GUEST BLOG: Toronto Pursuits 2012 begins in Stratford

Submitted by Garth Lawrence, Toronto

Thrust stage at Festival Theatre (click to enlarge)

What is it with the Festival Theatre in Stratford? I have seen many productions here over the years, so I have an easy familiarity with the building. Yet, every time I enter that particular auditorium my jaw drops in wonder. The volume of space, the famous thrust stage, the nearly wrap-around seating are immediately recognizable, but also transporting.I marvel at how the directors, creative teams, craft departments, stage crews and actors transport us to different places and times, but all of them starting from the basic template of the written words and that “space”.

I’m a theatre nut and go to shows in my home city of Toronto throughout the year – and always with the implied request of “show me” .  I never get the desire to be a part of the theatrical world. Yet, when I’m at a production in Stratford at the Festival Theatre, there inevitably comes a moment when I want to run up on stage, push aside the unfortunate sod who happens to be closest on the boards, and become a character.

Not an actor, mind you, but a character. I want to slip into the world I’m seeing created imaginatively before my eyes. It happened on the opening night performance of Henry V, the first of three productions our Classical Pursuits group saw over a wonderful weekend excursion.

Never mind the actual merits of the production we saw. We had ample time to discuss that over intervals, on walks back to the hotel or restaurants, over meals, and even on an extended discussion facilitated by Gary Schoepfel during our mini-coach ride back to Toronto.

The performances were rounded out by illuminating events that immersed us into the history of the festival, the politics of arts administration, insights into some of the festival luminaries, and on the last morning (through serendipity) a moving tribute to a great man-of-the-theatre – John Neville – from friends, family and colleagues. We had ample opportunities to voice opinions (thoughtfully and respectfully), ask the burning questions we all had, and simply soak up the festival spirit in good company and pleasant surroundings.

It’s about to begin!

My own favourite memory of the weekend was at the aforementioned opening night performance of Henry V. We all showed up at the Festival Theatre early and waited expectantly for the traditional performance fanfair. When are the musicians coming out, are we in the right spot, etc.? All for a twenty-second blast of horns. And then…into that marvelous space I mentioned at the top.

There were cringe-worthy moments in the show, to be sure. Some sprang directly from Shakespeare’s pen, others were unfortunate creative decisions in mounting the play. But there was still that moment when I wanted to run up on that stage and become…

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