The Niagara Blog:
The Shaw Festival's Theatres
Courtesy Shaw Festival
If you look carefully at the list of playwrights that we are producing this
year, you will see that, as always, several are from deep within our original
mandate period - Shaw, Wilde, Maugham, Glaspell, O'Neill. We revel in the
work of these brilliant writers and in our unparalleled expertise in exploring
and presenting them. We delight in bringing you their dazzling wit, their
richly layered worlds, their memorable characters.
Now look at some of the other names - Friel, Stoppard, Murrell, Guettel.
Here are some of Contemporary Theatre's most illustrious artists and we
are taking them on as spirited inheritors of Shaw's legacy - writers who
also delight in questioning assumptions, subverting expectations, creating
compelling theatre that unites head and heart.
Then add the delightful words and music of Guys and Dolls and
the delicious fantasy of Enchanted April to complete the range of
We are a Contemporary Theatre that promotes smart, passionate
discourse through a potent and diverse mix of plays from the past
and present performed by our supremely talented Acting Ensemble.
The result is theatre that is entertaining, challenging, surprising and
above all - unique.
So, you have purchased tickets to the Shaw Festival. Your first concern might be
where will you sit and in what theatre? There are four. Each is located just on Queen St., Niagara on the Lake's main street that runs through the concentrated business area where one may shop or treat oneself to an ice-cream cone, although the Festival Theatre uses the street name, Queen's Parade. Niagara on the Lake does that a lot. A street might acquire three different names while it runs its course!
Festival Theatre: 10 Queen's Parade
The Festival Theatre stage is where major works from the Shaw Festival's mandate are presented and was officially opened in June 1973. During the inaugural week, visiting dignitaries included Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, India's Prime Minister Indira Ghandi, and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. The proscenium-arch theatre seats 856 and is equipped with advanced technical facilities, making it an ideal venue for large-scale productions.
Designed by Peter Smith and the late Ron Thom, the Festival Theatre is constructed of rose-coloured bricks and natural woods specifically chosen to harmonize with the historic setting of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Renovations to the Festival Theatre's front-of-house included a new retail shop and improved cafe.
Construction of a new 36,000-square-foot building, The Donald and Elaine Triggs Production Centre, was completed in 2004. It includes three new rehearsal halls as well as music rehearsal rooms, a patrons' lounge, and the Christopher Newton Green Room for the company. The project provided desperately needed working space for the behind-the-scenes activities so fundamental to creating great theatre.
The grounds are quite attractive with sculpture, flowers and shrubs as well as a shallow rock-filled pond.
Court House Theatre: 26 Queen Street
The Court House Theatre combines a 327-seat auditorium with an intimate thrust stage that is ideal for the plays presented there. The historic Court House was constructed on the site of Upper Canada's first parliament, which convened in 1792. Built in the 1840s during a period of intense rivalry with nearby St. Catharines, the new Court House was intended to secure the town's hold on local government.
Although it served as county seat for Lincoln, Welland and Haldimand for more than a decade, county government was transferred to St. Catharines in 1862. The Court House is a national historic site. The design of the Court House exemplifies the neoclassical style so popular in the early nineteenth century. It's beautiful Assembly Room and Lord Mayor's Parlour are still in use today. The Shaw Festival's association with the Court House dates back to 1962. Despite some early hardships (such as building sets in the parking lot and no air conditioning), the Court House has continued to host Shaw Festival productions throughout the past fifty seasons.
When you watch a play here, despite the uncomfortable fold-up seats, you are guaranteed to be close to the action.
Royal George Theatre: 85 Queen Street
The Royal George Theatre presents a modest exterior, but inside it is all lovely Edwardian gilt mouldings, red walls and golden lions. Built as a vaudeville house in 1915, this theatre entertained troops stationed on the Commons during World War I. Renamed the Royal George, it operated as a road house in the 1920s, but fell into neglect and disuse during the Depression. In 1940, it was reopened as the Brock Cinema. During the next two decades, the Brock Cinema was the focus for much local activity - even the town's grocery store stayed open late on Saturday nights to serve local farmers who came into town for the movies.
The Shaw Festival purchased the Royal George Theatre in 1980. New seating in 1994 completed the gradual restoration of this charming 328-seat opera house. These renovations were made possible through the generosity of the late philanthropist Waiter Carsen.
Studio Theatre: 10 Queen's Parade
The Studio Theatre is located within The Donald and Elaine Triggs Production Centre which opened in 2004 and has been home to many workshop presentations, the annual Directors Project and the well-known Reading Series. Serving as a rehearsal space early in the season, this space converts to the Studio Theatre in the later part of the season providing The Shaw with a space that allows for the presentation of challenging works by those contemporary writers who are spirited inheritors of Shaw's legacy.
(Source: Shaw Festival)