The move reminds playgoers, and the world, that works by William Shakespeare were at the core of its founding in 1953, and that the Bard remains the primary mission into the 21st century.
Details about the 2008 Stratford season have been announced, including the Shakespeare titles and directors. Tony Award winner Des McAnuff (The Who's Tommy), the fest's co-artistic director in 2008, will stage Romeo and Juliet.
"Shakespeare is central to what we do," stated general director Antoni Cimolino, "so we're making his name central to ours."
The move is the first for the new artistic team, led by Cimolino and artistic directors Marti Maraden, Des McAnuff and Don Shipley, who replace retiring artistic director Richard Monette at the end of the 2007 season.
In addition to focusing on Shakespeare and the classics, the Festival "will open itself to international influence and make the development of Canadian talent an essential part of its mandate." "Much of the inspiration for the changes we have planned comes from who we are, from our DNA," stated Cimolino. "On July 13, 1953, that auspicious day, the Stratford Festival was an enormous surprise — it was an innovation. It was national; it was international. And it had Shakespeare at its core."
In 2008 the Stratford Shakespeare Festival will stage Shakespeare "alongside exciting and relevant classics, musicals and world premières," presenting a line-up that includes Shakespeare's Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, All's Well That Ends Well and Love's Labour's Lost. The season, as previously announced, will include Fuente Ovejuna, by Shakespeare's Spanish contemporary Lope de Vega, and The Trojan Women by Euripides. The season will also include the Canadian première of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's Emilia Galotti, a "classic German tale presented in a thoroughly modern interpretation by German director" Michael Thalheimer, which has been heralded internationally.
"Stratford has a reputation as one of the finest classical acting companies in the world and we want to build on that by also including the work of visionaries from around the world," stated Shipley. "One of the people I'm most excited to have joining us in 2008 is Adrian Noble, one of the great directors."
Noble, former artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company in London, England, will direct Hamlet on the Festival stage.
"Hamlet is without question the most influential play in the history of theatre," stated McAnuff. "Adrian Noble is absolutely the right director for this project. He brings years of experience and craft and wisdom to this production."
Added Maraden: "Each director has a unique vision for telling a story and so it's very exciting to bring directors in from other parts of the world, from other parts of Canada, to tell their versions of these great stories."
At the helm of The Taming of the Shrew at the Festival Theatre is Peter Hinton, the artistic director of English theatre for Canada's National Arts Centre, in Ottawa.
McAnuff will be directing Romeo and Juliet on the Festival stage.
"This could be the greatest stage in the world for doing Elizabethan/Jacobean drama, so that's a privilege in itself," he stated. "Romeo and Juliet was a breakout play for Shakespeare, along with Love's Labour's Lost. These are plays that in Shakespeare's day really proved him as a major dramatist — and as it turns out, perhaps the greatest genius of all time, certainly of dramatic literature. It's a breathtakingly brilliant play, regrettably one that seems to become more and more pertinent with each passing decade. Just reading in the newspapers of the Palestinian conflict, one cannot help but think of Romeo and Juliet, in which the brothers of Verona turn on each other in such a hellish fashion."
He pointed out that "the play is also about the clash of generations, as is another Shakespeare on our playbill, All's Well That Ends Well, which will be directed by Marti Maraden in what I think is a dream project for her."
All's Well will be presented at the Festival Theatre.
"All's Well That Ends Well has that lovely quality of Shakespeare's later work of being reflective of the human journey," stated Maraden. "The play is described as a comedy — and it is; parts of it are brilliantly amusing! But it's also a play with enormous heart and pathos. It is a play that balances age and wisdom with youth and inexperience, enormous courage with outrageous comic color. It is a pilgrimage of the heart that ends in forgiveness and the hope of redemption, and which recognizes that in all of us."
All's Well That Ends Well "was the first comedy to be presented in the Festival's inaugural year and so it seems fitting to include it as we begin a new era."
Maraden will also direct The Trojan Women, at the Tom Patterson Theatre.
"This great play has never been done at Stratford," she said. "It was one of the first plays I wrote down as I started to think about the 2008 season. The Trojan Women is a play for all time. It deals with the repercussions of war and its impact on women, children and men — the victims of war. Sadly, it remains eternally relevant."
Also at the Tom Patterson will be Love's Labour's Lost, directed by Michael Langham. Maraden stated, "He will be working with members of the Festival's Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre Training, along with senior members of the company, in one of Shakespeare's most beloved comedies…"
Langham was Stratford's artistic director from 1956 to 1967, and "brings decades of experience to his work with the young members of the Festival company."
Together with the artistic directors and Martha Henry, the newly appointed director of the Conservatory, "he will play a key role next season in the Festival's development of talent, which is critical to the Festival's future."
Emilia Galotti, "a famous German tale told with a spectacular modern voice," will be performed in German with English surtitles at the Avon Theatre.
Shipley said, "This production of Emilia Galotti has achieved cult status around the world, touring to Dublin, New York and Tokyo. It's one of the great German classics, given a vigorous contemporary interpretation by Michael Thalheimer, one of Berlin's foremost theatre visionaries."
British director Laurence Boswell will direct Fuente Ovejuna by Lope de Vega, who wrote during Shakespeare's lifetime, at the Tom Patterson Theatre.
The Stratford Shakespeare Festival will be presenting several new works in the 2008 season, as well as musicals and other dramas. Further announcements will be made in the coming weeks as details are confirmed.