THE SHAW FESTIVAL and NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE
A World-Renowned Combination
One of North America’s finest cultural attractions, the Shaw Festival is located twenty minutes from the thunder of Niagara Falls. Nestled in the historic village of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada, the Shaw Festival’s eclectic array of comedies, dramas and classics — a celebration of provocative, challenging stories told with humanity and wit — have been captivating audiences for the past fifty seasons.
What began as the amateur eight performance summer festival “Salute to Shaw!” in 1962, has evolved into a six-month internationally renowned professional theatre festival featuring not only plays by acclaimed playwright, reformer and social critic Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), but playwrights writing anywhere in the world during, or about, the era of Shaw’s lifetime. The Shaw also showcases the continuum of provocative, subversive playwriting that includes the work of contemporary Shavians and those that write through the Shavian lens. Though the Festival continues to move forward – embracing new writers, revealing new worlds, exploring new approaches to classic plays, Bernard Shaw (as he preferred to be known) and his compelling quest for the truth stalwartly remains at the heart of the Shaw Festival.
The town of Niagara-on-the-Lake welcomes visitors to its bountiful orchards, award-winning wineries, historic sites and elegant homes. This unique combination of natural beauty and intellectual stimulation is what makes the Shaw Festival experience truly memorable. Originally established as part of a portage route around Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake was held by the French and then captured by the British in 1759. At the outbreak of the American Revolution, twenty years later, it became a haven for the United Empire Loyalists, homeless American refugees who were loyal to Britain. In 1792, Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe renamed the settlement Newark and it became the first capital of Upper Canada, hosting five sessions of the legislature. As one of the largest communities in Upper Canada, the village boasted a thriving ship building industry, courthouse, and apothecary shop as well as Canada’s first newspaper, agricultural society, public library and legislature.
In 1812, the Americans attempted to invade Upper Canada at Queenston Heights. The British won the battle but lost their beloved General Brock, to whom a monument stands atop the escarpment today. The Americans were more successful during their second invasion that year and occupied the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake for seven months before British forces forced their retreat. In defiance, the Americans burned the town to the ground as they left, forcing town inhabitants out of their homes during a bitter winter snow storm. Supported by government “War Losses” claims, the people of Niagara-on-the-Lake rebuilt the town with classic examples of Victorian, Regency and Edwardian architecture that still stand today. The town enjoyed prosperity as a naval centre, armed forces training base and a 19th-century summer resort. During the mid-1900s much of this prosperity faded and Niagara-on-the-Lake suffered many economic downturns. The birth of the Shaw Festival in 1962 injected the town with a cultural and economic vitality that continues today.
While remaining proud of its past — elegant homes, historic sites and beautiful parks and gardens — Niagara-on-the-Lake also offers contemporary comforts. Dining options range from pub-style fare and lakeside picnics to the finest European and Niagara Wine Country cuisine. This timeless village offers a wide variety of accommodations. Visitors can enjoy an overnight stay in one of the towns many privately owned bed-and-breakfasts, quaint inns or world-renowned luxury Niagara hotels. A visit to one of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s prestigious spas will rejuvenate even the most tired traveler. Charming boutiques line the main streets of this historic town offering shoppers a wonderful selection of antiques, collectibles, local jam, Canadian fashion, art, rare books and theatre memorabilia. Ranked 12th on Trip Advisor’s Top 25 Destinations in Canada in 2011, Niagara-on-the-Lake’s ‘well-preserved 19th-century village and its charms’ is also home to over 15 award-winning wineries, most of which offer tours to the public, and some of which have special Niagara-on-the-Lake tour and theatre packages with The Shaw.
Even with the array of activities available, theatre remains central to the town. In the summer of 1962, local lawyer Brian Doherty converted the Assembly Rooms of the town’s historic Court House into a theatre. That summer, eight weekend performances of Bernard Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell and Candida were presented. The following year, the Shaw Festival Theatre Foundation was established as a non-profit organization.
With such a rich period of history for its mandate —1856 to 1950 —The Shaw quickly rose to national and international prominence. It has become one of the largest and most successful theatre festivals in North America that retains a permanent acting company.
