The annual trip to the Stratford and Shaw Festivals in Ontario is less than a week away. I purchased the performance tickets last winter. The travel arrangements have been in place for months. The restaurant reservations are made. I’ve solidified plans to connect with the people we look forward to seeing each year. Now the real excitement begins; the anticipation!
I love live theater. Plays or musicals; comedies or dramas; Broadway, community theater, university productions, the occasional high school show, something in someone’s pole barn; as long as it is engaging and well executed I’ll be there. Truthfully, I’ll probably be there even if it’s less-than engaging or not-that-well executed but more about that later. There are few ways of spending time that I consider more enjoyable.
I make an effort be an informed consumer. I often read, or re-read, a play before I see it. With an unfamilar musical (there are a few) I will often seek out a recording in advance. As a performance begins I try to pay attention to the all the design elements; lighting, sets, costumers, etc. That said, I am also a fan. Once the performance gets underway I try to stop looking at all the pieces and just experience the production. I am pulling for them. I want the production to succeed. I want it to be wonderful. I can hear Blanche DuBois in my head (OK…in my head it’s Vivien Leigh) saying “Oh look, we have created enchantment.”
When it is wonderful I am delighted. When it’s less-than-wonderful I’ll usually find some aspect of it that I liked so I am still glad I saw it. When it’s dreadful, and there have been many at various venues over the years, I may still be glad I attended. It is a good memory. That is why I love Fringe Festivals. The pieces I remember are the truly great and the truly awful. The mediocre fades from memory.
I enjoy seeing new productions or new interpretations of well-known material. Anyone who doesn’t enjoy that might want to reconsider their plan to attend a Shakespeare festival. “So this year’s “Romeo & Juliet” is an homage to Avatar? They’ll all be painted blue and living in the trees of the Verona Forest? KEWL!! Let’s see how that works out.” Humor aside, new interpreations can bring new relevance to a familiar play.
As much as I love seeing a ‘new take’ on familiar work, however, I am most excited when I get to see something new; a new play, one that is unknown to me, or a play that I’ve read but never seen performed. In the years I’ve attended the Stratford and Shaw Festivals I have seen many wonderful things but my best memories are often of the previously unfamiliar. “Elizabeth Rex”; “Uncollected Stories”, “When the Rain Stops Falling” all come to mind. There are others.
We’ll see 10 performances this year between the two festivals. Seven will be of works I have seen performed previously. Two are works that are not new but are unfamiliar to me. One is a world premier.
The world premier is a new musical called “Wanderlust”. The book is by Morris Panych based on the poems of Robert Service. The music is by Marek Norman. Mr. Panych also directs. I know nothing about this musical other than the brief description in the Festival’s season brochure. I bought the tickets because I have become a fan of Morris Panych.
I first became aware of Panych as a writer when I saw his play “Lawrence & Holloman” at the Taragon Theatre in Toronto in the 90’s. I’ve been fortunate enough to see a number of productions he’s directed at the Shaw Festival spanning a range from Shaw to Noel Coward to Stephen Sondheim. One of the highlights of their 2007 season for me was his adaptation of Feydeau’s “Hotel Peccadillo”. In 2008 the Stratford Festival performed “Moby Dick”; his adaptation of the Melville novel interpreted through music and movement. It was an unusual piece for a theater festival in that there was virtually no spoken text. It was interesting, engaging and extremely well executed. Theater companies get a lot of ‘points’ from me for trying interesting alternatives to traditional theater pieces. I am glad I saw it and am eagerly awaiting my chance to see “Wanderlust”