FEBRUARY 2016 ISSUE
It's true: Cynthia Dale is madly in love with Stephen Sondheim - or at least with his musicals. Following her success as Fosca in last year's moving concert version of Passion, Ms Dale is thrilled to be once more immersing herself in the wondrous and complex world of Sondheim's music and lyrics.
"How lucky am I?" she enthuses. "I get to live inside this incredible music for another year! And with so many of the cast having spent so much time last season with Passion under Gary Griffin's direction, that will make the company that much better this year when we tackle A Little Night Music."
A lifelong attraction
Ms Dale first heard Stephen Sondheim's music as a theatre student. "One of the other girls stood up in presentation class and performed Petra's brilliant 'The Miller's Son.' I was completely blown away by the power of the song - by all of what it is, with its multi-layers. Later on, I had the same reaction when I saw some of the original Broadway cast members perform 'Every Day a Little Death' on late-night television. All of Sondheim's work is like that - every song is absolutely studded with gems, musically and lyrically - and when you add in the complex drama and wit of the characters? Pure genius."
It's the calm before the storm. Ahead of the start of rehearsals in March, Ms Dale has been doing a lot of reading and thinking, and worked on the score one-on-one with musical director Franklin Brasz. She is purposely steering clear of listening to any existing cast recordings; she wants this interpretation of Countess Charlotte Malcolm to be all her own.
"I never had the chance to play the young women in this piece - although of course I would have loved to have played Anne or Petra. Who wouldn't? But to play Charlotte at 55 is perfect. As you get older and more mature, you find there are different places you want to go and explore inside yourself - with all of your rich life experience and wrinkles, both seen and unseen! There are still so many things inside that need to be fed. I am so grateful for this opportunity to do this role here and now."Songs of innocence and experience
Ms Dale feels that audiences will deeply appreciate this level of sophistication in the musical. "It is a hugely romantic show, on all sorts of levels. We see the young and innocent learning about the nature of love and the world, yes - but it's just as much a coming-of-age story for the older characters too. There is still so much to learn about the heart at every age!"
The utter romance of the show is at the heart of its appeal, she believes. "And when I say it's 'romantic,' I don't mean it is sappy or in any way like a Harlequin romance novel. The period of the piece is itself the height of romance - that turn-of-the-century time that would appeal to lovers of Downton Abbey. There is such sophistication and elegance in the world of the story - elevated, but not snooty.
"The whole thing is modelled around a kind of waltz beat: rhythmic, never static. Always sweeping and in motion. It perfectly informs the movement and the mood of the era. And there is a fabulous eroticism about the whole thing. It's never blatant or crass in any way - just deeply stirring."
"All of Sondheim's work is like that - every song is absolutely studded with gems, musically and lyrically"
A winning team
As far as Ms Dale is concerned, the production could not be in better hands. "[Director] Gary Griffin really knows his stuff - he knows Sondheim and his music and his whole world. I can't wait to get into the room with the rest of the company and dig into it with Gary and Franklin. And how lucky are we with the design team? We have the wonderful Debra Hanson as our designer, and Kevin Fraser in charge of lighting. It just doesn't get any better. The show is going to be absolutely gorgeous."
And what can the audiences look forward to from the experience? "As a company, we have a great challenge to get this right and we must rise to it. I want the audience to hear the songs and the lyrics and feel their hearts skip a beat. Our goal is to make everyone catch their breaths, and leave the theatre still feeling a bit aflutter. We want them to not just hear the music, but also to feel it.
"In my opinion, Sondheim is the Shakespeare of musical theatre - and as such, it behooves the Festival to take on his work. We are mature enough to do it proper justice, and likewise our audiences are ready to truly listen, appreciate, and take it all in."
Production support for A Little Night Music is generously provided by Cleveland Friends of Stratford and by Cec & Linda Rorabeck
Support for the 2016 season of the Avon Theatre is generously provided by the Birmingham family
It was in November that Governor General David Johnston called the Festival's Artistic Director, Antoni Cimolino, to break the news of his appointment to the Order of Canada. But Mr. Cimolino had to keep the honour a close secret until the public announcement was made by Rideau Hall, the Governor General's official residence.