As Festival operations grew, the limitations of the Court House necessitated expansion to a larger venue, and, in 1972, construction began on a new theatre. The Festival Theatre opened in 1973 with an 847-seat proscenium house (now 856 seats). In 1980, the Festival acquired the Royal George Theatre. In 2009, The Shaw introduced a new performing space called the Studio Theatre, located within the Donald and Elaine Triggs Production Centre. With this additional space The Shaw now presents live theatre on four stages, each with its own unique character.
After an unprecedented 23-year run as Artistic Director, Christopher Newton retired from The Shaw after the 2002 season. During his tenure he developed a distinctive artistic personality for the company based on his commitment to the highest quality permanent acting ensemble and his belief in the vitality of The Shaw’s unique mandate. The Cambridge Guide to World Theatre suggests that his greatest contribution was in “assembling and nurturing one of the premiere acting ensembles in North America”.
In 2003, celebrated director and dramaturge Jackie Maxwell became the Shaw Festival’s eighth Artistic Director. She continues to focus on what has become The Shaw’s greatest asset – the virtuosity of its actors. Her intellectual curiosity propels her to continually explore the prescient and provocative ideas of Bernard Shaw and rediscover the wealth of remarkable playwrights who were writing during Shaw’s lifetime. With intellectual rigor and passion, Ms. Maxwell gives classic Canadian and contemporary plays a uniquely detailed, thoughtful and vivid new life. Ms. Maxwell continues to invigorate the Festival with new commissions by Canadian playwrights, a stronger female presence and 20th century plays from around the world. Under her leadership, The Shaw has expanded its mandate to include contemporary Shavians — writers whose work, like Shaw’s, continues to the question the status quo and “rail at the establishment” in new and different ways.
In January 2005, the Shaw Festival announced the successful conclusion of a $30-million campaign for the renovation and expansion of the Festival Theatre, the first phase of the most significant capital campaign in The Shaw’s history. The project included a 36,000 sq. foot addition to the south end of the Festival Theatre, The Shaw’s largest theatre and centre of operations, as well as improvements to audience services facilities and renovations to the original Festival Theatre building. Named The Donald and Elaine Triggs Production Centre in recognition of a $1 million personal donation from local residents and Niagara vintners Donald and Elaine Triggs, the addition includes a large rehearsal hall suitable for hosting educational programs, that doubles as a fourth performance space and two additional rehearsal halls; a recording studio and music rehearsal rooms; an Academy suite, the Christopher Newton Green Room and the Macdonald Heaslip Lounge.
The Shaw Festival’s 2012 season is full of energy and ideas that will certainly initiate a whole new series of important theatrical conversations. The playbill proudly features 11 productions presented on the Festival’s four Niagara-on-the-Lake stages, and includes a compelling contemporary musical, two productions by the Festival’s namesake, a Githa Sowerby gem, along with the return to the Shaw stage of Henrik Ibsen’s most famous heroine and the wit and panache of Noël Coward. Impressive too is the list of directors, several of whom are members of the Shaw’s renowned acting Ensemble.
On the Festival Theatre stage, Ragtime, the celebrated Tony Award-winning adaptation of E.L. Doctorow’s ground-breaking novel, will make its Shaw Festival premiere. The Terrence McNally/Lynn Ahrens/Stephen Flaherty musical epic is a powerful portrait of life in turn-of-the-century America represented by the complex stories of three groups in New York City – the suburbanites of New Rochelle, the African-American community in Harlem, and the Eastern European immigrants of the Lower East Side. Also making its Shaw Festival premiere is the screwball comedy His Girl Friday by John Guare, a brilliant blending of the 1940’s film His Girl Friday and the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. The wit and panache of Noël Coward returns to the Festival Theatre this season with Present Laughter. Last seen at The Shaw in 1990, this new production of Coward’s comedic commentary on the celebrity lifestyle continues the Festival’s ongoing celebration of this brilliant playwright.
