Inside Foster's Inn, we suddenly notice that it's raining quite hard outside and that we have only 15 minutes left before curtain and our play
(Man of La Mancha) begins at the
Festival's Avon Theatre on Downie Street. Nonetheless, we really don't care, because the inn is literally steps away from the theatre, thus mirroring the famous real-estate mantra: "Location, Location, Location!"
The next morning, a congenial Craig Foster smiles and offers us an early coffee at the bar which is quite close to both the front desk and the adjoining restaurant in his uniquely-styled inn that features stretched, narrow rooms, superbly organized to create an attractive setting - each area intimate, inviting and distinctive in its appeal.
At the bar, the effect is produced with exquisite décor, strategic light placement and a cozy rear sitting area, our favourite retreat, where we casually sip beer or coffee. In the restaurant, colourful vertical banners create a modicum of dining privacy and a mid-level horizontal mirror suggests intrigue, alluring us with waist-down covert images of myriad servers, moving in the background. The rooms on the second and third floors are sleek and Scandinavian-like, featuring light maple hardwood and yellow, cream-coloured walls with valance-inspired lighting, a comfortable leather chair and a tan couch by the window, contrasted with a long, dark leather ottoman. Fourteen foot ceilings augment the 1906 Victorian building along with distinctive transom windows in each bathroom equipped with a walk-in shower. A Stratford native, Foster opened this inn in 1997 after running a local B&B.
We catch a quick pre-play supper here selecting the "gourmet burgers," one homemade vegetarian, the other beef at $18 each, pricey, but delicious, accompanied by tasty Italian Pinot Grigio. The service is good, our water glasses never allowed to empty. Our room, 303, faces Downie St., but there is no noise to wake us, blissfully enjoying the king-sized Sealey Posturpedic bed and soft, yummy pillows. Again, the room at $199 is pricey, but B&Bs here are now in the $150+ zone. And, if you are attending the Avon, you are quite close, actually not too distant either from Tom Patterson or the Festival Theatre. We walk to both.
Mother Courage at the former (tedious) and
King Lear with
Colm Feore at the latter (wonderful).
My spouse and I have attended the Stratford Festival for over three decades. The productions and acting are world class. We often bring lunch and sit somewhere along the inviting Avon River, enjoying the graceful white swans and the prolific ducks that produce two litters each season of adorable and today, obedient goslings. We notice quite a variety in size of each brood, some with eight or nine but others with as few as three or four babies. A local passerby explains that mink and turtles are the prime predators.
The Festival has developed a plethora of adjunct programs to enrich
Antoni Cimolino's 2014 season of 12 plays presented in 3 theatres. There are guest speakers, workshops, lobby talks (we take in a free one on Lear) and even a film festival as well as musical entertainment. The audience is quite mature (old), and I am right at home here with my cane. I wonder if young people will fill the gulf as Boomers begin to fade.
Stratford is walkable and always easy on the eye as the city and the Festival groom beautiful flower beds throughout. There are little extras thrown in that one appreciates, for example, the inspiring
"fanfare" music begun in 1953, played on four trumpets and a field drum prior to each curtain. Parking is plentiful and cheap at 40 cents per hour, and for Foster's Inn, we take advantage of free parking in a municipal lot located just behind the cop shop, five minutes away.
Besides the above plays, we have seen
Crazy for You, a Gershwin musical that features incredible choreography and dancing and
King John, a tiresome Shakespearian history play, but as with
Seana McKenna in Mother Courage, why pass up a chance to see
eaten at many restaurants in Stratford including Mercer Hall, Pazzo Taverna and Pizzeria, The Parlour, Fellini's, The Church Restaurant & Belfry, Bentleys Bar Inn & Restaurant and Sirkel Foods on Wellington St., the latter, always a good choice for an inexpensive, tasty sandwich. For coffee, we like Balzac's on Ontario St., where you might spot a Festival actor or a young version of
Justin Bieber .
What I truly love about Stratford, besides the incredible theatre, is its charming pastoral setting, its overall beauty, its Victorian architecture and its unique shops, particularly the terrific book stores. This is a wonderful city to explore for a few enchanting days!
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review, Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Geographic Traveler, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine.
Brian Bedford: 5 things I love about Stratford
was originally a railway junction. Furniture manufacturing became an important part of the local economy by the twentieth century. In 1933 a general strike, started by the furniture workers and led by the Communist Workers' Unity League, marked the last time the army was deployed to break a strike in Canada.
The city's economy took a major turn when the Stratford Shakespeare Festival started in 1953. The annual festival now brings hundreds of thousands of theatre goers and tourists to the area. Celebrities such as Alec Guinness, Christopher Plummer, Olivia McLean, Dame Maggie Smith, and William Shatner have performed at the festival. The Canadian novelist and playwright Timothy Findley performed in the first season, and had an ongoing relationship with the festival, eventually moving to Stratford in 1997.
The world-renowned festival takes place in four theatres throughout the city: the Festival Theatre, the Avon Theatre, Tom Patterson Theatre and the Studio Theatre.