2018August_SceneNotes_Article1Hero

Drumming Up Excitement in The Music Man

See the amazing dance number that brought the opening-night audience to its feet mid-show!

 

Audiences love the high-energy fun and eye-popping dance routines of The Music Man! In order to further showcase the powerhouse talents of director and choreographer Donna Feore's incredible company of dancers, new orchestration was added to Meredith Willson's existing score, giving the performers a chance to really strut their stuff. The result is nothing short of spectacular - as you can see in the above clip of the drumline segment from the "Seventy-Six Trombones" number. 

The Festival's Director of Music, Franklin Brasz (who is also musical director for the show), can't help but smile when he talks about the creative process behind the extended score.  

"For 'Seventy-Six Trombones,' 85% of the new musical ideas happened on a single cold day in January," he says. "Donna already had been thinking about it over the winter, and so we got together in a rehearsal hall along with our principal drummer, Dave Campion [whom Festival Theatre audiences may know as the snare drum player in our pre-show fanfares], and the associate choreographer, Stephen Cota. Basically, we just riffed off of one another and bounced musical ideas around to create the dance routines ahead of the start of rehearsals. 

"Dave really understands the language of percussion and the culture behind the American drumline in marching bands. Once rehearsals got under way, he came in to work with us before we had the full band. We wanted the dancers to really get the drum rhythms into their bodies - and once the steps were learned, the dancers and the drums inspired and informed one another as moves were developed and honed. 

"And a number like 'Shipoopi' is just brilliant by design - we added in some length there too, making it a real barn-raising number of pure community magic. Everyone of all ages is on stage for that one - from the kids on up. I used key changes to add some more lift in parts. High drum hits accompany the female dancers, to lend a more feminine energy, and kettle drums reinforce the male dancers. And when percussionist Graham Hargrove came on board, we added in more details - like a cymbal crash on a kick, or woodblocks as the dancers pop up in a line. 

"All of this feeds into the storytelling and makes the show even more fun - for the performers and the audiences alike."

The Music Man
runs at the Festival Theatre until November 3.

Production support is generously provided by Mary Ann & Robert Gorlin, by the Harkins & Manning families in memory of Jim & Susan Harkins, and by Riki Turofsky & Charles Petersen

Production Co-Sponsors: 
RBC Royal Bank and Union Gas

2018August_Scenenotes_article2_hero

Theatrical Magic: Staging Coriolanus

Innovation meets tradition in this powerful and visually stunning production

"This is one you have to see... it's worth the trip, down the highway, across the country or, indeed, around the world."

- The Globe and Mail


Critics and audiences alike have been spellbound by this gloriously cinematic approach to one of Shakespeare's lesser-known history plays. Bringing the vision of director Robert Lepage to life on the Avon Theatre stage has been a labour of love, but the challenges have paid off with one of the most exciting Shakespeare productions ever seen at the Festival.

Behind the scenes, there is another, madly busy show taking place as a team of six stagehands work at a non-stop feverish pace to manipulate the set - creating the striking visual effects as the scenes flow seamlessly from one place to the next. New technology and traditional stagecraft are married together with incredible results. As you can see in the video below, the set itself is integral to the overall motion-picture look and to the telling of the story.


In order to frame the production and duplicate a cinematic experience for the audience, technologies not before seen at the Festival were employed. Front and back projections, infrared technology and 3-D mapping immerse the performers and the viewers in an amazingly realistic and unforgettable world.


We invite you to experience Coriolanus for yourself! The production runs at the Avon Theatre until October 20.

Production support is generously provided by Larry Enkin & family in memory of Sharon Enkin, by Sylvia Soyka, and by Catherine & David Wilkes

Production Sponsor:
BMO Financial Group

Production Support by: 
Canada Council for the Arts - New Chapter

2018August_scenenotes_article3_hero

Shining Light Into Dark Corners

To Kill a Mockingbird shows us the best and the worst of humanity. What’s it like playing the villains of the piece?

To Kill a Mockingbird is a timeless story - and in today's troubled times, it seems more relevant than ever. Director Nigel Shawn Williams has brought a poignant and powerful retelling of this classic American tale to the Festival Theatre stage, bringing audiences to tears and to their feet at the end of each performance.

Seeing the darkest side of human nature is never an easy or comfortable thing to witness - but what's it like for a performer to bring the most hateful of characters to life?

Actors Jonelle Gunderson and Randy Hughson play the villains at the heart of the piece: Mayella Ewell falsely accuses Tom Robinson of a violent rape, goaded on by her hate-fuelled father, Bob Ewell. What particular challenges do actors face when required to get inside the skins of such racist characters?

"A vital component for me in this journey has been the fact that Randy is so incredibly grounding and trustworthy to work with," says Ms Gunderson. "We have to go into such dark and terrible places together, but I always feel safe with him at all times. In fact, Nigel and the entire cast all work beautifully together as a team in this respect: everyone is supported and surrounded by an overwhelming atmosphere of trust at all times."

