Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Best Shakespeare Festivals

Shakespeare is often a lot to swallow. It need not be! I often brush up on a play before I see a performance, giving a quick "Coles notes" version for the newbies joining me on the drive to the theatre. If you are fortunate enough to live close to an established performing centre, many productions will produce wildly creative interpretations of Shakespeare's prose.

Here are a few of the more established festivals in North America that may be a lot pricier than a blockbuster rental but are a welcome change for a special occasion. I have no idea why, but most of the BEST Shakespeare companies are NEVER in the large metropolises. Be prepared to travel.

April/May months or late fall usually offer discounted prices, and if you really are flexible you can get last minute tickets for a slashed rate. Many places cut the prices by 50% or more to lure the younger generation, so be sure to ask if you want to take the kids (university students and under 35 age group are sometimes offered different rates as well).

Stratford Shakespeare Festival
The Stratford Festival located in Stratford, Ontario was the ingenious brainchild of a local journalist Tom Patterson more than fifty years ago. With a mix of guts and gall, he hunted down the legendary actor/director Tyrone Guthrie to help launch a theatre festival that has expanded into one of the best training centres for Canadian talent. I'm slightly dumbfounded to have read that Alec Guinness (Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Passage to India and of course Star Wars) was convinced to star in numerous plays during their debut season, along with acclaimed designer Tanya Moiseiwitsch.
Tony award winning actor Christopher Plummer returns this year for The Tempest.

Not only does this place boast a professional, amazing troupe of talent, it's one of the more established festivals offered in the United States. A great variety of plays are listed that stray from the normal Shakespearean fare such as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Pride and Prejudice and Throne of Blood. The website also offers information on where to stay, restaurants, and other tidbits.

Want to spend a gorgeous summer night in the park? Boasting some of the biggest A-list stars in their productions (not that it matters, and frankly lesser known actors are usually a lot better), you can even get free tickets if you are willing to brave the long lines! Just this summer Anne Hathaway and Raul Esparza were among the cast of Twelfth Night.

"THE" Guthrie Theatre... oh yes. Minneapolis, Minnesota can pride itself with one of the most demanding, creative thespian companies in North America. Launched by Sir Tyrone Guthrie, Oliver Rea and Peter Zeisler on May 7, 1963, it provides another haven other than Broadway or Hollywood for aspiring actors to hone their skills and reach their potential. Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and musicals play year round at their state of the art theatre, recently constructed at the tune of $125 million by architect Jean Nouvel.

Named as the Regional Theatre of the Year in 2002 and 2006, the independent, professional theatre is dedicated to the works of Shakespeare and offer a lot of more of his more obscure plays.

Vancouver doesn't have any discounts, but then again, it's an affordable price; helmed by a very talented Christopher Gaze.

Ranked as one of the best U.S. festivals by Time magazine, the festival is showcased in the beautiful Boulder Colorado outdoors. A popular pick for nature lovers, the picturesque destination is postcard perfection.

Again why why why?? If you want to see great Shakespeare be prepared to travel! Founded in 1979 the festival caters to more than 100,000 patrons per year. It's also a hop skip and jump from Frank Lloyd Wright's studio Taliesin.

Founded in 1961 by Fred C. Adams, the festival debuted a year later and has since established itself as one of the leading theatre groups, drawing over 150,000 patrons per year, with an operational budget of $5 million/year.

Won the lotto and really want to splurge? What can beat the original? Well nothing.
Stratford/London... ENGLAND. On the plus side museum and gallery admission in London is free.

For those that need to test the waters first

Flicks for Teens: 10 things I hate about you (Taming of the Shrew), O (Othello)

Adaptations to wet your appetite: Hamlet (1996, Kenneth Branagh, Kate Winslet) A Midsummer's Night Dream (1999, Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer), Ran (King Lear, Japanese), Shakespeare in Love, Merchant of Venice (2004, Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Lynn Collins, Joseph Fiennes).