About Us - History

Stratford Festival Timeline


  • Stratford journalist Tom Patterson proposes a Shakespeare festival to Stratford City Council.
  • Tyrone Guthrie is appointed as the Festival’s first Artistic Director. Seasons of tenure: 1953 and 1955.
  • The Stratford Shakespearean Festival of Canada Foundation is incorporated under a Province of Ontario charter on October 31.
  • Tanya Moiseiwitsch designs the Festival’s revolutionary thrust stage.
  • The Festival’s first fundraising campaign begins. It raises $157,000.


  • The ground-breaking ceremony for the Festival’s tent theatre is held on April 15.
  • The Festival’s inaugural performance of Richard III is given on July 13.
  • The season’s second production, All’s Well that Ends Well, opens on July 14.


  • Cecil Clarke serves as Artistic Director, with Tyrone Guthrie as Artistic Advisor.
  • A campaign begins to provide working capital. It raises $141,000.


  • Tyrone Guthrie again serves as Artistic Director.
  • The Stratford Casino on Lakeside Drive is rented for use as the Festival Concert Hall.
  • A campaign begins to raise funds for a permanent theatre.
  • Michael Langham succeeds Tyrone Guthrie as Artistic Director. Seasons of tenure: 1956–1967.


  • Construction begins on the permanent Festival Theatre.
  • A nationwide campaign raises $1.5 million toward the building’s cost.


  • On January 26, Governor General Vincent Massey lays the foundation stone for the new Festival Theatre.
  • The theatre, which cost $2.25 million to build, is officially dedicated on June 30.
  • The theatre opens on July 1 with Michael Langham’s production of Hamlet.
  • Work begins on creating the new theatre’s Arthur Meighen Gardens.


  • Robert Fairfield’s design of the Festival Theatre wins the Massey Gold Medal for Architecture.
  • Princess Margaret attends The Winter’s Tale on July 31.
  • On September 8, the Festival presents its first specially priced student matinée: a performance of Henry IV, Part 1.


  • Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh attend a special performance of As You Like It on July 2.


  • In July, the Festival greets its millionth patron.
  • Founding Artistic Director Tyrone Guthrie is knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.


  • At the request of Michael Langham, Tanya Moiseiwitsch makes major alterations to the Festival Theatre stage, in association with fellow designer Brian Jackson.


  • The Festival purchases the Avon Theatre and retains architect Robert Fairfield to design its new incarnation.
  • A campaign begins to raise funds for the refurbishment of the Avon Theatre. It raises $720,000.


  • The Avon Theatre’s stage facilities are renovated and its auditorium redesigned, with décor by Tanya Moiseiwitsch. The theatre opens on July 3.


  • The Board of Governors establishes an annual campaign to provide a regular base of private and corporate financial support.


  • The Avon Theatre’s exterior and front-of-house are extensively remodelled by John B. Parkin and Associates, Architects. The theatre reopens on July 7.
  • Michael Langham is succeeded by Jean Gascon as Executive Artistic Director and John Hirsch as Associate Artistic Director. Seasons of tenure: 1968–1969.


  • Upon the resignation of John Hirsch, Jean Gascon becomes sole Artistic Director. Seasons of tenure: 1970–1974.


  • The Festival transforms the Casino on Lakeside Drive into The Third Stage.
  • Founding Artistic Director Tyrone Guthrie dies at age 70.


  • New sound and lighting systems are installed at Festival Theatre.


  • Robin Phillips succeeds Jean Gascon as Artistic Director. Seasons of tenure: 1975–1980.


  • The Festival Theatre stage undergoes extensive renovations.
  • The Avon Theatre is refurbished.
  • Robin Phillips forms the Festival’s first Young Company.


  • An Artistic Directorate comprising Pam Brighton, Martha Henry, Urjo Kareda and Peter Moss is appointed to succeed Robin Phillips.


  • Upon the disbanding of the four-person Artistic Directorate, John Hirsch is appointed Artistic Director. Seasons of tenure: 1981–1985.


  • Extensive renovations are made to The Third Stage, including a new stage designed by Desmond Heeley.


  • The Next Stage campaign begins, to raise finds for backstage and exterior renovations to the Festival and Avon theatres. The campaign raises $1.5 million.


  • John Neville succeeds John Hirsch as Artistic Director. Seasons of tenure: 1986–1989.


  • Further renovations are made to the Avon Theatre interior.


  • A modular stage is created at The Third Stage, and the theatre’s seating capacity is increased.


  • Former Artistic Director Jean Gascon dies.


  • David William succeeds John Neville as Artistic Director. Seasons of tenure: 1990–1993.
  • Former Artistic Director John Hirsch dies.


  • The Third Stage’s modular stage is re-proportioned and redesigned by Debra Hanson.


  • The Third Stage is renamed the Tom Patterson Theatre in honour of the Festival’s founder.


  • Richard Monette succeeds David William as Artistic Director. Seasons of tenure: 1994–2007.


