Shaw Festival

Shaw Festival
The Shaw Festival is a major theatre festival that takes place in the Canadian town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. It is run by the second largest repertory theatre company in North America. Originally focused on works by George Bernard Shaw, it has since expanded to include plays by other playwrights.

The history of the Shaw Festival began in 1962, when local lawyer and playwright Brian Doherty organized a summer theatre festival titled Salute to Shaw. The main goal of the event was to promote the works of Shaw and his contemporaries. The festival lasted for two months and included eight performances of Shaw’s plays Candida and Don Juan in Hell (the latter is actually the third act of the play Man and Superman) produced by Doherty and his team. The first festival was held in the auditorium of the town’s courthouse which has since been converted into the Court House Theatre.

Salute to Shaw was such a success that it was decided to hold it annually. The following year, English-Canadian actor and director Barry Morse joined the team as the festival’s artistic director. In 1973, the 869-seat Shaw Festival Theatre was officially opened. During its inaugural season, performances at the theatre were attended by Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Queen Elizabeth II, and Indira Gandhi.

The program of the Shaw Festival has changed over the years, depending on who was serving as the festival’s artistic director. For example, Christopher Newton, who held the post from 1980 to 2002, preferred plays written during Shaw’s lifetime (1856–1950) which described as “the beginning of the modern world”.

Newton’s successor, theatre director and playwright Jackie Maxwell, expanded the program to include works by contemporary playwrights who were inspired by Shaw such as Caryl Churchill and Tony Kushner. During her tenure that lasted until the 2016 season, Maxwell produced many plays written and directed by women and diversified the acting ensemble. Of course, Shaw’s plays remained an essential part of the program. For example, the 2016 Shaw festival presented a production of Mrs. Warren’s Profession and a stage adaptation of the short story collection The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God.

The Shaw Festival operates four theatres in downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake located within walking distance of one another: the Court House Theatre, the Jakie Maxwell Studio Theatre, the Festival Theatre, and Secret Theatre, a movable venue that pops up in the strangest places, offering surprise and unexpected performances.

Shaw Festival

Photo: David Cooper




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