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Lost in Disguise in Twelfth Night

Sarah Afful chats about playing Shakespeare’s beloved comic heroine.

As teams go, it's hard to beat the creative line-up of this season's Twelfth Night. Under the direction of Martha Henry, the incredible cast includes a stunning array of long-time Festival favourites, including Brent Carver, Geraint Wyn Davies, Tom Rooney, Lucy Peacock, Rod Beattie and Stephen Russell. Other familiar rising stars include E.B. Smith, Shannon Taylor, Michael Blake and Gordon S. Miller. With such an incredible cast assembled, audiences are sure to be in for a treat from the moment the famous opening lines are spoken: "If music be the food of love, play on."

For all the complex twists and turns and unforgettable characters, this play's action revolves around one central figure - Viola - who will be portrayed by the effervescent Sarah Afful. A graduate of the Birmingham Conservatory, Ms Afful is well known to Festival fans from her memorable performances in her previous five Stratford seasons, including roles in Macbeth, All My Sons, John Gabriel Borkman, The Taming of the Shrew and Love's Labour's Lost.

"From the outset of the rehearsal process, the vibe of the cast and crew has been overwhelmingly positive," says Ms Afful. "We are in very good hands indeed: Martha Henry understands the complexity and expanse of the piece. She knows what she wants to show, step by step - building it up like an oil painting, adding layers and depth. This will give our production a great feeling of authenticity - like the audience is watching people up there living, and not just playing scenes.

"It is not simply a romp. Of course the clowns are hilarious, but why are they funny? It is Shakespeare's job to illuminate our folly. The comedy gives necessary release and strengthens the characters, many of whom have been touched by profound sorrow and corruption of self. Viola truly believes that she is alone in the world. She thinks her beloved brother is dead, and so a part of her is dead, too. Living in disguise is not easy: it forces you to lie all of the time, which in turn attracts lies and liars. It causes pain to the person in disguise, and to those around them."

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Ms Afful played Viola once before during her time at the Conservatory, under the direction of Robin Phillips - a student performance that was rehearsed and performed within a span of only six weeks. But rehearsing for a full production on the Festival Theatre stage gives performers the luxury of time to really delve in and explore, and she is grateful for the opportunity to return to the role for a deeper look.

"It's great to come back to it, because I already understand the rhythms and the basics, and it makes memorizing the lines a lot simpler," says Ms Afful. "And this time, we get to spend four months on the show. Before I went away for the winter, I sat down and read the play with Martha. Then I read a bit of it each day; you can really only take so much in at a time. You need to allow it to sink in and be understood. In rehearsal, it is such a great privilege to work with the seasoned performers. Both Martha and Lucy have played Viola, and their insights are invaluable. Brent Carver is great to watch: he is just so free, and that encourages me to let go. Graham Abbey is assistant directing, so he provides a younger male voice alongside Martha's energy and gives us different perspectives on a scene. All of the more experienced actors are wonderful for giving mentorship in the moment. It feels like they want to impart lessons that they have already learned by trial and error in order to make it easier for you."

The production features the first actors of colour to play the leading couple of Viola and Orsino at the Festival, and the significance of this is not lost on Ms Afful.

"E.B. and I had a year together at the Conservatory, and we've worked on productions since, so we already have a great stage dynamic. It's wonderful to see such a diverse cast. It's going to reverberate with modern-day audiences, as we explore what it means to be beautiful, to be seen and heard, and to be represented."

What else is there in such a classic period comedy that will hit home with audiences of today?

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"I think this is an important play to do in these times because it is all about being brave and honest about who you really are," she says. "We are all bonded by the fact that we are all frail. None of us are gods. The danger is that when we can't see past our own disguises, we get lost in that disguise. But if we really pay attention, and take time to listen and take care of one another, then we'll be okay. That's a lesson we need right now. If only we all had a Feste in our homes, to drop gems of wisdom in the way we need to hear them to open up our eyes!

