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Stratford Festival Launches STRATFEST@HOME, a New Digital Subscription Series

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Thursday night watch parties return October 22.

Stratford Festival Launches STRATFEST@HOME, a New Digital Subscription Series

The Stratford Festival is following up on the success of its recent Shakespeare Film Festival with a $10-a-month digital content subscription, Stratfest@Home, offering more Shakespeare and more films, along with new commissions, music, conversation, cooking and comedy. A free film festival, with a theme of Hope Without Hope, will once again be offered on Thursday evenings.

"At this particular moment of pandemic, with social isolation once more upon us, nights growing longer and winter approaching, we need the consolation of community like never before. With these viewing parties and the many related artistic programs in Stratfest@Home, we invite you to enter the warmth of the Festival bubble," says Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino.

"In shaping this new digital season, I was taken by the words 'hope without hope' written by Wajdi Mouawad (and expressed in English by Linda Gaboriau) in his Days of Confinement, which is part of our new series:

Life can't be reduced to a simple exercise in lucidity.

It requires more.

To hope without hope.

To wait without waiting.

"As the pandemic wears on, it holds us all at times on a precipice where hope is nowhere in sight. With Shakespeare, Eugene O'Neill and Timothy Findley as our guides in these films, and with Wajdi and others exploring this new realm, we can delve deeply into the idea of hope, how it protects us, how essential it is to life," Cimolino says.

Stratfest@Home and the associated watch parties feature brand new artist-driven content, along with films starring some of the Festival's most iconic artists. These older films, captured between the 1980s and early 2000s, were the property of individual producers rather than the Festival itself.

"We've spent the last several months securing whatever rights we could to Festival films of the past in order to allow us to present as many titles as possible, alongside brand new content, during this time when we aren't able to perform in front of live audiences," says Executive Director Anita Gaffney.

"The older films feature Festival luminaries, some of whom are no longer with us, so they allow us and our fans to once again see the brilliant performances of actors we miss so much, including William Hutt, Brent Carver, Peter Donaldson, Brian Dennehy, Bernard Hopkins and William Needles. We also have two productions directed by the late Richard Monette, the Festival's longest serving artistic director: Romeo and Juliet starring our current artistic director, Antoni Cimolino, and Megan Follows; and The Taming of the Shrew with Colm Feore and the dearly missed Goldie Semple."

Stratfest@Home offers deep dives into great content

For just $10 a month, Stratfest@Home offers subscribers a rich mine of theatrical content, including the 12 Shakespeare films streamed in the spring film festival, a growing list of legacy films, interviews and discussions, as well as exciting new original content.

Stratfest@Home launches on October 19 and will be modelled on a typical Stratford repertory season: a number of featured productions, along with other entertaining and enriching content such as would be presented in Festival's The Meighen Forum. Content will be added every week, allowing viewers to take interesting journeys over the course of their subscription.

For example, you can see Academy Award-winner Christopher Plummer in The Tempest, and also enjoy an exclusive new interview with the iconic actor, as well as a discussion between him and Tony-winning director Des McAnuff. If that insightful interview captures your interest, you can learn more about McAnuff, the Festival's former artistic director, in the documentary A Life In Stages. You can also watch another magnificent Plummer-McAnuff collaboration, George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra, featuring Nikki M. James, who went on to win the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for The Book of Mormon.

Or, for a deeper dive, you can watch the film of Timothy Findley's acclaimed play Elizabeth Rex with Diane D'Aquila and Brent Carver, in which Peter Hutt plays Shakespeare toiling away on his new play Antony and Cleopatra. Then you can supplement your viewing with All the Sonnets of Shakespeare, a look at Shakespeare and his poetry with renowned scholars Sir Stanley Wells and Dr. Paul Edmondson, before watching Geraint Wyn Davies and Yanna McIntosh in Antony and Cleopatra. You can also catch the lovers' backstory in Caesar and Cleopatra, which leads you back to all of the Christopher Plummer content noted above. And you can see another side of Timothy Findley's work in the film based on his novel The Wars, featuring Brent Carver and Martha Henry. You can even see Timothy Findley himself in The Stratford Adventure, the documentary about the founding of the Stratford Festival, which was nominated for an Oscar in 1954.

Newly created content from game show to ghost story, soap opera to song

Connections such as these run throughout the Stratfest@Home subscription series, which is also filled with new original content.

Enjoy the many faces of Dan Chameroy in Leer Estates, a melodramatic, nail-biting, hair-swooshing, double-take mini soap opera of his own devising, in which he gives new meaning to "tour de force."

Explore the spirits of the stage as Roy Lewis takes you behind the ghost light and through the streets of Stratford in Stratford Festival Ghost Tours.

Enjoy the classics through a culinary lens along with Stratford Festival executive chef Kendrick Prins and actors Qasim Khan, Alexis Gordon, Jessica B. Hill and Kevin Kruchkywich in The Early Modern Cooking Show.

Get to know the new generation of classical actors in Beck Lloyd's And Introducing. The actor and Birmingham Conservatory member interviews eight young performers in a series of engaging discussions that point to the great promise of the next generation of stage actors. You'll meet Brefny Caribou, Colton Curtis, Mikaela Davies, Déjah Dixon-Green, Farhang Ghajar, Alexandra Lainfiesta, Jordan Mah and Jake Runeckles.

