Democrat & Chronicle
June 25, 2011
Shaw Festival Celebrates 50 Seasons of Quality Entertainment
The village of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, dubbed the prettiest town in Canada, is home to the world-renowned Shaw Festival, which focuses on producing and presenting the work of George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) and other playwrights working anywhere in the world during Shaw’s lifetime and those who currently write about that era. The 2011 season is a very special one, as it is the Shaw Festival’s 50th season.
The festival was originally started by Niagara area lawyer and playwright, Brian Doherty, who in 1962 organized eight weekend performances, entitled “Salute to Shaw.” Two plays, Don Juan in Hell and Candida by George Bernard Shaw, were performed in the Assembly Room of the historic Court House, which had been converted into a small theater.
Over the next few decades the audiences grew and the company toured both the United States and Canada. Its reputation became well-known locally as well as internationally. Today, performances take place from April to October in four theaters. Their flagship theater is the Festival Theatre, an 856 seat theater, which was dedicated by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973. Within that complex is their new Studio Theatre, an intimate 200 seat venue.
The Court House Theatre, located within a National Historic Site built in 1840, has a 327 seat auditorium, while the RoyalGeorgeTheatre, was originally built as a vaudeville house to entertain troops during WWI. All four theaters are within walking distance of each other.
Special 50th season programming
“For our 50th season, artistic Director Jackie Maxwell has programmed the work to pay homage to our past, while at the same time programming work that looks ahead to the next 50 seasons,” said Odette Yazbeck, Public Relations Director of the Shaw Festival.
“As the play Candida was one of the first productions we presented, we are offering it up again as a tribute to our past. JM Barrie’s The Admirable Crichton has not been seen on our stages since 1976, so we’re bringing it back with a fresh, fantastical approach by director Morris Panych,” said Yazbeck.
She added, “We’ve also taken one of Shaw’s lesser known and more difficult plays, On The Rocks, and given it to contemporary writer Michael Healey. What Healey has given us is a fresh remix, while retaining the same humour and veracity in Shaw’s original text! Also this year, for the first time ever, we’re presenting the musical My Fair Lady, based on Shaw’s Pygmalion, on the Festival stage. Audiences have responded to all these choices, and the rest of the playbill very enthusiastically. Of course, what’s an anniversary without a commemorative book? Shaw Festival, The First 50 Years is a fantastic publication filled with extraordinary images and informative text that outlines our humble beginnings and carves a path to our future.”
East, Shop, and Stay in Niagara-on-the-Lake
While the Shaw Festival is one of the main reasons for many people to come to Niagara-on-the-Lake, the town itself is an attraction in its own right. The historic downtown area, referred to as OldTown, is lined with numerous boutiques and many fine restaurants. There are also hundreds of accommodations in town, from five-star hotels to tiny B&B inns; many a short stroll to theaters, shops, and restaurants. If you enjoy wine, close to 100 wineries, open for tastings and tours, are located in the Niagara region.
If you go
Shaw Festival, 10 Queen’s Parade, Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1-800-657-1106, www.shawfest.com
Niagara-on-the-lake Chamber of Commerce, 26 queen Street (lower), Niagara-on-the-Lake, 905-468-1950, www.niagaraonthelake.com
From Rochester, take the New York State Thruway (I-90) west; then take the I-290, to the I-190 towards Niagara Falls, crossing over Grand Island. You can either head into downtown Niagara Falls and cross over the Rainbow Bridge, or stay on the I-190 to the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge. After crossing the border at either bridge, head north of the Niagara Parkway to Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Alternately, you can follow Route 104 from Rochester to Lewiston and cross over the Lewiston-QueenstonBridge.
Note: To cross the border into Canada and back into the United States, travelers are required to have a passport, passport card, enhanced license, or NEXUS card.