Audiences may love it - but for theatre people, merely to utter the title of Macbeth aloud evokes a shiver of fear. It is reputed to be the most cursed play in the Western canon - and woe betide any actor who names it or quotes from it outside the theatre or rehearsal hall without instantly performing a ritual to counteract the bad fortune.
Whether or not you take the Macbeth superstitions seriously, there's no doubt that this is Shakespeare's darkest and most mysterious work.
"There are certainly far more questions than there are answers in the story," says assistant director James Wallis. "It is a world full of great unknowns, and therefore one of great fear. Our director, Antoni Cimolino, points out there are almost constant references to fear in the text. Fear permeates the entirety of Macbeth: fear of war, fear of the loss of self, fear of the loss of a spouse.
"And all of that fear plays out against a backdrop of horror - again, there are repeated references to things and situations being 'horrid' or 'horrible' throughout the action. By the time we reach the end, Macbeth has 'supped so full of horrors' he is almost numb."Bloody prophecy
And what a relentlessly tragic action it is, as Macbeth follows an increasingly bloody path toward his terrible destiny right from the moment the Weird Sisters speak their prophetic words. But do the mysterious Sisters cause the tragedy to unfold, or are they merely stating the facts to come?
"We are in the essential discovery phase of the rehearsal process," says Mr. Wallis. "But one term that comes up time and time again is 'ambiguous.' What exactly are the Weird Sisters? They are the ultimate study in ambiguity. They are the essential lynch pin for everything that happens, but yet they never call themselves witches.
"The term weird comes from a Norse term meaning 'wayward.' Are these goddesses with creative control over men's destiny? Are they creatures of pure evil? Tricksters? One thing that seems definite is that they possess real power and otherworldly skills.
"Even the verse they speak jars with the overall iambic rhythm of the play," he observes. "They embody ambiguity with their seven- and eight-beat lines. And Macbeth picks up their rhythm of speaking in his Cawdor speech in Act I, scene 3. It's as though their spell is coming over him."
Brutal timesMacbeth was written during the reign of King James I. The Gunpowder Plot had only narrowly failed to wipe out the monarch and all of his ministers, and the fear of conspiracy, treachery and unseen enemies was rife in the kingdom. Paranoia ruled. James was also personally obsessed by the supernatural: he was the author of a treatise called Daemonologie which was widely used as an endorsement for the terrifying witch hunts and trials taking place all over England at the time.
"This year's production is set in 11th-century Scotland," says Mr. Wallis. "It is a world very much in the depth of the Dark Ages. These are people who wholeheartedly believe in the Devil and supernatural powers of good and evil.
"Antoni pointed out that there a lot of references to 'light' and 'dark' and 'time' in the text. These are people who have no clocks: they tell time by the light of the sun and the moon. Few would even have been able to afford candles, so once it's dark, it's dark. And it's a black, depthless sort of darkness."
Julie Fox's design will reflect the limitations of this Scottish warrior society. There is an emphasis on natural elements - a blasted heath look as the setting for the terrible events. "The interiors and exteriors of Julie's set will mirror the interiors and exteriors of the characters themselves," says Mr. Wallis. "There will be something barren about the look of the show that speaks to the barrenness of mind, of state, inside Macbeth and his queen."
Exclusive Macbeth tartan
Inspired by our 2016 production of Macbeth, a special tartan was created to coincide with worldwide celebrations of William Shakespeare's enduring legacy, 400 years after his death in 1616.
Items bearing this striking tartan will be available at the Stratford Festival Shops, including a scarf (both winter and all season), necktie, bowtie and a blanket. The Macbeth tartan was designed in partnership with Rob Russell from MacLeod's Scottish Shop, which will also offer Macbeth tartan merchandise at its Ontario Street location downtown Stratford.
Production support for Macbeth is generously provided by Jane Petersen Burfield & family, by Barbara & John Schubert, by the Tremain Family, and by Chip & Barbara Vallis
Support for the 2016 season of the Festival Theatre is generously provided by Claire & Daniel Bernstein
Following her success with Alice Through the Looking-Glass and The Diary of Anne Frank, director Jillian Keiley is returning for her third Festival season to tackle Shakespeare with her typical boundless energy and ingenuity.
This production of As You Like It has so many things to recommend it that we hardly know where to start - so we've narrowed it down to our top three reasons you'll love the show:
One: an irresistibly charming Newfoundland twist!
Hailing from St. John's, Newfoundland, Ms Keiley is infusing a distinct flavour of the Maritimes into Shakespeare's world of Arden. A number of the cast members and creative team are also from the province and will bring an authentic air of joy and mischievous fun to this witty tale of hidden identities, cross-dressing, wild surprises and true love. Petrina Bromley will make her Festival debut as Rosalind, along with returning Festival performers Deidre Gillard-Rowlings, Jamie Mac and Robin Hutton - proud Newfoundlanders all!Two: fabulous music performed live on stage!