  • The Act III Festival Theatre renewal campaign begins, with an ultimate goal of $15 million. The federal and provincial governments each donate $3 million to the campaign, and the City of Stratford donates $1 million.
  • The Festival Theatre renewal project begins.
  • Rhombus Media’s film version of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, based on the 1994-95 Festival production, is named best Canadian feature film at the Toronto International Film Festival. Martha Burns, Peter Donaldson, Martha Henry and William Hutt all win Genie Awards for their performances in the film.


  • The renewed Festival Theatre reopens with Richard Monette’s production of Camelot.
  • The Act III donor recognition sculpture is unveiled.
  • Queen Elizabeth II visits the renewed theatre and unveils a commemorative plinth.


  • The Festival takes two productions, Much Ado About Nothing and The Miser, to New York’s City Center.
  • Antoni Cimolino becomes General Manager.


  • The first session of the Stratford Festival Conservatory for Classical Theatre Training (now the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre) begins classes in January.
  • The Festival launches its $50-million For All Time Endowment Campaign.


  • The City of Stratford donates $1 million and the Government of Ontario $2 million toward the Avon Theatre renewal project.
  • The Festival conducts its first Shakespeare School for young people aged 12-18.


  • The Avon Theatre renewal project begins.


  • The Festival celebrates its 50th season. The occasion is marked by several special events and projects, including the publication of the coffee-table book Fifty Seasons at Stratford and the making of the National Film Board documentary Onstage/Offstage.
  • The renewed Avon Theatre opens with Martha Henry’s production of Richard III.
  • The new Studio Theatre, a fourth venue created as part of the Avon Theatre renewal project, opens with a season of new Canadian one-act plays.


  • Founding designer Tanya Moiseiwitsch dies.


  • Jonathan Miller’s production of King Lear, with Christopher Plummer in the title role, opens at New York’s Lincoln Center. The production, originally staged at the Festival Theatre in 2002, receives two Tony Award nominations
  • Rhombus Media’s film version of Timothy Findley’s Elizabeth Rex, which made its stage debut at the Tom Patterson Theatre in 2000, wins three Gemini Awards and two ACTRA Awards.


  • Festival founder Tom Patterson dies.
  • The Festival’s Costume Warehouse and Archives move to a new purpose-built space on Brunswick Street, which also accommodates the scene shops, scenic painters and call centre.


  • Antoni Cimolino becomes General Director.


  • Richard Monette, longest serving Artistic Director in the Festival’s history, retires after 14 seasons.
  • The Festival’s Endowment fund reaches $50 million.
  • Marti Maraden, Des McAnuff and Don Shipley succeed Richard Monette as Artistic Co-Directors.
  • Renovations begin at the Festival Theatre. The Theatre Store is relocated to the Discovery Centre, and the theatre lobby opened up to allow space for new amenities, including a café.


  • Upon the resignations of Marti Maraden and Don Shipley, Des McAnuff becomes sole Artistic Director.
  • A custom-built pavilion is erected on the grounds of the Festival Theatre to house Shakespeare’s Universe, a new work exploring the context in which Shakespeare lived and worked.
  • The Festival hosts its first international directors’ summit, as well as its inaugural playwrights conference
  • The Festival’s production of George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra, starring Christopher Plummer, is filmed in high definition and simulcast as a Cineplex “Big Event.”
  • Former Artistic Director Richard Monette dies.


