With the world marking the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare in 2016, Stratford Festival Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino has planned a number of projects in honor of the occasion.
Most ambitious of all is Breath of Kings, a specially commissioned two-part exploration of Shakespeare’s second Henriad tetralogy, that will have its world première at a reconfigured Tom Patterson Theatre (TPT). Shakespeare in Love, staged to great acclaim in London's West End, will have its North American première, directed by Declan Donnellan. The Festival Theatre will be home to two Shakespeare plays, As You Like It, directed by Jillian Keiley, and Macbeth, directed by Cimolino.
For the 2016 season, the Tom Patterson Theatre will be temporarily reconfigured to offer a theatre-in-the-round experience. “With this reconfiguration of the Tom Patterson Theatre, the Stratford Festival will provide our audience with the unique ability to experience theater in our own revolutionary thrust stage, in a traditional proscenium, and now in the round,” Cimolino said in the press release announcing the 2016 season. “I felt that the plays in our 2016 TPT season would especially benefit from the kind of dramatic crucible that an audience creates when in the round.” The other plays in the Tom Patterson repertoire will be Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, directed by Martha Henry and the world première of the Festival-commissioned new translation of Henrik Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman by Paul Walsh directed by Carey Perloff.
The Festival’s 2016 season will explore the theme "After the Victory." Cimolino said, “We recently marked 100 years since the start of the ‘war to end all wars,’ and 70 years since the even more catastrophic war that followed it. And yet, despite these so-called victories for civilization, our world remains mired in brutal conflict. Our 2016 season will look at victories of all kinds—military, personal, spiritual, moral—and explore what we mean by victory: over others, over adversity, over our own complex and imperfect human nature.”
The playbill reaches beyond Shakespeare with a number of firsts and world premières. Donna Feore will direct and choreograph A Chorus Line, reconceiving the landmark musical for the Festival’s iconic thrust stage. Bunny, Hannah Moscovitch’s newest work, commissioned by the Stratford Festival, will have its world première, directed by Vanessa Porteous. And Keira Loughran will direct a newly commissioned translation of Olivier Kemeid’s adaptation of The Aeneid, by Maureen Labonté.
The season will also feature the outrageous comedy The Hypochondriac, an adaptation of Molière’s La Malade Imaginaire by Richard Bean, directed by Cimolino; Stephen Sondheim’s haunting musical A Little Night Music, directed by Gary Griffin; and the beloved C.S. Lewis classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, dramatized by Adrian Mitchell and directed by Tim Carroll.
“As Shakespeare constantly reminds us, victory and loss are inextricably entwined,” says Cimolino. “One of the very first lines in Macbeth, ‘When the battle’s lost and won,’ implies not only that someone has to lose in order for someone else to win, but also that every victor pays some kind of price. Macbeth gains the crown, but at terrible cost, both to others and to himself. The opposite can be true as well. In As You Like It, Duke Senior’s loss is also his gain: deposed and exiled from his court, he’s living a spiritually richer life in the ‘golden world’ of the Forest of Arden. And Shakespeare’s histories are all about the vicissitudes of fortune: the rise and fall of power seekers. Our two Breath of Kings plays, distilled from some of the greatest of those histories, tell sweeping stories of uprising and betrayal, of one victor inevitably supplanted by another."
That same duality of victory and loss informs many other works on the 2016 playbill, he said. "In The Aeneid, for example, the devastation of Troy leads to a triumphant new beginning: the founding of Rome. All My Sons is a very direct examination of the human cost of profiting from war. And A Chorus Line shows us the emotional cost that can attend even the most benign of victories: winning a place in a Broadway show.”
The Stratford Festival Forum will explore issues related to the theme After the Victory through more than 200 events, highlights of which will be announced at a later date.
Creative exploration through the Festival’s Laboratory, which was launched in 2013 by Cimolino, has fostered the development of four projects in the 2016 season: Breath of Kings, Bunny, The Aeneid, and John Gabriel Borkman. Sixteen other works are currently in development.
Breath of Kings was developed in the Festival’s Laboratory by Graham Abbey, with participation from Daniel Brooks, John Murrell, and professors Jane Freeman and Randall Martin. This distillation of Shakespeare’s Richard II, Henry IV, Parts One and Two, and Henry V will be performed in two self-contained parts: the first two plays under the subtitle Rebellion, the second two under the subtitle Redemption. Mitchell Cushman and Weyni Mengesha, two exciting young operatives in Canadian theater, will direct in collaboration with Abbey. Cushman, who recently won a Dora for his work on Brantwood 1920-2020, is directing this season’s Possible Worlds and served as assistant director on The Merchant of Venice and The Beaux’ Stratagem. Mengesha, whose Toronto hits include ’da kink in my hair, A Raisin in the Sun, and Kim’s Convenience, directed Rice Boy in 2011. Abbey, one of the country’s top classical actors and Artistic Director of Toronto’s Groundling Theatre Co., is assistant director of this season’s The Alchemist and is also playing Newton in The Physicists.
September 9, 2015