The Stratford Community

By: Kirsti Toms

I think We all like to think that we live in a tight-knit community because nothing sounds better than having a home where you know everyone and support everyone you are around everyday.

I personally would love to live in a town like this, but I cannot say that I have ever experienced anything like that of Stratford. These people live, breathe, and eat theatre. I have never seen anything like it. The support that is offered for the actors in the festival is immense, and it’s not only from part of the community, but it’s from every single person living in this town.


While going to the theatre during the day and going to the workshops we took part in, there were countless teens and college students working in the theaters for their summer jobs. While we have summer jobs in Cincinnati that are all at the mall or Kings Island, these kids get to have summer jobs that are a part of the creative arts community and that is truly extraordinary to me.

One of my favorite things about this community is that no matter where I would go to eat at any time of the day, all of my servers would ask if I were in town to watch one of the plays, and then ask what I had seen and we would compare our favorites!

There is truly nothing more exciting than getting to see the most amazing people work their everyday jobs, and watch the entire town do nothing but support them. I hope that one day I can live in a town as loving as this one.

Interesting Encounters

Mackenzie Bolton

One of best things about this trip was the fact that we got to meet and talk with the actors who we saw in the shows. I loved hearing their thoughts and opinions about the plays that we had spent so much time reading and talking about. It was also a great experience to be able to have an intimate conversation with these actors about their roles. Being able to hear what they had to say really, for me at least, rounded out the whole experience. One the first day of our stay that we might be able to see some of the actors running on the lake, which makes sense considering they live there. I guess I just wasn’t actually expecting to see them.

Sarah and I saw three different actors just doing random stuff around town while we were there and we had the same reaction each time: just look at them and then look at each other and then not say or do anything.

Now, we were told after the fact that we should or could have said something like “great show!” to them and it would not have been weird but we… did not.

First we saw Rodrigo Beilfuss who played Angelo in The Comedy of Errors. Sarah and I were eat Jenn and Larry’s by the lake (please go read her post about Jenn and Larry’s) and we saw him walking with his wife and son. We had already met him at this point for a talk back but we didn’t say anything because both me and Sarah are just too shy.

Then we saw Jacob Skiba who played Jem Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. We were getting lunch in Romeo’s Cafe (they have really good mac and cheese) and he was there with his mom.

Lastly, we saw Jonathan Goad who played Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. He was walking with two of his daughters. I think by far we were the most impressed by Jonathan because he’s kind of a big deal, he’s in the the TV show Reign.

Also we met several actors after The Rocky Horror Show but we actually spoke to them. The moral of this story is, if you see an actor and you were impressed by their performance say something nice to them. Don’t be like Sarah and I.

A Humbling Experience

Desiree Ritchie

This festival is a huge deal and a lot of the locals I spoke to said they had moved to Stratford simply because they love being able to attend shows on their own time, close to home, whenever they want. Whether they are acting in the shows or are going to watch, this is a largely community based event that takes place for half of the year, while the other half is learning at the local conservatory for actors.

My favorite part of this trip, apart from the shows, was seeing the actors outside living their day-to-day lives just like every other person. Though this festival obviously has an incredible amount of fans (they recently broke a record of over 500,000 people attending), the actors do not treat themselves as high and mighty celebrities. The day after we saw The Tempest, I was walking back to the hotel down Ontario Street and happened to look over and noticed Michael Blake, who played Caliban, having a drink and dinner at Boar’s Head on the patio. I decided not to bother him as he was with someone else. As the days moved on and we saw our first show at the Avon Theatre, which was the incredible Coriolanus, I saw multiple actors exiting the theatre after, jumping on their bikes, and pedaling their ways home. They did not have super luxurious cars, but I am sure some do, and they also did not stand outside and wait to be applauded. They simply went about their business- something I thought was so great.

A few days before the end of our stay in Stratford, I ran into Tom McCamus outside of a locally owned coffee shop. I told him he was amazing in all the roles I’ve seen him play. He had a huge smile on his face, nodded his head, thanked me kindly,  and went on about his business. In a world full of Kardashians and famous sports celebrities (I don’t watch sports…don’t ask me names), it was so humbling to meet such down to earth people, recognizing their worth, and not making a big deal out of it.