"There is real power in words, and what words do - not just in the words themselves, but in the tone we use when we say them. There is such wonderful music in Shakespeare's language. We all should take joy in what we're saying - on stage and in real life. I think the world needs more music and more joy."

Twelfth Night plays at the Festival Theatre from May 13 to October 21.



2017 Season Opening Night Presenting Sponsor: BMO Financial Group

Production support is generously provided by Jane Petersen Burfield and family, by Dr. Desta Leavine in memory of Pauline Leavine and by Jack Whiteside




Meet Romeo and Juliet

We caught up with good friends Sara Farb and Antoine Yared to chat about playing the famous star-crossed lovers.

Q: These roles are arguably two of the most iconic in the Shakespearean canon. How did you prepare over the winter before rehearsals began?

Sara Farb: I read and re-read the play over and over, just to get the story and rhythms of the language into my head. We are both very lucky to have been in the last production of Romeo and Juliet here at the Festival in 2013 - I played Antoine's page, but I also understudied Juliet, and that has proven invaluable. The process of memorization has been a lot easier because I knew the lines already. The script and the poetry were there and available in my head. We've been very lucky to start rehearsals for the show early on, and not have to rehearse our other late-opener productions right away: we can focus solely on Romeo and Juliet and really take our time with the process.

Antoine Yared: I read it a lot, but I also listened to audiobook versions of the play on long drives back and forth from Montreal - just to hear the extraordinary language spoken out loud. When I read it over - slowly - I read mostly to get at the sense of the story, but not to make decisions about the character. A clean-slate approach is pretty tricky to do when you've been in productions in the past: I played Paris last time at the Festival, and I played Mercutio in Montreal before attending the Birmingham Conservatory. Line memorization comes easily, though - in 2013, we performed the play about 70 times! When you hear it that many times, it really tends to stick in your mind.


Q: Director Scott Wentworth is extremely well-versed in the play, having both performed in and directed it in the past. You also have Seana McKenna - herself a former Juliet at the Festival - playing the Nurse. What's it like rehearsing with such seasoned artists?

SF: This is actually my first time working with Seana on a play, and she has been absolutely brilliant to watch. She has offered invaluable advice about how to approach the text without getting bogged down by it. Both she and Scott, and all of the more experienced actors, have whole arsenals of tools to share. They are wise and experienced, and there on hand to do on-the-spot coaching. Because we have had the luxury of time, nothing has felt rushed - we have the opportunity to experiment. Seana and Scott are just so good, and clear and funny - overall, it's a really positive and diverse group, from top to bottom. The teamwork on this show is extraordinary.


AY: Scott has been building on discoveries made in previous productions, all the while embracing the cast and the remarkable stage we are performing on. There are so many discoveries to make because, even if he's worked on the play before, this is an entirely fresh group. Scott is very open to discourse and experimenting with ideas - he's quite happy to question his own assumptions - to strip it back to its bare bones and re-approach it from new angles. He thoroughly understands the world of Romeo and Juliet: he's incredibly well versed in the history and politics and society of that time period, and this knowledge creates a beautiful narrative for the play to exist within and gives it real, living context.

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Q: One of the biggest challenges in performing such a well-known play is overcoming the perceived notion that there is nothing new to be discovered. How are you overcoming this hurdle?

SF: It truly is a big challenge to face - for example, the balcony scene has got to be one of the best-known, and therefore one of the most clichéd, moments in all of Shakespeare. But we've taken a very different approach to it, I think. It's beautiful poetry, of course, but it's not just a scene about lovey-dovey dialogue. Romeo and Juliet are two distinct personalities who have had very diverse life experiences and interactions with the world around them. Scott is great at highlighting the symbolism that's there in the text, but yet directing us to make it sound like they are real people just talking to one another. I believe we'll present something different to what audiences think they are going to see. It is not just a love story - they aren't lovers so much as they are both fighters.

