Where the Magic Happens

Jessica Falkner

On July 1, 2017, I had the pleasure of doing a backstage tour of the Festival Theatre in Stratford. Our tour guide was a gentleman named Roger, a retired teacher and excellent storyteller.

At the beginning of the tour, we got to see the start of the stage change of the previous night’s play, Twelfth Night, to be replaced with the stage for Guys and Dolls. Approximately ninety minutes later, the stage was in place and we witnessed the light check. The speed with which the crew worked to change the stage was impressive, given that the entire floor of the stage was altered.

Roger was very knowledgeable regarding the history of the Stratford Festival. The idea for the Stratford Festival began with Tom Patterson when the diesel repair industry, which employed the majority of Stratford, declined rapidly. Patterson thought that it would be good for the community to invest in a festival that celebrated the works of Shakespeare. The town agreed to give the festival $125 to sponsor the idea. It turned out to be quite a good investment for the city, as the festival has proven to be quite successful, with a 2017 budget of $61 million. Only around 6 percent of this budget is provided by the government; it is estimated that the government receives seven times that amount in tax revenues gained from those visiting the Festival.

The Festival Theatre also contains an entire staff dedicated to creating costumes. The staff consists not just of seamstresses, but also those who create other aspects of costumes. This includes milliners, cordwainers, and wigmakers. There is also an entire department that contains stage weapons which are locked behind glass reinforced with steel bars. It was at this location in the tour that Roger told us one of the most interesting tidbits. Queen Elizabeth II came to a play as part of a dedication ceremony. The play she attended contained a scene with a single gunshot. The MI5 told the actor that if there was a second shot, they would fire upon the actor. Luckily, the actor’s gun fired without any incidents that evening!

Roger’s tour impressed upon me the amount of unseen work that goes into any theater show. While I knew that there was a lot of behind the scenes work, seeing the different departments of the theatre really made the work come alive, giving me a new appreciation for the work it takes to stage a theater show.