Stratford's Big Stars, From The Bard To The Bieb
Bob Mondello, NPR
Most theaters let audiences know the show is about to start by blinking the lights. Stratford's Festival Theater in Stratford, Ontario, is a bit more festive. Four burgundy-uniformed buglers and a drummer quicken the pace of hundreds of theatergoers who've been ambling up the hill from the banks of the Avon River. When curtain time arrives, a cannon will boom.
Nora Polley works in the theater's archives and has been with the festival since she was in high school 48 years ago. "When I was a kid here, the curtain was at 8:30, so if you were out playing, when you heard the cannon go off, you knew it was time to go home," she recalls.
Polley now works in a huge warehouse filled with such stage treasures as the gown Maggie Smith wore as Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night's Dream and the prompt books for every show that's ever played the festival. The trove goes back 60 theatrical seasons.
"Not that anybody in 1953 thought it would last 60 years," Polley muses. "Most people, I think, thought it wouldn't last two."
The skepticism was justified. The festival is now one of Canada's largest cultural institutions, doing at least a dozen shows each year on a $60 million budget. But in the early 1950s, Stratford was on the verge of becoming a ghost town. The town's chief industry was repairing steam locomotives, a trade that was all but dead by the time hometown reporter Tom Patterson flew to England to plead with stage legend Tyrone Guthrie.
The town was already called Stratford, Patterson told him, the river Avon (pronounced AAH-vun in Ontario) ran through it, and kids went to schools named after Falstaff, Romeo and Juliet. Would the great British director come there and do Shakespeare?
To nearly everyone's surprise, Guthrie said yes.
"It was going to save the town," marvels Polley. "The decision to have the Shakespeare Festival was actually an economic one."
To read the full article, or to listen to the story on NPR's All Things Considered http://www.npr.org/2012/08/07/157782568/stratfords-big-stars-from-the-bard-to-the-bieb