With Great Big Sea's Bob Hallett - himself a Newfoundland native - as the composer of the show's original score, you know you're in for an extra-special treat. Great Big Sea has sold over a million and a half records around the world since Mr. Hallett founded the smash-hit band in 1993. He is also the owner/operator of Kilbride Music Ltd., a multi-faceted entertainment company which has produced records, books, radio specials and concerts, and overseen many other musical ventures. Mr. Hallett's music will give the many songs in As You Like It a rollicking authentic Newfoundland feel. We're thrilled that he's making his Stratford debut this season!
Four incredible musicians will be on stage for the entire show: three are members of the popular local Stratford band Dan Stacey and the Black Swans (Dan Stacey, Graham Hargrove and Kyle Waymouth), and the fourth is melodeon player Keelan Purchase.
Three: we want you to share in the fun!
Jillian Keiley is well known for breaking down the walls between the performers and the audience, and this production will be no exception. There are many ways you can be a part of the theatrical celebration:
• Wear white or light-coloured clothing, to help create the world of the play through lighting effects.
• Join in the storytelling using props that we'll provide.
• Don't just tap your toes - kick up your heels in a traditional dance, "Running the Goat," on stage with the cast!
• If you're a student, we invite you to write the love poems that Orlando hangs on trees in the forest. Yours just might be read out during the show!
For more details of how you can make the most of this unique show, visit our website.
Production support for As You Like It is generously provided by M. Fainer and by the Harkins/Manning families in memory of Jim & Susan Harkins.
Support for the 2016 season of the Festival Theatre is generously provided by Claire & Daniel Bernstein
Q: What are your family's royal connections?
Araya Mengesha: Our family is descended from two imperial lines through my grandparents on my father's side. While both are of the Solomonic Dynasty (descendants of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba), through my grandfather we are descendants of Emperor Yohannes IV, and also through my grandmother we are descendants of the last Emperor of Ethiopia and last ruler of the dynasty, Haile Selassie I.
Q: Why did your family line ultimately make its way to Canada and call it home?
AM: My father and most of his siblings travelled abroad for schooling. My dad first arrived here when he was 13, and then he'd return back home between school years. Luckily, he was out of the country during the 1974 revolution. My great-grandmother, her daughters and many others were not so lucky: they were held as political prisoners, and it would be 14 more years before they were released. Since then, various family members have settled all over the world, including some that have gone back to live in Ethiopia.Q: Have you portrayed royalty on stage before? If so, how did it inform your approach to the role - and how will it affect your portrayal of Prince Hal this season?
AM: Funnily enough, I played Young Simba in The Lion King interchangeably with Sébastien Heins, and now we will play royal brothers in Breath of Kings. As I was only 12 at the time, I don't think my family connection informed my role - or if it did, it would have been very peripherally. Now, though, I have the stories that my grandparents and my dad told me about their lives, and that makes some things in the plays not seem so far from reality. I've only really known the Canadian experience of life first hand; but through the generations before me, I can catch glimpses of the very different world they came from, and that informs my playing.Q: Your first cousin, Weyni Mengesha, will be co-directing Breath of Kings. Have you worked together before? What sorts of insight do you think she may find in the text?
AM: I'm really excited to be working with Weyni as a director for the first time. We had worked on a project called The Africa Trilogy - later re-titled Another Africa - a few years ago, when she acted as dramaturge. Weyni is gifted at pulling an incredible amount out of the text that she works with, and she is definitely an actors' director - so I can only imagine that she will bring that same great sensibility to Shakespeare's work. It is so textually rich.
Q: What will be some of the most fun challenges for your work in Breath of Kings?
AM: The most daunting challenge - which also makes it the most fun - is going to be following Hal's journey from his origins as a young prince in the tavern to his arrival in France as a full-fledged young king. It's really exciting to get to ride the wave of the entire arc over two evenings. Graham Abbey has adapted these four plays [Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V] into an engaging and fast-paced two-parter that will be a thrill to jump into with both feet. Building that world with Weyni, [co-director] Mitchell Cushman and Graham is something I'm really looking forward to: that, and tackling the whole theatre-in-the-round concept.
Q: Is there a particular historical figure you will draw inspiration from for the role?
AM: I have been doing a lot of reading about Henry V - the man outside of these plays - which is going to inform my work a great deal. These plays tackle issues that are relevant to any era of politics: the idea of someone in power who needs to constantly justify that position is something that we see all around us today. There isn't a "divine right of kings," but election season breeds much of the same backroom dealing, double-crossing and grand public gestures that we see on stage. I've got more investigating to do, but I imagine that I'll find a few more historical figures along the way that are going to fit the mould.
Production support is generously provided by The Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation and by Martie & Bob Sachs.
Support for the 2016 season of the Tom Patterson Theatre is generously provided by Richard Rooney & Laura Dinner.
Corporate Sponsor for the 2016 Season of the Tom Patterson Theatre: BMO Financial Group
We're sure that all of our American friends are looking forward to making their annual trek to Stratford this season. Why not gear up for this year's visit by first enjoying our magnificent Stratford Festival HD films on the silver screen?