Martha Henry: Phenomenal Theater Guru Continues to Impress

Samantha Noland

Stratford is the kind of town where a few days along it’s sunshine filled downtown, or a pleasant chat with its resident swans, will make any traveler feel right at home. As so often is the case, many towns and cities have one thing that they can claim is their greatest source of pride. In my hometown of Cincinnati, for instance, it’s chili spaghetti, or perhaps Jerry Springer. There are certain people who, just after looking at them, you can tell they are a big deal. You may not even know their name; you just see the person and think “I need to know your name.” Within minutes of her onstage presence, Martha Henry proved to me to be this person for Stratford. Her theatrical accomplishments are vastly numerous, and her experience in the theater world is remarkable. This was entirely visible for me the moment she stepped onstage in the Tempest, surrounded by crashing thunder and colorful planets.

Born Martha Buhs, in Detroit, Michigan in 1938, she arrived in Canada in 1959. By then, she had studied theater at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and auditioned for the Crest Theater. She would later continue her training at the National Theater School of Canada. Her now legendary debut as Miranda in 1962 was the first of many roles to come at the Stratford Festival, where her name has become widely known. Look closely outside the Studio Theater in Stratford; you may just see the star that bears her name.

martha henry star stratford

We were fortunate enough today to visit the incredible collection of archives for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, a huge warehouse full of colors, costumes, posters, and memories. Our delightful guide, Liza, with her spirit and humor really brought the history of the archives to life. To view costumes worn by Hollywood legends like Dame Maggie Smith, and Captain Kirk himself, Mr. William Shatner, is enough to cause any nerd like myself to stare in star struck wonder.

However, after her moving performance as Prospero, I’ve found myself quickly drawn to any mention of Ms. Henry. When Liza mentioned the collection of photos of Martha at the front of the archives, chronicling her work, I was very excited to view them. Of course, no collection of photos of her expansive career would be complete without some shots of her famous first role at the festival.

martha as miranda

Given the age and sensitivity of the collection of photographs, I couldn’t capture any pictures of the photographs (I was lucky enough to find a few great shots on the internet! Yay!). However, the feeling remains the same. I’ve always had a fascination with old photographs of people I have found influential in my life; my room is full of them. I found it particularly invigorating to view these older photographs of a person who held her audience so spell bound, because it has allowed me to realize, outside of the dazzled haze I felt at first, that Martha Henry was once a lot like myself, and other women my age. That sort of ethereal feeling that you get watching her onstage remains, but you begin to view her performance in a new light, with a real sort of humanity at the heart of it all. Discovering more about Martha, and being able to say I’ve seen her perform, has proved to be a valuable insight into the human experience, and the gentle, loving wisdom that comes with maturity.

martha as prospero

-Samantha Noland, 7/3/2018

The “People” of Stratford.

Mackenzie Bolton

There is a lot that I could say about the people the Stratford, Canada. But I think the first thing you should know is that they love spending time by the water. Almost exclusively. They LOVE large bodies of water!

the birds of stratford

Please ignore the humans standing there.

The most important residents of Stratford you will encounter are the waterfowl that call Victoria Lake home.

There are three different types of water birds you will encounter on your walk by the lake The first, as pictured above, are ducks. These are mallard ducks, which are very common pretty much all over North America so you have most likely seen a duck outside of Stratford. But these are nice too, during this time of our visit the babies have hatched so we got see ducklings! You, too, could be so lucky.

the birds of stratford

the birds of stratford

Ducks are the nicest birds you will meet by the water. They are very okay with you walking around them. If you make them uncomfortable they pull a very Midwestern move and just… go away. Most of the time they will just sit there, very calmly and nonthreatening. They might like you. Some humans give them food. Ducks are polite. Ducks are your friends.

Geese are not.

the birds of stratford

“But Mackenzie, look at how cute the baby goose is! I could be it’s friend!”

NO. First, they are called goslings. Second, their parents hate you. Geese do not want your friendship, they want your submission. When you walk by geese, they will not move you must alter your course so as to not get too near them. If you do get to close they might hiss at you, might not, it just depends on how that particular goose is feeling. They stare at you, threateningly, willing you to disrespect them. They travel in packs.

the birds of stratford

Those are all geese. Geese do not like you. They are indifferent to human suffering. Do not make eye contact. If ducks are Midwestern, geese are angry New Yorkers. For having the name “Canada Goose” you might think they would be nice. You might think that, but you would be wrong. Enjoy from a distance, if you can enjoy at all. Just ask Dr. LaPearle what she thinks.

