Ontario’s Summer Theatre Festivals

by Ann Wallace

It’s a well-know fact that Ontario offers some wonderful summer theatre festivals, and it’s no secret that I love the theatre.  Tickets are a favourite gift in our family; a great idea as one gets older and has more than enough silk scarves, figurines and vases!  So … if you’re in Ontario or planning a visit I hope you’ll join me at some of the following.  You won’t be disappointed.

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, about two hours’ drive from Toronto (although of course it can take considerably longer in bad traffic) is one of the province’s pre-eminent festivals.  And, with its four venues, offers far more than the Bard.  There are twelve plays on offer this season, ranging from The Tempest to Dangerous Liaisons.  My husband enjoys a late night drive, so we usually head back to Toronto after the applause, but we usually drive to Stratford in time to enjoy dinner at Pan Tapas & Grill.  If you plan to stay, there are dozens of B&Bs in the area and good friends of mine heartily recommend the Avery House, a gracious renovated 1874 home that has received many accolades, including the Designer Showcase Home of 2003 and featured as one of Ontario’s Best Country Getways in Air Canada’s magazine.

The Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake is the other major festival with ten plays on offer in four venues.  Again the Festival offers more than its name suggests, with plays this season by Oscar Wilde, Clare Boothe Luce, Anton Chekhov and others, as well as two Shaw offerings.  And as with Stratford, there’s a wide choice of places to stay and eat with excellent websites and guides covering everything.

But the ‘famous two’ aren’t the only theatre festivals … there are many more in communities all over Ontario.
Enjoy your theatre out of doors?  Head to the lovely setting of 4th Line Theatre at The Winslow Farm in Millbrook, about 45 minutes’ drive from Peterborough.  Here, amidst the meadows, the setting sun lights the action, set against the barns of the old farm.  “The setting alone is more than worth the price of admission,” says their literature.  Plays are based on historical events in the area and this summer’s offerings are Eldorado Town – the Port Hope Play and The Right Road to Pontypool.  Picnics can be pre-ordered for $13.   In Peterborough itself, the Peterborough Theatre Guild performs in the building that was formerly St. Luke’s Anglican Church, which was gutted by fire in 1959 and then purchased by a local group of theatre enthusiasts.  They claim to be the only theatre company in the region which owns its own theatre.  Their two plays this summer are Move Over Mrs Markham and You Can’t Dance to Mozart.

Theatre is much-loved in Huron County – “Ontario’s West Coast” – too.  And there’s fine fish and local produce on the menu, historic inns and lovely beaches too!  The renowned Blyth Festival is a great Canadian success story, producing award-winning Canadian plays for the past 36 years.  Offerings this summer include some world premieres, including A Killing Snow by Paul Cuifo (five people stranded in a secluded farmhouse in a Huron County blizzard sounds as though it has the makings of a great play!), Bordertown Café by Kelly Rebar and several others.

And please don’t forget The Thousand Island Playhouse in Gananoque.  During the intermission, when you step out onto their dock overlooking the islands of the St. Lawrence, I am sure you will agree with me … this theatre has the most beautiful setting in the world!

Toronto in your plans?  There are many offerings in the Luminato Festival, not only theatre but music, dance, film, literature, food, fashion and much more.  Check it all out on their website.

So many plays … so little time … but it’s no secret how lovely rural Ontario is in the summer and I encourage you to try to make theatre a part of your plans.

Here are some details:

  • www.stratfordshakespearefestival.com or tel: 1 800 567 1600. Regional information can be found at www.ontariotravel.net where there’s a link to ‘Shakespeare Country’. Pan Tapas & Grill, 107 Downie Street, tel: 519 508 5500. Avery House B&B, tel: 1 800 510 8813, www.averyhouse.com
  • www.shawfest.com or tel: 1 800 511 SHAW, and for the region: www.niagaraonthelake.com. For the 4th Line at Winslow Farm visit www.4thline-theatre.on.ca or tel: 1 800 814 0055 and the Peterborough Theatre Guild: www.theatreguild.org.There are many other attractions in the Peterborough and Kawartha Lake area: visit www.thekawarthas.net or call 1 800 461 6424 and be tempted to pay a visit.
  • www.blythfestival.com, tel: 1 877 862 5984 and for Huron County Tourism check out www.ontarioswest-coast.ca
  • www.luminato.com …many events in this festival are free or inexpensive, and hotel packages are available.  A new website may also be helpful in planning your Toronto visit: www.SeeTorontoNow.com. And for even more theatre in Ontario visit www.sum-mertheatre.org.

The above is only a partial list.