Stratford Festival going outdoors for planned summer season

Stratford Festival via Twitter

Stratford Festival is looking to the great outdoors as it eyes a return to in-person performances for a shortened 2021 season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Officials with the festival said Monday that they plan to hold an outdoor summer season of roughly a dozen performances running from late June until late September.

The performances will run roughly 90 minutes each, with a mix of plays and cabarets, all held under large canopies at its Festival and Tom Patterson theatres, public health conditions pending. Streaming versions of the productions are also slated to be offered online.

Titles, dates and casting for the productions are expected to be announced in the spring.

An artists rendering of the Festival Theatre with the outdoor canopy. Hariri Pontarini Architects via Stratford Festival

In a statement, Antoni Cimolino, the festival’s artistic director, said performances would be limited to casts of no more than eight people for safety reasons.

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“Our plan is for a variety of Shakespeare, modern classics and new plays, along with cabarets offering plenty of music to feed our souls. We’ll also have some fascinating Forum events to enjoy in person or online,” Cimolino said.

“While we are saddened that we can’t yet return to the scale of our 2020 programming, we are thrilled that vaccines will open up that possibility.”

Cimolino added that the canopy for Festival Theatre will be a permanent addition, located on the upper terrace overlooking the gardens.

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In a separate statement, Anita Gaffney, the festival’s executive director, said the upcoming season’s schedule would be flexible, allowing officials to either shrink or expand it depending on the pandemic measures implemented in the community.

“We don’t yet know what the public health environment will allow in terms of live performances come summer, but it is only through significant and thorough advance planning that we can put in place the safety measures that will be essential for any eventuality,” Gaffney said.

Stratford Festival tent in 1953. The use of outdoor canopies for the 2021 summer season hearkens back to the festival’s early days when its stage and auditorium were under a large canvas tent. Peter Smith & Company. Courtesy of the Stratford Festival Archives.

By placing the season outdoors, officials said the festival will be able to offer a safer environment to attendees, and offer the performances to a larger viewing audience — up to 100 people in socially distanced pods rather than 50 indoors. Pandemic restrictions may change these limits.

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The canopy style is reminiscent of the festival’s roots and its earliest performances in the 1950s when the stage and auditorium were underneath a large canvas tent, they said.

Read more: October 2020: Stratford@Home: Stratford Festival launches streaming service

Last year, the pandemic forced the festival to cancel its 2020 season, which had been set to run April 11 to Nov. 1.

In response to the coronavirus restrictions, the festival launched its own streaming service, Stratfest@Home, featuring a mix of filmed productions, artist interviews, music and cooking content, and more for $10 per month.

The initiative has allowed the festival to bring in revenue, keep local artists employed, and make itself more accessible to new audiences, including those outside of Canada.

“I see this very much being a part of the festival’s identity going forward,” Gaffney told The Canadian Press in December.

“For some of our U.S. visitors, it’s going to be a while before they come to Stratford, so I think this will be a connection to those folks for a year, for two years.”

The service brought in more than 2,200 subscribers in its first five weeks of operation.

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