says Cimolino. "It's one of those rare adaptations of a classic that improves upon the source material. Keira Loughran has a vision for the show that leans in to its feminist roots but maintains it as a delicious story for children of all ages."
And now for something completely different: the Tony-winning Best Musical of 2005, Monty Python's Spamalot, directed by Lezlie Wade and choreographed by Jesse Robb. "Spamalot is totally about power," says Cimolino. "It gives us the absurdist view of the hunt for and belief in power. It's about the underpinnings of democracy versus monarchy. And it is hilarious from start to finish! I don't think we'd understand power without a good laugh at it." Adapted from the massive hit movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Spamalot is an irreverent parody of the Arthurian legend.
"Lezlie was the assistant director on Jesus Christ Superstar and Christopher Plummer's one-man show, A Word or Two. In addition to many shows across the country, she has directed two great productions here recently: HMS Pinafore and An Ideal Husband. I know her comic sensibility will make for another hilarious show in 2020."
The late opener at the Avon will be Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, adapted for the stage by Mike Poulton from Mantel's Man Booker Prize-winning novel. This suspenseful and hugely entertaining story was first produced by the RSC in 2013 and had a limited run on Broadway in 2015, winning eight Tony nominations. "Fans of this season's Henry VIII and Mother's Daughter will be lining up for this award-winning Tudor story," says Cimolino. "Here is a gripping tale about power at a time of huge change in Britain as the Reformation takes hold. While policy and religious rights are fundamental to the Tudor story, this play gives us what we all want - juicy gossip about relationships and marriages!"
The production will be co-directed by Ted Witzel and Geraint Wyn Davies. Wyn Davies presented a reading of Wolf Hall at the Forum and is fiercely looking forward to bringing it to the stage. Witzel served as assistant director of 2016's Shakespeare in Love and 2015's Oedipus Rex, and is the Festival's Assistant Creative Producer for the Laboratory.
"Ted is an extraordinary creative force," says Cimolino. "His work - with Shakespeare and new plays - is extremely inventive and irreverent, and it always has an acute political sense. He will pair perfectly with Geraint, who is not only an extraordinary actor but also an all-round theatre artist with a good deal of experience directing for the screen. He and ted have a fascinating vision for the production. I can't wait to see what they do!"
The 2020 season will begin in mid-April and will feature a number of special events to showcase the new Tom Patterson Theatre Centre, including a special opening gala and a dedication to Festival founder Tom Patterson on the 100th anniversary of his birth.
"In planning for 2020, I wanted to create a season that would showcase the great flexibility and depth of this new facility, and of our Festival as a whole. Variety is after all the essence of a festival," says Cimolino. "But the most thrilling aspect of the coming season is the unveiling of our magnificent new stage. Attention has been paid to every aspect of the theatre, from air handling to washrooms to seating to lighting and sound. But for me, the stage itself holds special meaning.
"There are properties to a thrust stage which are unique: the fact that light comes from above and bounces across the stage to other sides of the auditorium. So, in anticipation of that, we are creating a hardwood stage that will be distressed - beaten with chains - and then beautifully finished so that when light hits it, it doesn't just bounce off like a plastic surface but instead is absorbed, reflected and held. It will be an incredible instrument: a Stradivarius."
Tickets for the 2020 season go on sale to Members of the Stratford Festival beginning on November 10 and to the public on January 3.
Casting will be announced in the coming months.
With three productions already extended, the 2019 season continues until November 10, featuring Othello, Billy Elliot the Musical, The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Front Page, Private Lives, Little Shop of Horrors, The Neverending Story, The Crucible, Henry VIII, Mother's Daughter, Nathan the Wise and Birds of a Kind, along with fascinating Forum events almost daily. For more information and to order tickets call the box office at 1.800.567.1600 or visit www.stratfordfestival.ca.