Figure 2.1 Festival Theatre (panorama). Stratford Festival of Canada. Photo by Richard Bain.
The Stratford Festival of Canada performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2014 on the prestigious festival stage in Stratford’s largest theatre. To get to this performance, you might have driven along Stratford’s picturesque river, admiring the swans and landscaping until you saw the iconic architecture of the Festival Theatre loom in view (Figure 2.1). This space comes freighted with Ontario history. In the first half of the twentieth century, Stratford’s economy was endangered by the relocation of the railway industry. The idea for a classical repertory theatre was the brainchild of Tom Patterson, a local journalist, who saw the opportunity to reinvent Stratford as a destination site for culture and arts. Tyrone Guthrie was invited to serve as
artistic director, and he in turn commissioned Tanya Moiseiwitsch to design the stage. Moiseiwitsch’s conception of a flexible, multi-tiered thrust space was first realized in Ontario, and has since inspired such auditoriums as Lincoln Center’s Beaumont Theater in New York, the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, and the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Guthrie’s opening season in the summer of 1953, starring Alec Guinness as Richard III and Irene Worth as Helena in All’s Well That Ends Well, was played in a tent, and spectators sat on metal-frame wooden chairs, the backs of which were stencilled with seat numbers. In 1957 the Stratford Festival gained a permanent home, and the award-winning theatre’s tent-like roof, topped with its signature crown, provides a visual reminder of the festival’s origins, its classical mandate, and its earliest seasons in the open air.1