Experience The Shaw Festival and all the cultural and culinary pleasures of Niagara on the Lake, Ontario's "prettiest town".
When the Festival opened in Niagara on the Lake in 1962, it's doubtful that anyone could have foreseen the changes it would bring to this once-sleepy little historic town. That first local summer festival featured two plays by the famous Irish-born playwright George Bernard Shaw and ran for only three weeks.
Photo Credit: Chris Beard, Shaw Festival
Today, the "season" at the Shaw extends from April (which is hardly "summer" in Canada) to October (which is really autumn), and includes about a dozen plays – a couple by Shaw, and a handful by other playwrights as well. The Festival has become one of the showcases of Ontario theatre.
Because of the large number of productions, the plays are now held in three different theatres in town including the grand purpose-built Festival Theatre. The shows attract theatre audiences from not just Niagara on the Lake Ontario, but all over Canada and United States as well.
The town has embraced the "Shaw" theme since the Festival took off in the 1960s. Two Niagara on the Lake restaurants make direct references to the famous playwright. The Shaw Café & Wine Bar at 92 Queen Street is one example. Oban Inn Spa Restaurant has a "theatre corner" full of photos and a portrait of the bard.
"The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it." -- George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw (1856 –1950) was an Irish playwright, born in Dublin, who during his heyday was a household name. Even today he's regarded as one of the wittiest playwrights in the English language. During his long career, he wrote 63 plays and many novels and short stories, in addition to being a journalist and social activist. How he managed to get all this work done and remain as funny and healthy as he was (he lived to the incredible age of 96!) is beyond me.
Shaw had a reputation as a cynic (see the quote above) and it's true that he was quite liberal with his barbs and attacks on any ideas and people he saw as flawed (hypocrites, slum landlords, the idle rich, war profiteers, academic snobs, male chauvinists). One of his most famous plays was Pygmalion, which was adapted and made into a movie called My Fair Lady. Other popular works included Major Barbara, Arms and the Man, Mrs. Warren's Profession and Saint Joan.
Each year the Shaw Festival mounts a couple of plays by Shaw and a handful of works by other writers as well.
Noel Coward is often on the menu as his light witty works make for great summer theatre.
The Shaw Festival occasionally produces newer works as well, including pieces by Canadian playwrights. Recently they mounted a wonderful production of Michel Tremblay's Albertine in Five Times.
Above: The Royal George
You can purchase your tickets online, over the phone or in person, but if you're keen on a particular play you're best to book ahead so you won't be disappointed. If you're interested in several plays you might get a better price by purchasing a annual subscription.
The Festival has three separate theatres in Niagara on the Lake Ontario, so when you buy your tickets, make sure to double-check which theatre is hosting your play! Here are the three sites:
1. Courthouse Theatre – 26 Queen Street - For the first 11 years this is where all of the plays were produced. Today it's one of the two "smaller" spaces, seating 327 audience members. Budget tip: You can get cheap tickets in the last rows, less than HALF the price of the next-level tickets. The ceiling is quite low there so if you’re over 6 foot tall you might have to duck before you take your seat but once sitting down you won’t notice any difference.
2. Festival Theatre - 10 Queen's Parade – Opened in 1973, this is the largest space, seating 856. Note: this building also contains the small “Studio theatre”. It has a café and shop.
3. The Royal George - 85 Queen Street - Across the street and not far down from the Courthouse Theatre. Seats 328. Was originally built as a vaudeville house to entertain the troops in WWI. Still has an Edwardian look. Nice little theatre bookstore/boutique next door with funny books and gift items. Even if you're not going to the play that day, it's worth a visit.
For tickets and further information, here's the website: http://www.shawfest.com
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