"David Johnston did say I could tell my family, which meant a lot to me," says Mr. Cimolino. His family was "jazzed" when he shared the news with them. "My son said, 'Don't even try to pretend this isn't important to you.' "
And it is important to him. Deeply important.
"It's the ideas it embraces, which is service to the community. When you see people go off and get wealthy, you realize none of that matters. What matters is to be able to say, at the end of your life, you left things better than you found them."
Mr. Cimolino grew up in Sudbury in the 1960s. His dream of working in theatre was inspired by a trip to the Festival with school friends. "I'm really lucky," he says. "When I came to Stratford as a teenager, it was like Mecca. I didn't know a place like this existed. It has made a huge difference in my life."
He studied theatre at the University of Windsor and soon afterward landed an acting job with the Stratford Festival. He was cast in some challenging roles, including Romeo opposite Megan Follows's Juliet, and Laertes in Hamlet, but it became increasingly apparent to him that there were even more crucial roles - behind the scenes - that he wanted to play.
He began directing for the Festival, winning acclaim for productions both classical and contemporary. He also took on a succession of administrative leadership positions, culminating in his tenure as Executive Director, before becoming Artistic Director in 2012.
His accomplishments since then include the introduction of the Stratford Festival Forum, the season-long series of events and activities that complement and illuminate the playbill; the establishment of the Festival's Laboratory as a crucible for artistic exploration and innovation; and the launch of a 10-year project to film the entire Shakespeare canon, an enterprise unique in North America. This season he will direct Macbeth and The Hypochondriac on the Festival stage.
The Order of Canada investiture ceremony will take place at Rideau Hall in Ottawa later this year.
Jillian Keiley made a huge splash with her imaginative 2014 Stratford Festival directorial debut, Alice Through the Looking-Glass - which subsequently went on tour and continued to delight audiences across the country. Last season, she returned to direct a truly moving and poignant The Diary of Anne Frank. Now she's back to take the helm of one of Shakespeare's most beloved comedies.
The Festival's Producer, David Auster, is excited about what she'll have in store. "Over the past two seasons, we've loved working in collaboration with the magical team of Jillian and designer Bretta Gerecke. They both have tremendous energy and vision, and bring such heart and soul to everything they do. It's definitely time for them to take on some Shakespeare on the Festival Stage."
Ms Keiley is setting As You Like It in 1980s Newfoundland. Originally hailing from that province's capital, St. John's, she founded the wildly popular Splash Cabaret Series and served as artistic director of Artistic Fraud for 18 years, before taking over as artistic director of the National Arts Centre English Theatre in 2012.
Her setting of this production draws a parallel between the two contrasting worlds depicted in the play - Duke Frederick's court, with its violence and political machinations, and the pastoral Forest of Arden, with its emphasis on fun and musicality - and those of real-life Newfoundland: the oil-wealthy big-city life of the capital versus the traditional rural culture.
Her production will use lighting to define the Duke's court in terms of constricted spaces, squares and straight lines, evoking corporate offices and compartmentalized cubicles. When the action moves to the Forest of Arden, the play's world will open up dramatically, encompassing not only the entire Festival Theatre stage but also the audience around it.
Community and connection
If you have had the pleasure of attending either - or both - of Ms Keiley's previous productions here at the Festival, you know that she has a passion for involving the audience in surprising and unconventional ways.
"Jillian loves the big idea of community," says Mr. Auster. "Having her audience feel connected with what is happening on stage is a deeply personal thing for Jill. She wants the viewers to become an integral part of the storytelling."
So what exactly does that mean for the audience? We want you to join in the merriment!
• Valentine's Day Fun! In the midst of February's flurry of romance, it's the perfect inspiration to set young poetic imaginations to work. Youth aged 10 to 14! Compose your version of Orlando's love poem to Rosalind. Send it to us and see if it becomes part of the play during the run of the production!
