Stage Door News

Stratford: Stratford Festival lighting designers and technical staff will create the Lights on Stratford Festival this year

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Members of the task force driving Stratford’s pandemic recovery efforts have come up with a bright idea they believe will catch the eyes of both residents and tourists this winter, and it’ll begin by shining a spotlight on some of the creative minds in the city’s theatre community.

Lights On Stratford, a brand new arts and culture festival being spearheaded by the Stratford Economic Response and Recovery Task Force, will bring colourful, elaborate light sculptures and exhibits to various spots across the city during the cold-weather months between November and February. 

Although the new event is inspired by the Toronto Light Festival, organizers said much of the art featured in Stratford’s version will be created by lighting designers and technical staff from the Stratford Festival, providing a unique, local experience. 

“We were imagining the city itself as a dramatic stage,” said Zac Gribble, executive director of the Stratford Tourism Alliance and a member of the task force. “We have access to some of the best light designers, prop builders and the like from the world of theatre, and we have an opportunity to harness that creative energy and turn (it) into something really special. That’s the spirit of it.”

Specific details about the featured art are yet to come, but city councillors recently threw their support behind the idea by formally allowing organizers to use space at city hall, Market Square, and in Stratford’s parks this winter. 

Coun. Graham Bunting, a longtime board member of the Stratford Tourism Alliance, told councillors at their meeting last week he believes the new festival not only offers an opportunity to bring much-needed tourism to Stratford during the pandemic era, but offers an off-season attraction that could become an annual tradition.

“One of the concerns that has been addressed each and every year (by the board) is the shoulder seasons, and this is an ideal project,” he said. “I do believe that it will not only work for this coming year in this very difficult time with (COVID-19), but it will also be a huge plus moving forward for future years.”

The inaugural event will cost about $385,000. 

Rob Russell, chair of the Stratford City Centre BIA and another task force member, said a chunk of the budget will be shared by the task force, the Stratford City Centre BIA, the Stratford Tourism Alliance, and a regional office of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. Organizers are also looking for sponsorships to cover about $205,000, some of which are already in place.

Art will be introduced in stages beginning some time in mid-November and will represent the main focus of the task force’s tourism recovery efforts this winter. 

Lights on Stratford follows in the footsteps of a summer tourism season devastated by the cancellation of the Stratford Festival and a number of other local events due to the pandemic. Since then, the task force has been encouraging residents and visitors to continue supporting local businesses by offering opportunities for outdoor dining and launching arts and culture projects, including a drive-in theatre and a barge for musicians on the Avon River.

“(I’m) really proud of how the community has collaborated and come together to make the most of the situation,” Gribble said. “Despite the challenges, Stratford has punched way above its weight in terms of collectively and safely creating tourism opportunities, and I think that the task force (and) the city should be lauded for their efforts.”

But more creativity will be required this winter as local businesses enter their traditional off season without the summer revenue boosts they normally count on. A winter festival people can enjoy whenever it’s convenient for them is a good start, Russell said.

“We’re really looking at this as something that’s going to be a win for our retailers but also the restaurants and the accommodators,” he said. “We’re looking early on at ways that we can make this enticing to people, for people to stay overnight.”

By Chris Montanini for

Photo: Zac Gribble. © 2020 Cory Smith.