The 59th season of the Shaw Festival, under the artistic direction of Tim Carroll, was set to be diverse and exciting, or as my grandmother would say, a real humdinger. Twelve productions with Canadian and American actors were set to tread the boards from April to December, but were canceled.
“A Christmas Carol” was the sole survivor and, as of this writing, is still on the schedule for November and December with the hopes that the Shaw still can welcome reduced-capacity audiences. Associate Artistic Director Kimberley Rampersad said, “Our hope is a candle – it may flicker but it will not go out.”
Three theaters (Festival, Royal George and Jackie Maxwell Studio) were to welcome productions of Sondheim musicals “Gypsy” and “Assassins,” the Sanskrit epic “Mahabharata,” the celebrated comedy “Charley’s Aunt,” Shaw’s “The Devil’s Disciple,” C.S. Lewis’s “Prince Caspian,” an unusual love story about Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s beloved dog called “Flush,” Synge’s “The Playboy of the Western World,” O’Neill’s “Desire Under the Elms,” “Sherlock Holmes and the Raven’s Curse,” “Trouble in Mind” and the 1930s musical “Me and My Girl.” But then COVID-19 erased all those dreams and plans. Both “Gypsy” and “Charley’s Aunt” were set to open in April, and were well into rehearsal when the shutdown came.
The Shaw Festival was born in 1962; lawyer and playwright Brian Doherty’s love for the work of Irish playwright and social reformer George Bernard Shaw resulted in “Salute to Shaw,” with eight performances of “Don Juan in Hell” and “Candida.” The Shaw is now the second largest repertory company in North America; more than 250,000 attendees generate over $220 million each year.
Audiences come from all over Canada and the United States, most notably Illinois, Michigan and New York – and the world. And like the Stratford Festival, the Shaw is a Canadian cultural icon with royal approval. On June 20, 1973, the Shaw’s largest theater, the Festival, officially was opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
The Shaw is noted for a mix of plays, past and present, as proven by their revivals of plays other companies avoid or are unable to produce, adaptations of Canadian classics and modern writers “who embody the spirit of the Festival’s namesake.”
But all is not lost. The Shaw is about to offer outdoor performances and a “few other surprises.” Perhaps with a future lesson for the United States, the CBC news reported that Melanie Joly, the minister of economic development responsible for Federal Development Ontario, intends to “provide a contribution of up to $400,000 to the Shaw to support outdoor theater performances and visitor activities.”
Tim Jennings, executive director of the Shaw, plans to use these funds to “provide free and low-cost, outdoor performance activities, as well as purchase equipment.”
And in case you can’t wait, there is also the free Shaw Festival From Home at shawfest.com to “keep the connection to audiences alive.” You can access “Charley’s Aunt” Zoom rehearsals, backstage tours, acting at home, and even the “Gypsy” set.
George Bernard Shaw famously said, “You see things and you say, ‘Why.’ But I dream things that never were, and I say, ‘Why not.'”
I’m dreaming of a magnificent 2021 season for the Shaw. Why not?
• Regina Belt-Daniels has made the eight-hour drive to the Shaw Festival many times in the past. She anxiously awaits the return to things she loves best: acting, directing, teaching, traveling with her husband, and attending live theater.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Shaw Festival
WHERE: 10 Queen’s Parade, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada
INFO: 800-511-SHAW (7429); shawfest.com