Shakespeare Festival sidelines king, opts for musical

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The Saint Crispin’s Day Speech will have to wait.

Recent circumstances have prompted the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival to change its schedule for next season, replacing Henry V with a non-Shakespeare production, The Fantasticks.

The programming switch marks a more fundamental change for the Prescott festival; rather than slotting in a non-Shakespeare play every second season, it will now do so every year.

The festival had initially announced 2020 would be the season of “Magic and Majesty,” pairing A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Henry V.

But in an email to The Recorder and Times, festival artistic director Richard Sheridan Willis said the decision to stage a non-Shakespearean show every year was made last fall.

“This is following the lead of many other Shakespeare Festivals around the world,” wrote Willis.

“Shakespeare has a limited canon and inside the canon, there are probably five guaranteed crowd favourites and we are now entering our 18th season.”


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The policy was due to be put in place in 2021 but was moved to this year in part because Willis’s choice for the lead role in Henry V, Eva Foote, accepted an offer from the Stratford Festival.

“Due to the show being built around her particular creative talents, I was reluctant to go forward without her,” wrote Willis.

Meanwhile, following a town hall meeting in October, as well as “internal strategic meetings within the company,” festival organizers concluded there is an appetite “for an audience-friendly non-Shakespeare production for the 2020 season,” he added,

The Fantasticks, which will be the local festival’s first professional musical, “proved to be the most exciting and popular choice,” said Willis.

He noted there is a slight connection to last year’s production of Cyrano de Bergerac, as well as to this year’s continuing production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“The Fantasticks is loosely based on The Romancers (Les Romanesques) by Edmond Rostand (author of Cyrano de Bergerac) and draws elements from the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Donizetti’s L’eslir D’Amore,” Willis noted.

The show will be directed by Kerry Ann Doherty, who played Lady Macbeth at the local festival in 2010, then returned for three more seasons, with roles including Olivia in Twelfth Night.

The decision to stage the musical follows a difficult year financially for the festival.


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In October, Prescott council approved a $30,000 bailout for the festival to cover its shortfall in last season’s revenues. 

In another change, the festival earlier this month announced it is returning to the policy of using St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church as a backup venue in case of rain, while now staging all Wednesday matinees at the church.

“First and foremost, the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival is an outdoor theatre,” Willis wrote.

But he added that, since the festival set aside the church as an alternate venue in 2015, the church has installed air conditioning and has an elevator that provides access to all.

“Our location at the amphitheatre means 70 per cent of our audience drive from distance to come to us. In recent years we have found people were unwilling to take the risk if there was even a threat of bad weather,” wrote Willis.

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