Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

In Stratford there's much ado about Shakespeare

Cleveland Press June 11, 1971

STRATFORD, Ont. -- This is not exactly a town that the Stratford Shakespeare Festival built. But the festival has clearly contributed to its prosperity ($8 million a year exclusive of theater admissions) and has been a factor in attracting a number of industries to the city.

If the festival were to stop tomorrow there would be a string of empty hotels and several restaurants would feel the pinch but the town would still be left richer than if the festival had never been here.

The festival is not likely to leave, however. This year the season is 22 weeks long. Last year it ran 18 weeks.

Unlike other regional theaters the festival is able to hold its company together almost all year long.

There have been fall and spring tours to other Canadian cities and to the U.S. During each part of the past two years the acting company has been employed for all but about six weeks.

THE FESTIVAL -- no longer called the Stratford Festival -- is in its 19th season.

It all began in 1953 then a small group of citizens called in the late Tyrone Guthrie to organize the festival and begin a theater -- first in a tent, later in a handsome building.

Shakespeare may be missing from the festival title but is present everywhere else. The theater sits on the bank of the Avon River and there are Romeo, Falstaff, Alden and other streets similarly named.

There is an As You Like It motel and a Rosecourt Motel. A sign outside a gas station notes that there is a mechanic on duty for service "As You Like It."

THE ACROPOL restaurant which boasts Greek dishes but also serves American food and pizza stands side by side with the Elizabethan restaurant with its Tudor styled timbered look.

The paperback book racks offer classics as well as mysteries and you will find a few -- but very few -- Shakespeare busts among the souvenirs. Mostly the latter are Canadian made items and among the best of these are Canadian woolens and potters and Indian and Eskimo art and artifacts.

Except for the motels and the newer eating spots the town is basically old. Architecture is Victorian and laundry hanging on the line in people's back yards is not unusual.

There are changes afoot however and Stratford is beginning to have the problems of today.

CITY WORKERS are on strike and garbage is not being collected and parking meters not being emptied. I discovered the latter only after struggling with a recalcitrant meter and being told by a friendly native not to bother since most were jammed with coins anyhow.

A committee has been formed to save the City Hall, built in 1898 but now in danger of being torn down with the land being sold to a developer. It has the gingerbread look of buildings of the period plus a rundown appearance and strings of Christmas lights that hang there though not turned on.

The festival gets 74% of its business from Canada, mostly from Toronto, and 26% from the U.S. with the bulk of that coming from Michigan, New York and Ohio. What visitors find here is a season of drama and music and this year, in September, a short film festival.

ALREADY OPENED are "Much Ado About Nothing," "The Duchess of Malfi" and "Macbeth." On July 27 Ben Johnson's "Volpone" will open. A second theater, the Avon is in downtown Stratford. The plays there will be "An Italian Straw Hat," July 2, and Feydeau's "There's One in Every Marriage," Aug. 6.

During July and August there are Sunday afternoon concerts and Saturday morning chamber music recitals in the Festival Theater.

For tourists the town is pretty, quiet and restful The swans are lovely to look at on the Avon River an the bank is a splendid place for a picnic.

And those who are interested in nostalgic trivia there is the sign over one door at the Queens Hotel, the one that indicates it is the entrance for 'ladies and escorts."