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Photograph of the Festival Theatre



Two young people are in love. They’re next-door neighbours, but their families don’t get on. So they’re not allowed to meet: all they can do is whisper sweet nothings to each other through a small gap in the garden wall between them. Eventually, they plan to run off together – but on the night of their elopement, a terrible accident of fate impels them both to take their own lives.

Sound familiar? It’s the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, as told by the ancient Roman poet Ovid, one of Shakespeare’s favourite authors. Most of us know it from the comical play- within-the-play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream – but it’s also essentially the same story Shakespeare told in Romeo and Juliet.

It certainly resonates with us today. We know what it’s like to be isolated in our homes, separated from our loved ones, reduced to interacting through online equivalents of a hole in the wall. And we know about other barriers, too: walls of prejudice, mistrust and hatred that can be as fatal as any pandemic.

But there’s more to Ovid’s story. The blood of the lovers, seeping into the ground, is absorbed by the roots of a mulberry bush – and turns its berries from white to a deep and vibrant red. And with that metamorphosis comes the families’ realization of the tragedy their enmity has wrought.

That idea of metamorphosis, of awakening and new growth arising from loss, informs our 2021 season. Our artists, like the rest of us, have been living through a time of seismic shock to their psyches – but it has also been a time of transformative regeneration. It’s as if we’ve been in a cocoon, and now it’s time to emerge in a blaze of new colour, with lively, searching work that deals with profound questions and prompts us to think and see in new ways.

While I do intend to program in future seasons all the plays we ’d planned to present in 2020, I also know we can’t just pick up where we left off. The world has changed; we have changed. Something huge has happened to us and within us. How do we express that together?

In one significant sense, 2021 sees us return to our roots. Two open-sided canopies, one erected at the Festival Theatre and the other on the grounds of the new Tom Patterson Theatre, shelter appropriately distanced seats. Sharing the same visually gorgeous design, these structures enable audiences to gather in safety and comfort in the open air.

But more than that, they bring an inherently festive quality to the season. Just like our original tent in 1953, these new canopies signal that a very special event is taking place here in Stratford: a new artistic beginning.

Meanwhile, we have also been able to make provision for limited-capacity indoor performances at the Studio Theatre. As always, your safety, and the safety of our artists and staff, is our very first priority, and all three of our 2021 venues will operate in strict accordance with public-health guidelines.

But far from placing limitations on our creativity, the need to work within the parameters required of us – with shorter performances, smaller casts (no more than eight actors per show) and physical distancing on stage – has stimulated our artists to new feats of imagination as they devise novel modes of performance. Our 2021 playbill encompasses Shakespeare, music, modern classics and new work, presented in ways you’ve never seen at Stratford before.

And it’s not only the pandemic that has opened us up to new ideas and experiences. The Black Lives Matter protests of last summer brought home to us how far our society still remains from overcoming those other dividing barriers of systemic inequity and oppression. So our playbill celebrates difference as well as universality, widening our definitions both of a classic and of who we are. To learn more about our work on Anti-Racism please visit our website.

The pandemic has taken a dreadful toll, both in lives and in lingering psychological effects. We at the Festival may be powerless against the former, but we have a crucial role to play in addressing the latter. If theatre has anything to teach us, it is about the resilience of the human spirit.

Our new season was born of our determination to emerge from this crisis more inventive, more inclusive and more creative than ever. I hope it will excite you and engage you, bring renewed joy into your life and inspire you as we dream together of a world without walls.     

Antoni Cimolino 
Artistic Director