• Play a part! You'll be given props with which to join in during the performance. Please wear light-coloured clothing or your Garden Party whites to make the most of your part of the show. (You'll see why when you get here!)
• Dance on the Festival Stage! When you purchase your orchestra-level ticket to As You Like It, book your space in our free dance class, beginning one hour before most performances. You'll learn "Running the Goat," a traditional Newfoundland set dance - and you'll be invited on stage to perform it with the cast during the show. Limit 16 people on stage, so book early!
Don't miss your chance to be part of the show!The perfect Valentine's Day gift!
Packed full of romance and irresistible charm, As You Like It runs at the Festival Theatre from May 16 to October 22.
Production support for As You Like It is generously provided by M. Fainer and by the Harkins/Manning families in memory of James & Susan Harkins.
Support for the 2016 season of the Festival Theatre is generously provided by Claire & Daniel Bernstein
Just as the our first three Stratford Festival HD films are recognized with nine Canadian Screen Award nominations, tickets for the next three in the series are now on sale through Cineplex Entertainment. The Taming of the Shrew, Hamlet and The Adventures of Pericles are set to première at Cineplex theatres across Canada this spring.
Whether or not you attended any or all of these fabulous 2015 productions, you'll get a special thrill from seeing them on the big screen, where close-ups capture every subtle nuance of the actors' performances - to say nothing of the finest details of all those amazing costumes.
Save on the series
Buy all three together, general pricing is just $16.95 a ticket.
Individual prices for these Front Row Centre events (including all provincial and federal taxes) are as follows:
• General (14-64): $19.95 each
• Senior (65+): $17.95 each
• Child (3-13): $12.95 each
For participating cinema locations across Canada, visit www.stratfordfestival.ca/HD. U.S. dates will be released shortly. Start your own personal Shakespeare DVD library today
2016 marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death. Celebrate his legacy during this year's worldwide Shakespeare 400 festivities by owning copies of our award-nominated films. To purchase DVDs of King Lear, King John and Antony and Cleopatra, visit www.stratfordfestival.ca/shop.
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, The Catherine and Maxwell Meighen Foundation, Sandra & Jim Pitblado, the Slaight Family Foundation, Robert & Jacqueline Sperandio, and an anonymous donor. The Festival also acknowledges the generous support of the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.
We know many of our patrons welcome the chance to expand their in-depth knowledge of our productions. Through the Stratford Festival Forum, we provide many ways for you to gain insights into our work - on stage, behind the scenes and from the texts themselves. But did you know that we also offer fun and intriguing opportunities in conjunction with outside learning institutions?
Join us during the week of July 11-16 for the popular McMaster University's Stratford Shakespearean Seminar Series. This is a fabulous way for you to become immersed in the world of Shakespeare. You'll enjoy a great week full of fantastic live theatre, delicious dining, learning and socializing in one of Canada's most beautiful towns.
Participants will attend a number of Festival performances, thought-provoking lectures, discussions and dining experiences; learn all about backstage production activities; and enjoy special opportunities to meet some of our Festival artists. The seminar is open to the public, and everyone is welcome to join in the adventure and camaraderie.
The seminar program managers, McMaster University's Kathleen D'Amico and Laura Escalante, are at the core of this exciting week for theatre lovers.
"Our program is an immersive experience for participants," explains Ms D'Amico. "They listen to lectures by scholars prior to performances, enjoy premium seating at the plays, discuss the plays afterwards with fellow participants in a group setting, and get a chance to meet and speak to actors.
"Group dining experiences during the week also enable participants to meet and make new friends who also share a love of live theatre. It's a fun and informative week that you'll never forget."
For more information and to book your space for the McMaster University's Stratford Shakespearean Seminar Series, please visit https://www.stratfordfestival.ca/Visit/TravelPackages. You'll also find information for the Stratford Seminar Society events in August, and much more!