World Class Live Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake


For an up to date listing of the festival calender click the link below and visit the Shaw Festival website


The Shaw Festival is the only theatre in the world that specializes exclusively in plays by Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries, and in plays about the period of Shaw’s lifetime. We are one of the few theatre companies that has a permanent acting company, and the only one in the world which specializes in such a defined historical period. The Shaw Festival is renowned internationally for single-handedly revitalizing and re-energizing the works of Bernard Shaw, and tackling the vast array of theatre pieces in our mandate – presenting them anew to appreciative theatre audiences. The Shaw’s mandate was expanded in 2000 to also include contemporary plays written about the period of Bernard Shaw’s life, 1856-1950.

As Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell says, “We all know the man can talk, but Bernard Shaw is also one of the most prescient, provocative, sparklingly articulate writers in the English language. His words and ideas, expressed in plays that are well-known, such as this season’s Mrs Warren’s Profession, or in plays that are not so familiar but no less interesting, have extraordinary relevance today. It is a joy to draw attention to those ideas and bring them to life on our stages.” In 2008, Mrs Warren’s Profession (its fourth appearance at The Shaw) will run in repertory with Getting Married (also in its fourth appearance).

One of the many pleasures of The Shaw’s mandate period is digging up undiscovered theatrical treasures, or plays which were considered major works when they were written but which have since been unjustly neglected. Remarkable playwrights such as J.B. Priestley, St John Hankin and Harley Granville Barker have all been rediscovered by the Shaw Festival. This season’s The Stepmother, written by Githa Sowerby, the author of The Shaw’s acclaimed 2004 production Rutherford and Son, had one private performance in 1924 and, despite the clamoring of critics, was never published. Literally found in a box in the basement of the Samuel French company, the play receives its North American premiere at The Shaw this season.

We embrace the full range of American classics – comedies as well as dramas. Recent seasons have produced critically acclaimed productions of The Autumn Garden, Bus Stop, You Can’t Take It With You, All My Sons, Picnic, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Detective Story, and Ah Wilderness and The Crucible. The richly diverse choices continued last season The Shaw’s first production of a Tennessee Williams play, Summer and Smoke. This year we celebrate the best of American theatre with a production of Lillian Hellman’s timeless drama The Little Foxes.

The Shaw takes a unique approach to musicals; just as the reach of musical theatre is vast and manifold, so is our approach to being able to present Brecht and Weill, Rodgers and Hart, and everything in between – and being able to choose the right theatre for each production. We cast our musicals with the finest singers and actors from our company; we are proud of the detailed expression they bring to these musical works. Rarely-performed musical gems from the period of our mandate, such as Happy End, are rediscovered and returned to the stage. The 2004 production of Floyd Collins demonstrated an additional vision for our musicals – it’s a contemporary musical based on a true story from the mandate period. The range of musicals we have revived over the years includes Gypsy (our first musical on the Festival stage), High Society, She Loves Me, Merrily We Roll Along, On the Twentieth Century, Pal Joey and Mack and Mabel. Also last year we presented the first new musical developed and produced here at The Shaw, Tristan, by Music Director Paul Sportelli and Ensemble member Jay Turvey. This year The Shaw presents the musical adventure Wonderful Town, as well as two Stephen Sondheim favourites: A Little Night Music and a concert production of Follies.

Early Victorian dramas such as The Silver King and vast pieces like Cavalcade require large casts, complex designs and specialized historical knowledge. They are rarely attempted by other professional companies, but at The Shaw we relish the opportunity to explore these works with a modern audience. We also present European classics such as The House of Bernarda Alba from Spain, S.S.Tenacity from France, and The Plough and the Stars from Ireland.

Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell’s approach to the mandate period is “to look at the mandate from the outside as well as the inside – to provide creative friction by juxtaposing the old and the new – and with Canadian work, to let us hear and promote our own stories and our own points of view. I want the Shaw Festival to be the place where classic Canadian and contemporary plays can be given a uniquely detailed, thoughtful and vivid new life.” This was the case with the acclaimed productions of Michel Marc Bouchard’s The Coronation Voyage (2003) and of Lillian Groag’s The Magic Fire (2006).