AY: Yes, this play exists very much in the collective conscious: not only are the performers very familiar with it, but it is one of Shakespeare's best-known works. Everyone knows at least a few of the lines. That is a real challenge for us to come up against; and in making decisions about how to play a moment, it really forces you to question your own preconceptions and approach it like it is a brand-new play. That's the best way to do it proper justice.

Q: Why do you think audiences will emotionally connect with this particular production?

SF: I feel that we are portraying characters an audience might think they know quite well in real life. In our show, Juliet is portrayed as very academic and a big reader - but has been incredibly sheltered by the society she's been raised in. Unlike Romeo and the other young men of Verona, she has had no real interaction with the wider world. She is hungry to really live and embrace the human experience. When Romeo appears, he brings vitality and reality into her sphere - he shows her that there is an exciting, passionate life to be lived beyond the confines of the Capulets' orchard walls.

AY: I think people will be moved by the portrayal of youth in this production. Unlike Juliet, Romeo has free rein to go where he wants - but he is a young man who is constantly questioning his role in society. In this version, the youth are not being used to their true potential - there is a sense that there is something missing at their core. The young men seem to either be spoiling for a fight, or else left feeling isolated and incomplete. Romeo's unrequited love for Rosalind is just a symptom of his ills. Just as the girls are kept under lock and key, the boys are also prisoners of the socio-political world, and they are desperately trying to navigate its waters. Once he meets Juliet, he finds she is much more of a woman than he is a man - she becomes his beacon and his lifeboat.

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SF: It's going to be a beautiful show to watch. Christina Poddubiuk's costumes are gorgeous, but they are not just museum pieces - they feel like clothes that real people live in. Everyone up on that stage will seem authentic, not remote and "old-timey." It's all about connection. Antoine and I know one another very well, and we have a great dynamic - we went through the Birmingham Conservatory together, and have worked on previous productions, and we are both well aware that being in this show is a great gift. I am a strong believer in the power of this particular production - there's something intangible going on in that rehearsal room, and everything is unfolding beautifully.

AY: Who would have thought - looking back to our Conservatory days - that we would be where we are right now together! It's such a wonderful surprise, but we don't take it for granted. Not for a second. This show is so promising, and it is our responsibility to open people's hearts to this play. We are striving to tell an honest story that will be as stripped of its imposed romanticism as possible. I have a strong feeling that audiences will be very moved by what they see.




Production support is generously provided by Barbara & John Schubert


A Timon for Our Time

Stephen Ouimette’s production of Timon of Athens explores the nature of friendship and greed in troubled times.

Having directed an acclaimed production at the Stratford Festival in 2004, Stephen Ouimette has taken on Timon of Athens for a second time - and again, he has chosen a modern backdrop for this searing drama of betrayed friendship, hypocrisy and despair.

"In 2004, this play felt to me like it fit into the modern psyche," says Mr. Ouimette. "And boy, has the world changed between then and now. But the play still fits. As economics professors point out, money no longer physically exists; it's become theoretical. Huge sums of money are now being manipulated on screens instead of being passed through our hands. This is perfect for the story of Timon: it makes it plausible for him to have an understanding of his great wealth and yet not keep track, until it is far too late. That level of sudden economic loss is frighteningly easy, and a reminder of the Great Recession we experienced over the last decade."

In response to the belief held by some that Timon is a problematic play, Mr. Ouimette can only smile. "You know, an esteemed English professor once said that anyone who takes on a production of Timon of Athens is 'unwisely brave, if not perverse'! It's a misperception. I think it is a terribly underrated play. In rehearsal, it reads beautifully and it all makes complete sense. We all look at one another and ask, 'Why is this a problem?' "

Drawing stark parallels between the world of Timon and the one in which we live today will mean this production holds many valuable lessons for a modern audience.

