The iconic Stratford Festival will officially kick off its 2021 season next month with performances held outdoors as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Officials announced back in March that the season would be held under large canopies at the Festival and Tom Patterson theatres because of pandemic restrictions on indoor gatherings.

Performances will begin on July 10 with shows running three times a day until the end of September. All shows will be filmed and made available online later in the year.

The canopy set up outside of the Stratford Festival’s main Festival Theatre.

Courtesy Stratford Festival via Twitter

Under Step 2 of Ontario’s three-step reopening plans set to take effect Wednesday, the festival will be able to accommodate 100 people, or 25 per cent capacity, under each of the outdoor canopies. The guidelines allow a daily maximum of 600 people.

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In comparison, when the festival is fully operational with all four theatres, the tally is 7,000, officials said.

The move outdoors hearkens back to the festival’s early roots and its first season in 1953 when its stage and auditorium were under a large canvas tent.

“As we were then, we are under a canopy – and we are starting the performance season in July, just as we did 68 years ago,” said Anita Gaffney, the festival’s executive director, in a statement.

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Stratford Festival going outdoors for planned summer season

For the upcoming season, six plays and five cabarets will be staged, the festival says.

Among the plays are The Rez Sisters and Three Tall Women — both from the 2020 playbill — along with Serving Elizabeth and I Am William. Two Shakespeare plays will also be performed: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and R+J (Romeo and Juliet).

Three Tall Women, officials said, will be held indoors in the Studio Theatre later in the season from Aug. 10 to Oct. 9, assuming the province has moved to Step 3 of its reopening plan. The play had been set to run in the theatre last year.

Cabarets that are set to be performed during the season include Why We Tell the StoryYou Can’t Stop the Beat, Play On!, Freedom, and Finally There’s Sun.

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Rehearsals have been underway since early June and will be moving indoors soon thanks to the province’s move to Step 2, officials said.

“We’re dealing with the elements and there are a lot of elements from wind and humidity to bright sunshine and cooler days. I think we’ve experienced all of it in the last month,” Gaffney said Tuesday when asked about the challenges of mounting an outdoor season.

“But I think it also instills a spirit of adventure for all of us. This is something we haven’t done in our time, so we’re kind of figuring out how to take all the things that we usually do indoors and figure out a way to do it outdoors.”

Stratford Festival tent in 1953. The use of outdoor canopies for the 2021 summer season hearkens back to the festival’s early days when its stage and auditorium were under a large canvas tent.

Peter Smith & Company. Courtesy of the Stratford Festival Archives.

The festival’s artistic director, Antoni Cimolino, said in a statement that seeing actors and creative teams back at work was “a balm for the soul.”

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Gaffney echoed that sentiment on Tuesday.

“Last year we didn’t know what was ahead of us. I think every day we woke up thinking, ‘OK, so will we be out of this in a month or two months or six months?’” she said.

“This year, I think we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Many of us have two vaccines (and) the possibility of seeing … of booking theatre, of planning to do something with friends, or with people within your own bubble, is pretty wonderful.”

The festival says it also has a series of in-person and digital events planned for the 2021 Meighen Forum, including performances, play readings, workshops, speakers and panels. Details are still being finalized, but some information can be found on the festival website.

Tickets for the season go on sale July 6 for festival members and July 12 for the rest of the public. More information on the upcoming season can be found on the festival website.

Read more:
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Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the festival to cancel its 2020 season, which had been set to run April 11 to Nov. 1.

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The festival launched its own streaming service, [email protected], featuring a mix of filmed productions, artist interviews, music and cooking content, and more for $10 per month. More than 2,200 people subscribed within the first five weeks.

Festival officials have previously stated that they see the streaming service as being part of the festival’s identity moving forward.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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