The last bird you will see is a swan.

the birds of stratford

Regal. Majestic. Long-necked. The Ugly Ducking’s parents.

Swans are many things, but they are indifferent to you. They do not hate you like geese and they are not your friend like a duck. Swans will ignore you when you walk by because you are beneath them. They are Royalty and you are a lowly peasant. Their preference would be that you not get too close but they are so intimidating to look at, you won’t want to. I saw a swan with their child (called a cygnet which makes no sense) and went to take a picture. Here is that result:

the birds of stratford

Look at the loathing on the mom’s face, she did not enjoy it. The good thing about swans is that they do not like geese. You will not see a goose near a swan because a swan will have none of the nonsense that a goose brings. Towards ducks– like most things– they do not care. But a goose? Mortal enemies.

The birds of Victoria Lake are an interesting commodity. Please, enjoy and respect our semi-aquatic birds. Also, probably don’t feed them? I don’t know the rules or law specifically but better safe than sorry.

Edit: upon further investigation the is food to feed the birds with available for purchase. Warning: they will probably follow you. Which is apparently not self-explanatory.

My People of Stratford

Written by Sydney Fay

It was you guys that made my trip to Canada unforgettable.


Jessica Becker: Always prepared for any situation. She is intimidating in her intelligence but filled with helpful wisdom. If you ask nicely she might read your cards for you, and be hauntingly accurate.


Jessica Falkner: Down to earth and perpetually smiling. If you need an escape from the overwhelming Shakespeare discussions, Jessica will talk to you about very human things and not judge your lack of knowledge.


Dylan Freeman: Unexpectedly funny. Listen closely because Dylan will spout off hilarious jokes when you least expect it. He said his highlight of the trip was meeting us, but we were just as thrilled to be his friend.


Racheal Hampton: Fashionista. Rachel is always put together and well dressed. She also may be terrified of giant fields of windmills.


Alexis Kreusch: An amazing singer and dancer. Alexis tried to hide it, but she was the best in the room during the choreography workshop. She also rocked karaoke, not many people could pull off an Adele song like that.


Dr. LaPerle: Fearless leader. Anyone that can a lead a group of 11 students into a foreign country, make sure we get everywhere on time, and do it with a smile is a superhero.


Andrew Puthoff: Too much fun to annoy. If you want to bother this kid just crack jokes at his height, or call him by his last name. He will suffer it all with a smile, and a heart filled with compassion. The only way to really make this guy mad is to offend one of his friends. Just make sure you’re considered a friend.


Esther Sorg: Holder of the Jacks. Esther has gone down in history for being the best euchre partner of all time. If you ever need someone to sit across that table from you, she is your girl. She’s also an amazing poet and a lovely friend.


Tyler Wissman: Humble genius. This kid consults David Foster Wallace essays to get inspired. He will never hesitate to have thirty-minute conversations about avant-garde artists. He is open minded, cultured, and goofy. If you need a laugh or a good friend, he’s your man.


Holly Yen: Adventurer in the extreme. Holly not only kept up with all of us young people but even outpaced us. If you could have her life-long thirst for adventure and knowledge you might be half as wise as her.


Amy Yong: A constant mom. If you need someone to help you try on clothes in the store, or provide constant concern for you well being, Amy will do that for you. She also throws a pretty mean fake punch.

Thanks for being your beautiful selves!


A Bartender and a Pirate

Written by Sydney Fay

It’s not the places you go, but the people you meet along the way.


During my time in Stratford, Ontario there was one person who made me feel at home. Some people treat you like a best friend from the moment they meet you, and that is exactly what Curtis Pehlke did for me and my friends. From the moment we sat down at the bar in the Arden Park Hotel, Curtis became a close friend. He told us of his time traveling the east and west coasts as a marine biologist but found that bartending paid better money if you could do it well (and do it well, he did). During our time with Curtis, he endured many late nights as we closed the bar with him, and did not stop when a blood blister popped and filled his shoe with blood. His number one concern was always to be a friend and good host to us. On these late nights, we got to know some amazing things about Curtis and even got to experience his lovely singing voice when he invited us to karaoke at Molly Bloom’s. Curtis is a pirate in is spare time, and has also read all 54 Stephen King novels. He claims to read around 500 pages a day (we are unsure if he is superhuman or not). Curtis has three beautiful children: one son, who works with him at the Arden Park Hotel, and two daughters. He is an excellent Saying goodbye to Curtis was saying goodbye to a friend.

