Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Stratford Days, Stratford Nights

I first came up to Stratford, Ontario, back in the summer of 1991, alone.  I'd never been there before, but I was teaching Shakespeare to my eighth graders back in Aurora, Ohio, and I just wanted to see what was going on directly across Lake Erie from me.  In a community devoting itself to preserving and presenting the Bard's plays.

I drove up on the morning I would see a matinee of Twelfth Night--and barely made it in time for the 2:00 curtain at the Avon Theater.  Where I was suitably dazzled.

That night-- Timon of Athens, such a dark play about false friendship and greed and violence and gold.  I saw the wonderful Brian Bedford for the first time that day--I would see him many more times in the ensuing years.

I ran around and took a bunch of slides to show my students--See, the slides would say, Shakespeare is really important!  Why, in Canada, there's a whole town ...

I think the slide they liked the best--one that showed the name of a nearby village, Shakespeare, Ontario.  The sign at the edge of town says: The Hamlet of Shakespeare.  The Bard would have appreciated the pun.

As much as I enjoyed it in 1991, I did not come back for a while.  I'd seen it, you know?

But in 2001 when I returned to teaching--this time in a high school, Western Reserve Academy--I was responsible, each year, for Hamlet.  Also: By 2001 I was a full-fledged Shakespeare Freak and had seen productions all over the place--London, New York, Akron.  But I realized that I was seeing the same plays, over and over and over.  Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night, Hamlet--these you can see all the time.  But what about all those others?  More than three dozen, you know?  And Stratford, I realized, is the place.

In 2001, Joyce and I started coming every summer for a week, usually early in August.  They mount only three or four Shakespeares each summer, but there are so many other good productions, too--from Tennessee Williams to Sophocles, from Eugene O'Neill to new Canadian playwrights we'd never heard of.  We try to see it all--an orgy of playgoing: eleven plays in six days.  Both exhausting and exhilarating.

And, eventually, we realized we'd seen all the Shakespeare plays--all but one, Richard II.  An odd omission, for it's a great play, not one of the ones the Bard wrote in a tavern while he was dazed with drink and horny for the hostess.  But we saw Pericles, Prince of Tyre and King John and Troilus and Cressida and all the other ones that we'd barely heard of.

This year--it's Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, and Cymbeline.  We've seen the former two numerous times and are really looking forward to Cymbeline, though, which we've seen only once.

But--oh!--what I'd give for a dose of Richard II ... maybe next year ...  If R2 is near you, let me know: D2 (Dyers 2) will come!

Our Stratford routine: In the coffee shop by 8 a.m., where I do my 100 pp of book-review reading; back to the room for some writing and reading; lunch; back to room for reading/writing; 2 o'clock matinee of something; back to room--relax; supper somewhere; back to room; off for 8 o'clock show of something; back to room; read; sleep ... start over.

Where it says back to room, sometimes we're off looking in stores (several good bookshops here--and many others, too).  Though now that I'm no longer teaching, I'm not plunking down $$ for Shakespeare-related things like Hamlet finger puppets and Shakespeare bobble-head dolls.  Some of my WRA students can tell you how I used those Hamlet puppets ... but you might think less of me, if that's possible.

PS--a complaint: The Festival seems to be avoiding the more obscure plays in recent years.  Next year--Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Merchant of Venice.  Really?  Is this caution due to economics (mount the famous productions and audiences will come)?  Or what?  Is there really no audience for, oh, Richard II?

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