Please note that dates, times and locations vary from region to region. Click on the links for more info:
The Taming of the Shrew
The Adventures of Pericles Important dates for Canadian fans
Mark your calendars! Here's a reminder of the previously announced dates of our upcoming screenings:
Hamlet premières on April 23, with an encore screening on April 28.
The Adventures of Pericles premières on May 7, with an encore screening on May 12.
For participating Cineplex locations across Canada visit: www.stratfordfestival.ca/HD.
Stratford Festival HD is sponsored by Sun Life Financial as part of their Making the Arts More Accessible™ program.
Support for Stratford Festival HD is generously provided by Laura Dinner & Richard Rooney, the Jenkins Family Foundation, the Henry White Kinnear Foundation, Ophelia & Mike Lazaridis, Sandra & Jim Pitblado, the Slaight Family Foundation, and Robert & Jacqueline Sperandio.
The Festival also acknowledges the generous support of the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.
Canadian distribution is through Cineplex Events, which specializes in bringing world-class events and performances to the big screen.
U.S. and international distribution is through SpectiCast Entertainment, the fastest growing event cinema marketing and distribution company in the world.
Canadian cinema screenings will be followed by a broadcast window on CBC-TV, Canada's national public broadcaster.
"I would give all my fame for a pot of ale… "
- Henry V, Act III, Scene 2
Innovation on the stage is, of course, a hallmark of Stratford Festival productions. But this season, we're trying out an innovation for our audiences - a pilot project that we hope will add a refreshing new dimension to your enjoyment in the theatre.
At performances of selected productions, you'll be able to take your pre-show or interval drink with you into the auditorium, in special theatre-friendly cups. This service will be available at the Avon Theatre for all performances of A Little Night Music, Shakespeare in Love and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. At the Festival Theatre, it will be offered for A Chorus Line, which will be performed without an interval.
For those performances, you'll be provided with reusable plastic Stratford Festival cups with spill-resistant lids. Free of charge, these cups will be available in three sizes suitable for wine or mixed drinks, beer or hot beverages. If you'd like to decant your own (non-alcoholic) beverage brought in from outside the theatre, you can purchase a cup for this purpose at a cost of $3.
At all other performances, you can still bring bottled water into the auditorium.
An adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy combined with aerial arts, Weird is the story of the infamous "weird sisters," caught between the bloody business of Macbeth's tragedy and their own destructive sibling rivalry. The multidisciplinary show by Theatre Arcturus blends Shakespeare's text and storytelling with circus arts, stage combat and original music.
"We first presented Weird as part of our 2015 season," says Eileen Smith, Artistic Producer of SpringWorks. "Audiences were spellbound by the artists. Not only did they adapt Shakespeare's tragedy to great effect - they performed their lines while tumbling from silks!"
Winner of the "Best of the Fest" award at the 2015 Ottawa Fringe, Weird will return to SpringWorks next month. Audiences will have the chance to see it alongside Stratford's production of Macbeth, which begins previews at the Festival Theatre on May 3.
Stratford's source for indie arts, SpringWorks runs from May 12 to 22 in intimate venues across Stratford. Featuring more than 100 performances and events, the juried festival invites artists from across Canada to present original works of theatre, music, poetry, dance and visual art, including a special series of works in progress. For families, SpringWorks also mounts a two-day puppet festival, with fun-filled productions and activities on Victoria Day weekend.
Here are just a few season highlights:
• Winner of BroadwayWorld's "Best Cabaret Solo Performance of 2015," Sharron Matthews serves up her signature irreverent wit with solid gold mash-ups by artists such as Lady Gaga, Guns 'N Roses, Radiohead, Beyoncé and Queen.
• Stratford Festival favourite Anna Atkinson performs her critically acclaimed songs, along with a selection of favourite melodies.
• Governor General's Award nominee Donna-Michelle St. Bernard stages her new play Dark Love, in which a loss of electricity illuminates neighbours' relationships.*
• Theatrical powerhouse Jon Lachlan Stewart presents Lavinia, a captivating solo drama in which the women of Shakespeare's plays form a support group to continue their unfinished narratives.
• Contemporary dancers Hilary Anne Crist and Janelle Hacault connect corporeal instinct with the conflict of identity in the athletically charged Essentia.
• Emerging artist Katie Dorian presents How Often Do I Dream . . . a multi-sensory performance experience that explores how memory functions, how it collapses, and who we become when it fades.
• Quebec puppeteers Caroline Bélanger and Marie-Hélène Bélanger-Dumas stage English and French versions of Caisse 606, in which two cashiers dream of a world of carrot ballets and soy sauce heartbreak. (This production is part of the 2016 SpringWorks Puppet Festival.)
SceneNotes readers save at SpringWorks
Buy tickets for any SpringWorks production and get two for just $30 - use promotion code "Shakespeare."
*Part of SpringWorks' series of works in progress.