If you want to make a friend for life and meet a real life pirate, you can find Curtis giving perfect service at the Arden Park Hotel, or go listen to his lovely voice every Sunday night at Molly Bloom’s.


Thanks for making Stratford my home away from home!

Jessica L. Becker: Cultural Capital Investment Capitol

Stratford made an investment into it’s future when the city gave Tom Patterson $125 in 1953, and the subsequent Festival Theatre not only has returned their monetary investment millions of times over, but invests their culture into the town. There is a strive for community inclusiveness: discounted tickets for students under the age of thirty, relaxed shows for special needs audiences, and highly interactive children’s shows, such as this year’s Treasure Island.

After nine shows in nine days, it’s clear that the Festival’s primary audience members are retirees, or visitors on vacation, or both. Nonetheless, the Festival Theatre strives to attract more younger audience members with it’s “Play-On” tickets for students between the ages of 16 and 29. These highly discounted tickets, which can rate as low as $20, are an effort on the Festival’s behalf to invest culture into future generations. Unfortunately it seems that few millennials are partaking in the deals, which I find mind boggling. I don’t understand why local twenty-somethings aren’t interested, if only to have something new to do. I spoke to one waitress who was unaware that such tickets are available. Either the Festival needs to find better advertising for their “Play-On” tickets, or local millennials need to start paying better attention to their surroundings.

Another form of community cultural outreach are the Festival’s “relaxed” shows. According to our liaison with the Festival Theatre “relaxed” shows are performed for special needs audiences. At the beginning of these shows the cast come out to the audience and speak with them all about what is going to happen on stage, and the shows effects – sound, lighting, and visual – are lessened or softened in respect to the audience’s sensory needs. These shows are relatively new, but they are quite the hit for all involved.

The Festival Theatre’s efforts to invest culture back into Stratford continues with it’s annual children’s show. For the last several years the children’s show has been performed in the Avon Theatre. Our liaison couldn’t say as to why exactly the Avon was chosen, but they did agree that the Avon’s location is the most family accessible, as there is plenty of restaurants nearby, and there are ramps to the seats instead of stairs. Moreover, these shows are highly interactive and inclusive for the children in the audience. For example, before the beginning of Treasure Island, the children were welcomed to the stage to look through a pirate’s telescope. Also, throughout the performance several characters, especially Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver, turned to the audience for help in a manner that drew in children of all ages. At the end of the performance, Jim held Long John to his promise of sharing his gold for their assistance, and all of them left with a chocolate gold coin. In addition to the performance’s inclusiveness, there is a fun treasure hunt for kids to do out in the town. Fourteen of Stratford’s local stores: JENN & Larry’s, Family & Company, Ten Thousands Villages, Fundamentals Books & Toys, The Milkey Whey, Sinclair Pharmacy, Blowes Travel, Ensurco Insurance, Soup Surreal, Tiffany’s Tattoos, revel, Bard’s Steakhouse, Stratford Festival Shop, and Covet Community Closet, are participating in a weekly raffle drawing for Stratford Gift Certificates, kids just go to each store and find the item based on the store’s clue. With their discounted tickets, relaxed showings, and the activities surrounding the annual children’s show, the Festival Theatre is trying to share it’s wealth. Therefore, it is clear that the Festival Theatre understands the need to invest culture back into the community that took a gamble by investing it itself.

Horses, and Other Gifts Not to Look in the Mouth

Esther Sorg

In the Archives of the Stratford Theatre, unexpected treasures can be found. Expected treasures, too, of course, but treasures unlooked for are often the most delightful. The warehouse of the Archives contains a veritable library of costumes, props, set designs, scripts, recordings of performances, and a surprising number of horses.

Here’s one of them, a carousel horse from the 2015 Stratford production of Carousel.


She’s lovely, as if crystal were caught in a canter, but made out of mere plastic. Many of the props in Stratford shows are made out of material you could find at a dollar store. The props department has the incredible task of creating glorious props out of humble origins.

More horses! These two stand in the Desmond Healey exhibit, bedecked in horse blankets that cover their metal frames. They were jousting horses for Richard III in 1979, later returning to the stage in 2011 for Camelot.


The Archive director is a Scotswoman named Liza Giffen. She is tall and funny and intelligent and I want to be her when I grow up. She told us in our tour that the huge horse head and torso in the downstairs exhibit is only on the first floor because it’s too big to fit up the stairs.