"One thing that makes it easier is that Jonelle is simply the loveliest person," says Mr. Hughson. "She exudes empathy and kindness and is very giving to work with, both as a performer and a person. And yes - the whole cast has come together in a spirit of support and trust.

"For example, right after the courtroom scene, Matt [Matthew G. Brown, who plays Tom Robinson] and Jonelle and I always come together off-stage for a hug. That ritual moment of connection means a great deal. Everyone is so vulnerable in a play like this, but we all have to be 100% full-on with our roles, or it just doesn't work."

These portrayals provoke high emotions in audience members, and strong reactions can sometimes be levelled directly at the performers.

"I've had three letters from people who've seen the show, asking me things like, 'How can you be so desperate to act that you take on such a despicable role?' " Mr. Hughson smiles wryly. "And there was a student performance earlier on in the run when someone threw a quarter at me while I was sitting in the witness stand - I heard it ricochet right beside me.

"But the key to playing the darkest side of humanity is that you must put aside any personal vanity. The minute an actor starts worrying about being liked by the audience, the power and the realism is gone. You absolutely must give the other characters something strong to come up against or the entire balance of the play is off."

"Something I have learned from watching and working with Randy is to really go for it and make big choices as an actor," says Ms Gunderson. "Being bold in your approach means that you make a stronger impact. Our roles are an essential part of a larger picture. There is no room to be tentative in the approach - we just have to lean fully into it. We have to believe in Mayella and Bob as real people with their own stories and humanity, or you have no reality to the story."

"One of the most difficult aspects is having to wear a KKK costume," says Mr. Hughson. "All of us who wear them on stage find it very affecting. There is such a huge stigma attached to the image. The first time I put it on, it felt like I was putting a horrible weight of history and the worst of society directly onto my shoulders. It was awful. I remember the fitting in the wardrobe room - someone passed by in the hallway and gasped when they saw me. From that point onward, we always kept the door shut."

"Nigel treats the KKK costumes the same way we treat weapons in the theatre," says Ms Gunderson. "You don't just leave stage weapons lying around when they aren't in use on stage - they get locked away. And that is exactly what happens to these costumes. They are locked up, and kept away and apart to be safe and contained. They are never treated flippantly. Their impact is too terrible."

 

Because playing such difficult characters can have a residual cost for an actor, self-care and balance are vital - particularly over such a long run.

"The coaching team here at the Festival have been amazing," says Ms Gunderson. "They are full of great suggestions and support about not only how to drop fully into the character but also how to leave it behind after the performance. One ritual I developed with their help is to take a moment before I go back out for the curtain call and wash off all the dirt and brush my teeth. I can watch all the filth wash away down the drain.

"And there is always a lot of chocolate floating around backstage! My lovely dressing room buddies are always leaving me little offerings of cookies or chocolate.

"But I am lucky in that, when I step away from the play, I don't have to continually carry the weight of its central issues of racism and prejudice with me every single day. I can separate it from my everyday life, but a lot of my fellow cast members cannot. They are impacted by the very problems we see on stage in the ways they must deal with racism and micro-aggressions in their real lives."

"A great motivator for me to leave it all behind is the fact that I have to go home straight after the show and take my three- and six-year-old kids off to the park," says Mr. Hughson. "As I father, I really don't want to bring any of that awful residue into my home to my family. Sanity and normal life are of utmost importance to me. In the end, you always have to remember that this is just acting. You need to learn to compartmentalize and get on with the day."

"This is my first time at Stratford working in this sort of repertory," says Ms Gunderson. "From the outset of the rehearsal process, I have been so grateful and privileged to work with such a wonderful company. The cast is exceptional, and we have kept one another safe throughout, and have always moved forward together as a team in an environment of sensitivity, respect and trust. Nigel set that tone on the first day in the rehearsal hall."

"In all my years of working here, this cast has felt the most like a true ensemble," says Mr. Hughson. "I am proud of the way we have pulled together to make friendships and create the sort of supportive conditions that have made it all possible. I'm happy at the impact we are having with a fresh and timely take on the story. It is incredibly moving every night to look out and see the tears on the faces of the audience as they rise to their feet."

"One of the greatest things for me was participating in student Prologues," says Ms Gunderson. "Nigel gave us a quote to read to them, posing a question: 'The degradation of human life is happening all around us. Sometimes it's loud, but most of the time it's silent. After the play, will anyone speak up when they witness discrimination? After the play, will more people stand up and speak up against racism, class discrimination and misogyny?'

"If audiences - especially young people - leave the theatre asking such questions, then we've really done something."

To Kill a Mockingbird plays at the Festival Theatre until November 8.

Schulich Youth Plays

2018august_scenenotes_article4_hero

Stratford Festival HD: Pre-Order Your DVDs and Blu-rays Now!