New subscription content also includes a newly commissioned translation of Wajdi Mouawad's Journal de confinement. Days of Confinement, translated by Linda Gaboriau, is an exclusive audio offering presented by Antoine Yared and directed by Antoni Cimolino. After its rollout on Stratfest@Home, it will be made available on a variety of podcast platforms.

Not all content is available from Day 1, but that's the fun of a subscription: there's always something new to capture your imagination. And the $10 monthly fee will also help support the Stratford Festival while the pandemic keeps its theatres closed.

The new year will see the unveiling of two new series in the subscription, Undiscovered Sonnets and Up Close and Musical. Believing that every love story deserves a sonnet, Rebecca Northan hosts Undiscovered Sonnets, a clever twist on a game show in which two people in love share their story and three sonneteers compete to win their hearts with a perfect poem created on the spot. The sonneteers are Raoul Bhaneja, Ashley Botting, Ijeoma Emesowum, Bruce Horak, Kevin Kruchkywich, Ellis Lalonde and Lee Smart.

Up Close and Musical is a series of moving and entertaining concerts with some of the Festival's most beloved musical stars and emerging musical artists, including Robert Ball, Cynthia Dale, Alexis Gordon, Chilina Kennedy, Robert Markus, Marcus Nance, Vanessa Sears and Kimberly-Ann Truong. Captured live on the Festival stage, these intimate cabaret-style performances will give you the musical fix you're longing for.

New commissions react to pandemic reality

"We as artists are being asked not only to find new ways to connect with audiences but also to create more engaging ways to use digital media," says Cimolino, "and with that challenge in mind we created Viral Transmissions."

These artistic experiments from a number of theatre makers have been commissioned through the Festival's Lab, and will be shared on Stratfest@Home and on the Festival's other digital platforms for free. These pieces experiment with performance on a digital platform in a variety of ways, including through illustration, poetry, audio, music, Zoom, dialogue and interviews. Artists include Carmen Aguirre (recently shortlisted for the Siminovitch Prize), Keith Barker, Jody Chan, Jeff Ho, Marcia Johnson, Davis Plett & Gislina Patterson, Christine Quintana, Joseph Recinos, Andrea Scott and Norman Yeung.

"We know that we can't replace the live Stratford experience by going online," says Gaffney. "The pandemic has accelerated our digital media competency. Our artists and staff have created some really interesting, fresh, new content, which sits beautifully alongside the full-length films and legacy content."

Thursday night watch parties return October 22

"We had so much fun in the spring and summer gathering for our YouTube watch parties - with actors and stage managers mingling in the chat room with new fans and Festival regulars - that we wanted to continue that feeling, bridging the gap until we can perform in theatres filled to capacity once more," Gaffney says.

Beginning Thursday, October 22, watch parties are back on, with a variety of entertainment. They begin at 6:30 p.m. ET with great preshow content. The main attraction rolls at 7 p.m. ET. Films will be available free for 12 hours to allow those in other time zones to access the watch party content.

Thursday, October 22

- Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, directed in 2011 by Des McAnuff and featuring Brian Dennehy and an all-star cast with Stephen Ouimette, Tom Rooney, Andrea Runge, Sara Topham, Ben Carlson, Trent Pardy, Cara Ricketts and Mike Shara.

Thursday, October 29

The Stratford Festival Ghost Tours Halloween Binge, with host Roy Lewis.

Thursday, November 5

Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, directed in 1994 by Diana Leblanc and featuring Martha Henry, William Hutt, Peter Donaldson, Tom McCamus and Martha Burns

Thursday, November 12

Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, directed by Richard Monette in 1992 and featuring Antoni Cimolino and Megan Follows.

Thursday, November 19

Timothy Findley's Elizabeth Rex, directed by Martha Henry in 2000 and featuring Diane D'Aquila, Brent Carver and Peter Hutt.

Thursday, November 26

The Early Modern Cooking Show U.S. Thanksgiving Binge, with host Qasim Khan.

Thursday, December 3

Shakespeare's The Tempest, directed by Des McAnuff in 2010 and featuring Christopher Plummer, James Blendick, Bruce Dow, Peter Hutt, Dion Johnstone, Trish Lindström, Gareth Potter, Julyana Soelistyo, Timothy B. Stickney, John Vickery and Geraint Wyn Davies.

Thursday, December 10

George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra, directed by Des McAnuff in 2008 and featuring Christopher Plummer and Nikki M. James.

Thursday, December 17

All the Sonnets of Shakespeare, a talk with Sir Stanley Wells and Dr. Paul Edmondson with readings by Ijeoma Emesowum and Geraint Wyn Davies.

The schedule for watch parties in January and beyond will be released in the new year.

A $10 monthly subscription is a great way to support the Festival - and a great way to add to your entertainment options as we head into a winter of tighter gathering restrictions. To subscribe, please go to www.stratfordfestival.ca/AtHome.

The Stratford Festival will announce its 2021 season in the new year when there is a clearer understanding of pandemic performance guidelines.


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