Isn’t he magnificent? He’s from a 2002 production of The Two Noble Kinsman. His fierce mien allows him to stand out in the crowd, head and shoulders above the rest.

Dr. LaPerle was kind enough to model this horse’s head for me as we waited for our tour of the Costume Warehouse.


That horse head shares a space with a horse made of straw, though calling it a strawhorse may be a bit harsh. It’s a costume, meant to be worn by an actor, but now it rests high on a shelf above an alligator, surveying this small, close introductory room with a kindly air of age and warmth.


The straw horse’s opposite can be found amongst the racks of costumes:


This dead-eyed rocking horse, unlabeled and uncannily, rests (as much as it possibly can be restful) in a row of lightly-used furniture. Our tour guide didn’t know where it came from. We could not find a tag. It might have been in Peter Pan. Perhaps Liza knows, but I didn’t think to ask until it was too late.

Liza worked in the UK until three years ago, when she moved to Stratford to accept the position of Archive Director at the Stratford Theater Company. In the UK, she worked in business and publishing house archives, dabbling in every possible genre of her craft. She talked about the Archive like some people talk about church. Like it’s a sacred place. A library of memory. She’s from a town in Scotland between Glasgow and Edinburgh, called Falkirk. She says it’s a terrible place, and I suppose she would know. The horses in the archives probably don’t faze her.


This one is from a 1997 Camelot production. It is very similar to the Richard III horses. It has a mechanism called a hydraulic break attached to its post. This suctions to the floor and holds the horse in place on stage so it won’t slide all over while it’s supposed to be standing at attention.


And this horse is another Carousel retiree, though it came from a 1997 production. The differences between the two almost mirror the differences in style and costume that the actors and production designers go through with every new imagining of a play. A show can change drastically over time, and the Archives have a record of that, too. It’s like a snake, shedding its skin, according to Liza, and the Archivist must come along behind and pick up that skin, and preserve it, and keep it in a little library next to all the other snake skins. This metaphor was less creepy when Liza was using it.


I think we all took away something from the Archives. Some came for paper, for memories of ink and parchment. Some came for costumes, for cloth on their skin and lace itching their throats. I came with no expectations other than to find something incredible, and I found eight horses hiding in the haystack, and the woman who keeps them all company.

Jessica L. Becker: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way.

The origin story of the Stratford Festival is miraculous: on the precipice of financial ruin, Stratford Ontario survived the hazards of mercurial mid-twentieth century politics and technology through theatre. This astounds me after growing up in the cultural mindset of culture being to expensive during times of financial crisis, with the liberal arts budgets being cut by schools and universities, with the United States Government cutting funding to educational and cultural. What was meant to be a temporary festival to bring in summer tourist has evolved into one the most influential, highly regarded, and infamous theatre companies in the world. Queen Elizabeth II herself has been in attendance twice. Some of the greatest actors of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have worked for the Festival Theatre, such as:
Alan Bates, Brian Bedford, Zoe Caldwell, Douglas Campbell, Hume Cronyn, Alec Guiness, Lorne Greene, Julie Harris, Martha Henry, William Hutt, James Mason, Siobhan McKenna, John Neville, Christopher Plummer, Douglas Rain, Kate Reid, Jason Robards Jr., Paul Scofield, Maggie Smith, Jessica Tandy, Peter Ustinov, and Al Wax man. (229)
The thrust stage of the Festival Theatre alone is enough to draw in actors, designers, directors, and theatre lovers. It is truly a sight to behold, and knowing that it’s the first of its kind in millennia is thrilling. There is magic that emanates from that stage into the whole idyllic town, a remnant of the miracle of the first festival in 1952-53 which brought tens of thousands to experience Shakespeare. However, the magic is simply the will behind the festival itself, the will of “Tony Guthrie, Tanya Moiseiwitsch, Cecil Clark, and his wife Jacqueline Cundall, Ray Diffen and Annette Geber and other giants of modern theatre…”(Patterson 7), but also the will of Stratford citizens and Tom Patterson – the spark that lit the bang – whose “crazy idea” (225) of a theatre carved out in the hillside exploded into a sun of culture whose gravitational pull brings theatre fans of all ages across the globe for an unforgettable and unique experience.Patterson, Tom and Allan Gould. First Stage: The Making of the Stratford Festival, Willowdale, Firefly Books Ltd., 1999