"At the start of the play, the Poet asks the Painter, 'How goes the world?', and the Painter replies, 'It wears, sir, as it grows.' Shakespeare saw it all coming, I think. More than ever before, the world is run by money and corporate greed, and that thinking is the direct cause of global warming. Audiences will have the experience of watching Timon's downfall, to see the effects of hypocrisy and pessimism play out without having to go there and suffer themselves. We need to watch people fall apart after we fall in love with them in order to feel the full impact of the catharsis."

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With many early echoes of King Lear, it is not a happy play. But it is far from a nihilistic one. Timon's boundless generosity and optimism in the utopian opening scenes explores a basic universal thesis about the nature of true friendship, something that Mr. Ouimette finds vital in this modern world.

"And though things get very bleak in the second half, there are still moments of great value found in the dark humour and irony in the lines. I think Samuel Beckett must have been very influenced by this play - there are certainly some strong echoes in Waiting for Godot. It is a tragic story, but Timon forces absolutely everyone around him to make tough decisions and take a hard look at themselves at the same time. He makes everyone really see themselves for what they truly are. Peeling back the layers and exposing the truth is ultimately a good thing."

Using today as a backdrop is a way of letting Shakespeare's text be illuminated by a modern filter, but it will not be a show all about modern gadgetry and Twitter.

"If we made it all about cell phones, then we might as well all go home. There are real moments of creativity involved: instead of just showing off their creations on a tablet, the Poet and the Painter hold tangible works of their art in their hands. And composer Thomas Ryder Payne is scoring the whole thing entirely with original arrangements of music - the unity of the soundscape will make it especially impactful and impressive to experience."

In rehearsals, the production has generated a real sense of excitement. "I look around the room," says Mr. Ouimette, "and just think, 'Look who's here!' We are extremely blessed in our cast. Last time round, I had Peter Donaldson and Bernie Hopkins, who are sadly no longer with us - but we can honour them in our work. These plays continue for a reason - we can move forward, and remember them.

"It's great to be able to come at it a second time - the Tom Patterson has since transformed, and now we will be presenting it in the round. That gives it a completely different sense of architecture and how it has to move: suddenly the floor became very important, because that is all we have. In 2004, we found ways to solve problems; building on that legacy, we'll find even better ways with this group as we ask questions we may not have considered the last time around. It's very exciting."

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In a cold world where big business and personal greed can destroy a person, ultimately it is the timeless lesson of friendship and human interaction that is at the heart of Timon of Athens. "Out of everyone in the play, only Timon's loyal servant Flavius is left unchanged. He steadfastly loves Timon all the way through to the bitter end. That is a true lesson for us: how we can all strive to be better, to be more loving." 




Production support is generously provided by Cec & Linda Rorabeck


Here We Go! Previews Begin on April 15

Join us as we celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday with a season on the theme of identity.

As springtime takes hold, two of our fantastic productions hit the boards and begin public preview performances. The spectacular musical Guys and Dolls launches our 2017 season with a bang on Saturday, April 15, at the Festival Theatre. For an eye-popping adventure the whole family will enjoy, Treasure Island has its first preview performance at the Avon Theatre on Saturday, April 22.


Birthday Pride
Since 1953, the Stratford Festival has showcased the very best of Canadian talent - both on stage and behind the scenes - and we are world-famous as one of Canada's best-loved cultural treasures. To mark Canada 150, the Festival commissioned a new play, The Breathing Hole by Colleen Murphy, which will have its world première at the Studio Theatre. Intersecting with Canada's history from the time of First Contact to a future ravaged by climate change, this deeply moving drama features an unusual central character: a polar bear of mythic significance.

Another much-anticipated première of a Canadian work will be Kate Hennig's The Virgin Trial. Set in the Tudor court of princess Elizabeth, this Festival-commissioned thriller is the follow-up to our sold-out 2015 hit The Last Wife - and we've already extended the show due to popular demand! Don't delay booking your tickets.

Rounding out our Canadian offerings this year, delving into the complex and timely themes of immigration, identity and race, will be a reimagined production of The Komagata Maru Incident, by one of our country's most esteemed and best-known playwrights, Sharon Pollock.