At the Court House Theatre, music returns to the Lunchtime slot with Trouble in Tahiti, Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner Leonard Bernstein’s one-act opera on love and longing in the American suburban dream. The Shaw’s exploration of the works of British playwright Githa Sowerby continues at the Court House Theatre with Sowerby’s rarely performed 1914 play A Man and Some Women, a provocative story of a family driven apart by money. A Man and Some Women continues the successful archaeological programming that included The Shaw’s highly acclaimed 2004 production of Sowerby’s first full-length play Rutherford and Son and its 2008 production of The Stepmother. Also in the Court House Theatre, two of the most famous female characters in the theatrical world play alongside each other: The Millionairess, Bernard Shaw’s most glorious larger-than-life heroine, will play in repertory with Henrik Ibsen’s enduring “female Hamlet” Hedda Gabler.
The season’s second Shaw offering, Misalliance, will be presented at the Royal George Theatre. Bernard Shaw’s hilarious examination of the laws of sexual attraction and the difficulty of fitting them into marriage was last produced at Shaw in 2003. Also at the Royal George Theatre, Terence Rattigan’s French Without Tears, a sexy comedic romp set in the south of France and one of Rattigan’s longest running hits on the London stage and the William Inge domestic drama Come Back, Little Sheba.
Continuing The Shaw’s exploration of provocative, subversive contemporary playwriting and after a season of great success in the Studio Theatre with the staging of Topdog/Underdog and When the Rain Stops Falling, the focus shifts to a Canadian writer in 2012. The Studio Theatre will host Award-winning Quebec writer Carole Fréchette’s poignantly poetic Helen’s Necklace (Le Collier d’Hélène), translated and adapted by John Murrell.
The Shaw Festival Box Office Hours are…
Beginning January 3: Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Also open January 8 and 15, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
From April 22: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
Visit the ’Request Information’ section of the website for your free Shaw Festival season handbook or contact the Box Office at:
Toll free: 1-800-511-SHAW (7429)
To order tickets online, visit the ’Buy Tickets’ section of our website.
The Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce provides visitor information and accommodation services. Please call 905-468-1950 or write to the Chamber at Box 1043, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON, Canada L0S 1J0, or visit their website at www.niagaraonthelake.com.
Cross-border travelling by land or air, Canadian and U.S. citizens will need a passport to travel between countries. Proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate, certificate of citizenship or naturalization, as well as photo ID is now required. Permanent residents of the U.S. should bring their Permanent Resident Card (i.e. green card). For more information, please visit www.travel.state.gov or www.cbsa.gc.ca.
When travelling from Toronto: follow the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) toward Niagara. This highway travels through Mississauga, Oakville, Burlington, Hamilton and St. Catharines. Once across the Garden City Skyway at St. Catharines, take the Niagara-on-the-Lake exit (38B). Turn right at the stop sign at the end of the QEW off-ramp. From the traffic light at York Road, The Shaw is signposted – left onto York Road, then right onto Airport Road. At Highway 55, turn right and follow 55 (Niagara Stone Road) until it ends at the golf course. Turn right into downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake. The Royal George Theatre and the Court House Theatre are located on Queen Street in downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake; the Festival and Studio Theatres are two blocks farther down on Queen’s Parade.
From the USA: cross the Niagara River into Canada at Buffalo, at Niagara Falls, or at Lewiston NY. Take the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) to Highway 55 or take the Niagara Parkway instead, if a more scenic route is preferred. The Niagara Parkway route takes a little longer, especially in the busy summer months, but it’s a beautiful drive — down the Niagara River gorge, past orchards and vineyards, right to the door of the Festival Theatre.
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For U.S. Visitors:
Banks and Currency
All Canadian banks are open by 10 a.m. until at least 4 p.m. Monday to Friday. Instant cash machines are available at all banks in town. All financial institutions are closed on the following holidays:
January 1 New Year’s Day
February 20 Family Day
April 6 Good Friday
April 9 Easter Monday
May 21 Victoria Day
July 1 Canada Day
August 6 Civic Holiday
September 3 Labour Day
October 8 Canadian Thanksgiving
November 11 Remembrance Day
December 25 Christmas Day
December 26 Boxing Day
U.S. currency is accepted by all businesses at posted rates of exchange.