When I was in Grade 11, the Rotary Club at home hosted a program in conjunction with the Rotary Club in Stratford, Ontario. Students were selected to go to Stratford for a weekend, see plays, and participate in workshops at the Festival. I was selected to go. We got to get backstage tours of the festival workshops, costume warehouse, and we did acting workshops in the rehearsal space with actors from the festival.
The first show I got to see was A Midsummer Night’s Dream at th festival theatre. To my recollection, it was the first time I had ever seen Shakespeare done live, even though I was a total Shakespeare geek and had read 5 of his plays before I ever got to high school. The amazing thing I remember about this production was that the set was done entirely in inflatable pieces that actors could climb, slide down, and move all around on. It was awesome, and I’ve never forgotten that show.
The next show I got to see was The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan. I had never been exposed to G&S before, and it was amusing. Truth be told, it was okay, but I recall not particularly enjoying it. I think G&S is lost on teenagers. The
part I do recall finding clever was the insertion of the topical humour in “I’ve Got a Little List.”
The final performance I saw was Gypsy, a show I knew nothing about but was completely blown away by. It was at the Festival theatre, and I had never seen a musical done on a thrust stage before. It was quite the show to see, very simple in some ways, complex in others, and it made quite an impression on me.
In retrospect, I think this was a very influential time for me. I was involved in theatre in high school and the community, but never really experienced it professionally, certainly not on the scale that is the Stratford Festival. It was also a great experience to meet and connect with other kids who loved theatre like I did, and I do recall meeting some of the people I met on the trip later on in university and in other venues.