Stage Door News

Stratford: The Stratford Festival delays the opening of its 2021 season

Friday, May 21, 2021

The Stratford Festival’s shortened 2021 season won’t start on time, but its executive director is optimistic after the province released part of its summer pandemic reopening plan.

Anita Gaffney said Friday details still need to be discussed with government officials, but the Festival’s targeted June 22 opening will be pushed to early July at the earliest.

“We’re trying to digest it all,” she said. “It’s good a plan was announced and there’s thresholds that have to be met so we can monitor what’s happening. That’s a good thing.”

Phase one of the province’s three-step plan is set to begin June 14. Each phase will last 21 days, assuming vaccine thresholds are met and various key health indicators improve, which puts the start of phase two at July 5.

Under that phase, outdoor gatherings of up to 25 people would be allowed. It also notes the return of performing arts, though no further details are given. Gaffney said Festival officials have already contacted Lisa McLeod, the minister of tourism, culture and sport, and planned to follow up Friday to get more clarification.

“That’s kind of what we’re planning at the moment is to gear up to start performances in step two,” Gaffney said. “We designed a season that is modular and flexible.”

The Festival has committed to six plays and five cabarets performed on two outdoor stages under large tents that could accommodate up to 100 socially distanced audience members.

Rehearsals for A Midsummer Night’s Dream start Monday via Zoom, and senior Festival executives will gather more information over the weekend and meet Tuesday to discuss their options.

“We’re trying to get all the infrastructure together and be ready to go,” Gaffney said. “It’s been over a year since we rehearsed, so the idea of getting together and looking at a production is pretty exciting. Pivot is the word everyone has been using, and we’re starting to use pirouetting – pirouetting through all the changes and modifications that come our way. We intentionally put together a season that could be tested for its flexibility, and it’s certainly being tested.”

Stratford Summer Music is also looking for more details following the province’s announcement. General manager Kendra Fry said phase two lacks specifics when it comes to performing arts, especially since its outdoor concerts were built to accommodate an audience of 100.

“We’re reading the tea leaves and figuring it out,” she said. “It’s a plan, so it’s great to have a plan so we can say we’re in this phase of the plan and in three weeks we’ll be at the next phase.”

Dayna Manning is scheduled to perform July 17 on Tom Patterson Island, which could be put in jeopardy if phase one or two is delayed a couple weeks. There are 40 shows set for Aug. 5-29, with most of the indoor concerts planned for later in the season.

“We’re being brave, we’re being bold, and going forward we feel Stratford needs support for safe outdoor and indoor cultural events, and the community needs a limited, local-based tourist draw to help it have a successful summer for all its businesses,” Fry said.

The non-profit organization will only sell one-fifth of the tickets it normally does and will operate at a loss, even with grant support, Fry added.

“It’s not a season about Stratford Summer Music. It’s a season about Stratford.”

By Cory Smith for

Photo: Contractors install the lettering on the Stratford Festival’s new Tom Patterson Theatre. © 2021 Galen Simmons.