Celebrating Canada at the Forum
Expand your experience of our nation's history, culture, issues and ideas with our series of Forum events. Here are just a few that touch upon issues of Canadian identity. To learn more about the Forum - including dates, locations and how to buy tickets - click on each listing:

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Assassinating Thomson
Art, politics, ambition, love and murder are intertwined in Bruce Horak's one-man investigation of a Canadian icon's mysterious demise.

Crafting a Nation
Arsinée Khanjian and other Canadian cultural icons discuss the intersection of art, politics and social sciences and how that shapes the uniquely Canadian narrative of who we are.

On Melting Ground
Join a panel of leading environmentalists in a discussion of personal responsibility toward Canada's changing environment. 

Martin Hunter: Bright Stars 
Seana McKenna, Stephen Ouimette and other beloved Stratford personalities who are featured in Martin Hunter's new book, Bright Particular Stars: Canadian Performers, reflect on the Festival's impact in shaping a quintessential Canadian theatre.

Reconstructing History
Prominent descendants of Commonwealth immigrants reflect on the impact and legacy of Canada's early exclusionary immigration policies from their personal experience and how they continue to be felt in our country today.

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Ideas at Stratford: 
In a country where the rest of us are immigrants, what do our First Nations represent, what do we owe them, and what of the future? Paul Kennedy, host of CBC's Ideas, moderates a discussion featuring Anishinaabe writer and Idle No More co-founder Niigaan Sinclair, Dr. Alexandra Wilson of Opaskwayak Cree Nation, and indigenous scholar and artist Jarrett Martineau.

The Rt. Hon. Beverley McLachlin, P.C.: A View from the Bench  
A discussion with Canada's longest-serving and first female chief justice.

We can't wait to welcome you to our theatres this season!





Support for the 2017 season of the Studio Theatre is generously provided by Sandra & Jim Pitblado.




Celebrating Shakespeare with the Forum

In honour of his birthday on April 23, here’s a peek at what’s on the cards for Shakespeare fans this season.

Our fabulous Forum offers many great ways for you to get up close and personal with issues and themes explored in our playbill. Besides our popular free Lobby Talks, Talking Theatre and Meet the Festival series, here are some of the intriguing and insightful events related to productions by Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

Click on each event for information about dates, locations and booking tickets.

Rarely Played
Join fellow participants in a reading circle series exploring the plays of Shakespeare's contemporaries. How do they resemble, differ from, and shed light on Shakespeare's works? Join in the excitement of the possibility of uncovering or recovering a neglected gem.

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Art in Illyria
Spend a morning with artists from the Stratford Festival, learning how they create new worlds of the imagination - like Twelfth Night's Illyria! Choose an art form, join a group, and recreate the world in a fun hands-on workshop.

Shakespeare's Beehive
Join George Koppelman and Daniel Wechsler, authors of Shakespeare's Beehive: An Annotated Elizabethan Dictionary Comes to Light, as they explain the amazing discovery of this illuminating work and how the annotations contained therein shed light on and tie directly in to Shakespeare's early plays.

Shakespeare and Company
Shakespeare's achievement is so vast and so familiar that we often assume that other plays of the period are copies of his. In fact, they can be very different, in style, tone and subject matter. Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino, National Post theatre critic Robert Cushman, Dr. Randall Martin of the University of New Brunswick and The Changeling's director, Jackie Maxwell, discuss the problems and opportunities in moving from Shakespeare's plays to those of his colleagues and contemporaries.

Willy Shakes: Fanboy
Does Shakespeare's predilection for rewriting old stories make his work the prototypical "fan fiction"? Join Mya Gosling of Shakespearean strip Good Tickle Brain and Kill Shakespeare creators Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery in a conversation about the rise of graphic novels on the literary scene, Shakespearean manga and introducing the classics to a new generation.

More to explore!
The Forum offers many more special guest speakers, workshops, talks, performances, tours and interactive discussions this season. For updates and detailed event descriptions, and to book tickets, visit the Forum page on our website and expand your experience!


