In my formative theater years, I was fortunate to make the annual summer trek to Stratford, Canada, to attend the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.
The internationally known event, now dubbed the Stratford Festival, was set to open its 2020 season this May with a production of “Richard III” starring the superb Colm Feore, and an offering of 15 productions ranging from the musicals “Chicago” and “Spamalot” to the classic “Hamlet.” But we know only too well what COVID-19 did to those plans. It translated to four darkened theaters by order of the Province of Ontario and limbo for such acclaimed actors as Lucy Peacock, Patrick McManus, Geraint Wynn Davies and Scott Wentworth.
But Stratford didn’t buckle. In conjunction with William Shakespeare’s 456th birthday, presumed to fall on April 23, they’re launching a free Shakespearean film festival series – 12 films of past performances – and the first offering is stellar: Stratford Artistic Director Antoni Cimolini’s production of “King Lear.” A very appropriate choice since the Bard reportedly wrote Lear while in quarantine from the Black Plague in 1606.
And with usual Stratford panache, the film series has four themes, very relevant to our current times: isolation, social order and leadership, relationships, and minds pushed to the edge.
Each film will begin at 6 p.m. and will be free for three weeks on the Stratford Festival website and YouTube.
The films also will be shown without edits for time constraints, and on its respective opening day, each film will be interactive with the production’s actors available online for questions. And just like the real festival, which began as an unlikely idea between James Mason, Tyrone Guthrie and Tom Patterson in 1952, the films will run in repertory.
Admittedly, I’m so old I’ve seen all of these productions at Stratford; the schedule showcases the classics mixed with the seldom done:
Social order and leadership
“King Lear,” April 23 to May 14
“Coriolanus,” April 30 to May 21
“Macbeth,” May 7 to 28
“The Tempest,” May 14 to June 4
“Timon of Athens,” May 21 to June 11
“Love’s Labour’s Lost,” May 28 to June 18
Minds pushed to the edge
“Hamlet,” June 4 to 25
“King John,” June 11 to July 2
“The Adventures of Pericles,” June 18 to July 9
“Antony and Cleopatra,” June 25 to July 16
“Romeo and Juliet,” July 2 to 23
“The Taming of the Shrew,” July 9 to 30
Whether you’re a student, theater aficionado or Shakespeare buff, this is an exciting, unprecedented opportunity – some of the world’s best actors coming to you free in what I promise you to be wondrous productions. “All the world’s a stage” and how fortunate that all the world has access to the Stratford stage from now until July.
• Despite yearning to be onstage and directing, Regina Belt-Daniels continues to shelter at home with hopes to soon be able to do what she loves best: teach, act, direct, travel with her husband, write theater reviews, and serve on theater boards enthusiastically.