  • The Festival launches the Michael Langham workshop for Classical Theatre Direction.
  • Mirvish Productions announces they will bring Des McAnuff’s production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum to Toronto in 2010.
  • A Conference Board of Canada report assesses the Festival’s economic impact at $135.4 million for 2009, including $70.8 million in taxes generated for all levels of government.
  • Ontario Heritage Trust unveils plaque honouring Tom Patterson, founder of the Festival.
  • The Festival’s volunteer project “Sharing a Dream” launches in Suchitoto, El Salvador, in partnership with CUSO, and the Es Artes theatre program is born.
  • The work of Stratford Festival artisans is displayed as part of the AGO’s summer exhibit, Drama & Desire: Artists and the Theatre.
  • Former Artistic Director David William dies.
  • Festival develops its first mobile app.
  • Philanthropist Bruce Birmingham, founding donor of the Birmingham Conservatory, dies.
  • Des McAnuff’s production of The Tempest, starring Christopher Plummer, is filmed in high definition and simulcast as part of Cineplex Entertainment’s Front Row Centre Events.
  • The Festival helps to celebrate the inaugural Culture Days in Canada, helmed by General Director Antoni Cimolino.
  • Rick Schmidlin discovers The Building of the Festival Theatre, a documentary directed and edited by Dr. William Macauley Gilmore, hidden in the Festival Archives. The film premières at the opening night of Stratford’s 2010 DocFest.
  • A Conference Board of Canada Study finds the Festival generates $139.8 million in economic activity, $75.6 million in taxes to all levels of government and 2,957 full-year jobs.
  • Festival launches the Stratford Shakespeare Challenge for high school students in Ontario. Total prize purse for this competition is $17,500, with a top prize of $10,000.
  • Former Artistic Director Michael Langham dies.
  • Brian Bedford’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest, which originated at Stratford in 2009, opens on Broadway, winning a Tony Award for designer Desmond Heeley.
  • Seana McKenna plays the title role in Richard III.
  • Festival presents Christopher Plummer with its new Legacy Award.
  • Jesus Christ Superstar, directed by Des McAnuff, moves on to La Jolla Playhouse in California.
  • Des McAnuff’s production of Twelfth Night, featuring Ben Carlson, Brian Dennehy and Stephen Ouimette, is filmed and later screened at Cineplex Entertainment Theatres. A CD of the music from the production is also recorded.
  • Film of The Tempest has its US premiere.
  • Former Artistic Director John Neville dies.
  • The Festival marks its 60th season, publishing Stratford: Behind the Scenes and opening the new Festival Exhibition space, at a downtown location opposite the Avon Theatre, with a special exhibition, Most Rare Visions: Sixty Years of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.
  • Des McAnuff’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar opens on Broadway.
  • Antoni Cimolino is named the Festival’s next Artistic Director.
  • Actor Paul Nolan, starring in the Festival’s Broadway production of Jesus Christ Superstar, sings the National Anthem at the Yankees home opener in New York City.
  • The film of The Tempest is distributed at US theatres through BY Experience, the company that distributes the Metropolitan Opera films. Distribution of Twelfth Night and Caesar and Cleopatra to follow.
  • Maggie Smith receives the Festival’s second annual Legacy Award, presented by the inaugural winner, Christopher Plummer.
  • The Festival’s first commissioned musical, Wanderlust, based on the works of Robert Service, premieres.
  • Artistic Director Des McAnuff appointed to the Order of Canada.
  • Anita Gaffney is appointed Executive Director.
  • Festival announces that it will launch twice-daily bus service between Toronto and Stratford for the 2013 season.
  • Festival attendance passes the 25 million mark.


  • Antoni Cimolino presents his first season as Artistic Director.
  • The Festival launches The Forum. Brainchild of Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino, this festival within the Festival offers more than 150 debates, readings, concerts, screenings, talks, comedy nights and other events exploring the themes of the 2013 playbill.
  • The Festival launches the Laboratory, a new initiative created by Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino to facilitate artistic exploration and the development of new work. In Vitro: Airings from the Laboratory is presented at the end of the season to showcase some of the work being done by actors, directors and playwrights.
  • The Festival hosts its first ever Shakespeare Slam at Toronto’s Koerner Hall. Essayist Adam Gopnik and actor/pop star Torquil Campbell (son of Douglas Campbell) debate the merits of Classical vs Pop Culture and singer/songwriter/composer Rufus Wainwright performs some of Shakespeare’s Sonnets set to his own compositions. The Slam serves as the official launch of The Forum.
  • Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino’s production of Schiller’s Mary Stuart, featuring Lucy Peacock as Mary and Seana McKenna as Elizabeth, is extended to meet the demand for tickets. The production goes on to be extended an unprecedented four times and sells out across its run.
  • To promote the rock musical Tommy, the Festival holds a promotion in Toronto called Pinballapalooza, at which it sets the Guinness World Record for greatest number of pinball machines being played simultaneously at a single venue.
  • The Festival Exhibition features Four Shakespeare Masterpieces: Present and Past Productions of Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Measure for Measure and The Merchant of Venice.
  • Brian Bedford is forced to withdraw from The Merchant of Venice for health reasons. He is replaced as Shylock by Scott Wentworth, who adds the role to an already busy season playing Capulet in Romeo and Juliet and Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, thereby playing both the most reviled and most beloved of Jewish characters in the theatrical canon, as well as the fathers of a host of difficult daughters.
  • The Festival marks its 60th anniversary on July 13, 2013.
  • The Thrill by Judith Thompson, a Stratford Festival commission exploring the issue of the right to die, premières at the Studio Theatre.
  • The Institute for Canadian Citizenship holds its Lafontaine-Baldwin Symposium at the Stratford Festival as part of the inaugural Forum season. The keynote speaker is Sean A-in-chut Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
  • Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and other legal luminaries mount “Shylock Appeals” on the Festival stage as part of The Forum.
  • William Shatner, company member from 1954 to 1956, is given the Festival’s Legacy Award at a gala at Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel.
  • The Festival sees a turnaround in attendance after several years of decline, with an increase of almost 50,000 people for a total of 480,000.



HamletThe Taming of the ShrewLove's Labour's LostThe Adventures of PericlesThe Sound of MusicCarouselThe Diary of Anne FrankThe PhysicistsPossible WorldsShe Stoops to ConquerOedipus RexThe AlchemistThe Last Wife