Add to your personal collection of the Festival’s finest Shakespeare productions in stunning HD

Our two latest Stratford Festival HD films will soon be available for you to own! Last season's powerful and moving productions of Shakespeare's Timon of Athens and Romeo and Juliet are must-have additions to any theatre-lover's home movie library - whether as a gift or as a treasure for yourself to keep!

We invite you to pre-order and secure your DVDs and Blu-rays today. Pre-orders will be available to ship or to pick up in person at the Festival Shop in late fall of this year - in plenty of time for holiday giving!

Order now - and save!

Not only will you be sure to reserve your copies, but pre-ordering also means big savings!

  • DVDs are $19.95 during the pre-order period. Regular price: $24.95.
  • Blu-rays are $29.95 during the pre-order period. Regular price: $34.95.
  • DVD 2-pack is $36.95 during the pre-order period. Regular price: $44.95.
  • Blu-ray 2-pack is $54.95 during the pre-order period. Regular price: $64.95.

    Romeo and Juliet
    (DVD - $19.95; Blu-Ray - $29.95)

    Timon of Athens
    (DVD - $19.95; Blu-ray - $29.95)

    Combo Pack
    (2 DVDs for $36.95; 2 Blu-rays for $54.95)

 


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 The John and Myrna Daniels Charitable Foundation, 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.

Support for Stratford Festival HD has also been provided by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.

Canadian distribution is through Cineplex, which specializes in bringing world-class events and performances to the big screen. Screenings are followed by a broadcast window on CBC, Canada's national public broadcaster.

August18_article5_hero

August and September Forum Highlights

Here’s a look ahead at some unmissable events – coming up soon!

There's so much still to discover this season at the Stratford Festival Forum. Summer will be over before you know it, and it pays to plan ahead for our fantastic August and September offerings. Mark your calendars and click on the links to book your seats at these unmissable events!

August Highlights:


It Runs in the Family

August 15

A parent with a successful career can be a hard act to follow. Company members Joseph Ziegler and Sayer Roberts join director Miles Potter and his son, actor Callan Potter, to consider their relationships with their families and their respective careers.

Mythologizing Empire

August 25

Through his Roman plays, Shakespeare mythologized the birth of a new Rome in Britain. But what of the actual Roman context is lost in that process? Join Robert Cushman, former theatre critic of the National Post; Dr. Kate Cooper, a research associate at the Royal Ontario Museum who specializes in the art, archaeology and history of the Greek and Roman world; and Stratford Festival Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino as they consider both Shakespeare's texts and our knowledge of the Roman world. Presented in association with the Royal Ontario Museum.

WordPlay: Exorcism

August 30

As part of the Forum's ever-popular play-reading series, Exorcism - Eugene O'Neill's recently rediscovered "prequel" to Long Day's Journey Into Night - will be read by members of the Festival acting company, followed by a Q&A.

Support for WordPlay is generously provided by The Dorothy Strelsin Foundation.  

September Highlights:

Wayne and Shuster: Celebrating Canadian Comedy

September 15

Considered the fathers of Canadian comedy, Wayne and Shuster have inspired some of the greatest comedians in the world. To celebrate their accomplishments, unsurpassable talent and affinity for the works of Shakespeare, we welcome the duo's children, along with current Canadian comic icons, to the Studio Theatre stage for an in-depth discussion of their comedic genius and presentations of some timeless sketches.

The Appeal

September 22

Atticus Finch, in To Kill a Mockingbird, believes there are strong grounds on which to appeal the conviction of his client, Tom Robinson. Now, decades after the verdict, the Supreme Court of Stratford will hear that appeal. Presided over by Justice Rosalie Abella, most senior justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, the court will be asked to overturn a conviction based on unreliable evidence and tainted by racial bias, and posthumously declare Tom Robinson innocent. Joining Justice Abella on the bench will be former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci and former Governor General David Johnston. Acclaimed lawyer and Alabama native Chilton Davis Varner will argue for the Crown. Canadian advocate Guy Pratte will represent Tom Robinson in his appeal.

 

2018August_scenenotes_article6_hero

Check Out a Great Lineup of Shows This Summer and Fall at the Mirvish Theatres

From the Tony-Award® Winning COME FROM AWAY and the explosive one-man stage documentary chronicling the post-war Baby Boom years, BOOM to the classic hit, MAMMA MIA! and the electrifying new musical AIN'T TOO PROUD about the life and times of The Temptations, the greatest R&B group of all time (Billboard Magazine 2017). There's something for everyone this summer and fall at the Mirvish Theatres in Toronto.  SEE ALL SHOWS NOW ON SALE.

PLUS, did you know Mirvish provides luxury coach transportation aboard the MIRVISH EXPRESS from London, Woodstock, Kitchener, Morriston and Milton to the Royal Alexandra, Princess of Wales and Ed Mirvish Theatres. This bus service is available for patrons attending Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday matinee performances. Learn more about the MIRVISH EXPRESS