History - Shaw Festival Theatre

Actor backstage adjusting his hat

The Shaw Festival celebrates the life and spirit of Bernard Shaw by creating theatre that is as entertaining and provocative as Shaw himself.

A singular act of passion for theatre by Brian Doherty of Niagara-on-the-Lake and Calvin G Rand of Buffalo inspired the Shaw Festival into being. Its first season in 1962, held in the Assembly Room of the historic Court House, featured four performances each of Don Juan in Hell and Candida. The following year, the Shaw Festival Theatre Foundation was established as a non-profit organization.

In its first decade, the Shaw Festival company toured extensively in the United States and Canada while experiencing explosive audience growth. On June 28, 1973 in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, the Festival Theatre was officially opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Designed by renowned Canadian architect Ronald Thom, the Festival Theatre enabled The Shaw to mount large-scale productions, drawing national and international acclaim.

In 1980, a new era began under Artistic Director Christopher Newton’s leadership. The company grew steadily and built a solid reputation for its exceptional ensemble acting and innovative theatrical designs. The repertory theatre also became known for reviving plays that other companies were unwilling or unable to produce: seminal works such as Cavalcade and Lulu; once-popular genres such as operettas and stage mysteries; and neglected gems such as Waste and The Return of the Prodigal. In 2000, the Festival began producing new plays written about Shaw’s lifetime (1856-1950).

Succeeding Mr Newton in 2003, Jackie Maxwell enriched the programming by: including works written by largely forgotten female playwrights from Shaw’s period; commissioning new adaptations by some of Canada’s most respected playwrights; presenting Canadian classics; and initiating enormous growth in new play development. During Ms Maxwell’s first season, The Shaw embarked on its largest construction and renovation project since the Festival Theatre opened thirty years earlier. Officially opened in 2009, the Donald and Elaine Triggs Production Centre houses three rehearsal halls, the largest of which also serves as the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre. During Ms Maxwell’s tenure she began producing works by modern writers who embody the spirit of the Festival’s namesake – writers whose work continues to question the status quo in new and different ways.

Helmed by Artistic Director Tim Carroll (TC), this 60th Anniversary Season offers 13 productions from February 9 to December 23, including the musical and romantic comedy Damn Yankees, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Bernard Shaw’s The Doctor’s Dilemma and Too True To Be Good, the return of Cyrano de Bergerac, a gripping thriller with Gaslight and two wonderful Holiday Season offerings: A Christmas Carol and White Christmas. Join us!

The Shaw Festival

Helmed by Artistic Director Tim Carroll (TC) and inspired by the spirit of George Bernard Shaw, the Shaw Festival creates unforgettable theatrical encounters.

The Shaw Festival, home to Two-Way Theatre, is a place where people who are curious about the world gather to share the unique experience of live theatre.

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