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.
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.
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.
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 on the Festival
Theatre Terrace, extending that iconic building’s roofline like a giant pair of
protective wings; the other in an elongated thrust configuration on the grounds
of the new Tom Patterson Theatre – have been designed to shelter appropriately
Offering the best way to
bring audiences safely together again, these two structures are also visually
gorgeous and inherently festive. Just like our original tent in 1953, they
signal that a very special event is taking place here in Stratford: a new
Those new venues are home to groundbreaking new modes of
performance . Your safety, and the safety of our artists and staff, is our very first priority, but rather than
limiting the possibilities of our art, the need to work within public-health
parameters – with shorter performances, smaller casts (no more than eight
actors per show) and physical
distancing on stage – has stimulated new feats
of imagination. 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.
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
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.