Fall in Love with Shakespeare and Stratford Festival HD!

Don’t miss the cinema première of our brilliantly funny Love’s Labour’s Lost.

Love's Labour's Lost premières on April 29 at selected Cineplex cinemas across Canada. Don't miss this warm, witty and beautiful film of our 2015 production playing at a cinema near you. Tickets are on sale now! 


Encore screenings in Canada will be announced in the very near future. U.S. screenings begin at selected cinemas in late April. 


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 support of 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. Cinema screenings are followed by a broadcast window on CBC, Canada's national public broadcaster.

U.S. and international distribution is through SpectiCast, the fastest growing event cinema marketing and distribution company in the world.



You’re Invited to Explore Waterloo Region!

Just a 40-minute drive from Stratford, Waterloo Region offers plenty for you to see and do!

Be sure to make some time on your visit to take in the sights, flavours, sounds and culture in and around the beautiful Waterloo Region. Whether your Stratford Festival visit is a day trip, or involves staying over for a night or two, there is plenty more to discover - only forty minutes away.

Let us entertain you!
Theatre-lovers, rejoice! Not only will you find great musicals, dramas and comedies onstage at Stratford, but Waterloo Region also offers many other professional theatrical venues with something for all ages to enjoy, such as Drayton Entertainment's Dunfield Theatre, St. Jacobs Country Playhouse and the St. Jacobs Schoolhouse Theatre. Why not make up your own personal travelling playbill and spend a fabulous vacation theatre-hopping?

To keep the live performance train rolling, check out some of the many events and festivals taking place in Waterloo Region during the year, and add some music into the mix. With classical ensembles, choirs, folk and rock bands, jazz and blues concerts, and singers of all stripes, there is something to appeal to every musical taste at venues large and small.

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Escape to St. Jacobs Country
Waterloo Region offers wonderful countryside drives through some of Ontario's most beautiful farmland. Explore an amazing array of food, crafts, fashion and culture along the way, including authentic Mennonite baking, produce and wares, at a bustling year-round St. Jacobs Farmers' Market, Outlet Mall, and the Village of St. Jacobs, or go antique hunting at Market Road Antiques and bring home a unique treasure as a souvenir of your trip. Coffee lovers will marvel at the selection of beans while sipping a cup of Joe at EcoCafe.

History and heritage
Visit the many heritage sites, museums and cultural exhibitions and discover endless fascinating stories about Waterloo Region's past - from the First Nations history 12,000 years ago, right up to the exciting high-tech industry of today. Whether you're interested in the history of fashion and textiles at the Fashion History Museum, or in taking a historic train journey through Mennonite country on the Waterloo Central Railway, you'll find something to excite you. 

Family-friendly fun for the young - and the young at heart!
If you're on a family trip, Waterloo Region has something fun for all generations! Active kids will be thrilled at the area's vast array of sporting and game facilities, such as Max's Sports World; water parks, pools and arcades, such as Bingemans Big Splash and FunworX; and many more ways to play! Nature lovers can discover birds and beasts of all sizes, from butterflies at the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory to elephants at African Lion Safari. Additionally, the Waterloo Region Museum's must-see kid-friendly Tyrannosaurs exhibit is on until April 30. 

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Dine and stay
Whether you are visiting solo, coming as a couple, or travelling with a gang - large or small - Waterloo Region has fantastic dining options, such as At the Crossroads Family Restaurant, to suit any taste or budget. If you wish to stay and spend more time in Waterloo Region, check out the wide array of accommodation options from Puddicombe House & Restaurant (built in 1868) to the modern Delta Waterloo. Whether you like camping under the stars or curling up in a cozy hotel, you'll find a warm welcome in Waterloo Region!

For more information and to discover the possibilities for your visit - including event listings, links to attractions, dining, accommodation options and much more, please visit the Explore Waterloo Region website or call visitors centre at 519-622-2336.