Every production that graces the Shaw Festival stages is built “from scratch,” from an original design. Although The Shaw sometimes revisits plays in its canon, the design is always created for that director and those actors in the new production. Each element is painstakingly researched, designed and created to enhance that particular production. Design Director William Schmuck and Lighting Design Director Kevin Lamotte lead teams who collaborate with each production’s director to create set, costume and lighting designs that complement the play’s text. Meticulous historical research is combined with creative instincts and an understanding of the play.

Music played an important role in Bernard Shaw’s life – in fact, he wrote music criticism for several years under the pseudonym Corno di Bassetto. Our Music Director Paul Sportelli creates new orchestrations for virtually all our musical productions. As well, he frequently composes original scores for dramatic presentations, or commissions scores from other contemporary composers. On selected Sundays our Music Department gives free coffee concerts in the lobby of the Festival Theatre.

The Shaw Festival’s permanent acting company is unique in the English-speaking world. Jackie Maxwell believes the actors are “the ones who ultimately carry on stage what I see to be the true spirit of the Shaw Festival. At The Shaw we draw from the vast wealth of the best plays from 1856 to today. Led by our unequalled theatre artists, we explore each world with a passion and vitality that renders the stories anew, the pain and joy of each character vividly played out with a balletic combination of speed, energy, reflection and detail, using heart, viscera and brain.”

The Academy is the professional training, play development, publishing and public education wing of the company. It began in 1985 as an informal skills exchange among company members, and still retains that important function. The Academy also sponsors workshop productions and the annual Directors Project as well as many outreach programmes for the public, including the Shaw Seminars, Saturday Conversations, and tours for groups and the public.

Each season, The Academy engages coaches in Alexander Technique, voice and dialect as well as salaried apprentices in acting, directing, design and stage management. Short courses are offered on a variety of topics, including the popular “Manners of the Mandate”, and movement training to maintain actors’ strength and flexibility throughout the long Shaw season. The annual Directors Project is of particular interest to the company. It features Ensemble members in two one-act plays – directed by our Intern Directors and designed by Assistant Designers – presented to company members and to an invited audience of theatre professionals.

There are two main goals of The Shaw’s play development programme, which is led by Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell and Literary Manager Joanna Falck. The first is to develop new adaptations and translations that will tell classic stories in a contemporary way. The second is to produce new plays that can sit alongside those of Shaw, Chekhov and Coward. For example, The Shaw premiered a commissioned translation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters at the Festival Theatre in 2003. Writer Ann-Marie MacDonald’s play Belle Moral was “workshopped” by Acting Ensemble members at The Shaw as she was completing final drafts of the play, which was eventually presented as part of our 2005 season. The play is remounted this season, in preparation for a planned national tour. Throughout the season, established and developing playwrights are in residence at The Shaw, and the Acting Ensemble often participate in in-house workshops of new plays. Other intriguing writing projects that began through this programme are Morris Panych’s Hotel Peccadillo, an adaptation of the Georges Feydeau and Maurice Desvallières farce L’Hôtel du Libre-Echange, and Paul Sportelli and Jay Turvey’s new musical Tristan, both presented last season, as well as this season’s production of Ferenc Molnár’s The President, newly adapted by Morwyn Brebner. Projects currently in development include a play about the Danish playwright Kaj Munk, by playwright-in-residence Dave Carley, and an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s short story The Canterville Ghost with Theatre Beyond Words. The Shaw is also in the early stages of developing a multi-disciplinary piece based on the book A Nervous Splendor by Frederick Morton.

We believe the more you know about theatre, the more you will enjoy it. We encourage students to attend the theatre through discounted tickets and complimentary study guides, backstage tours and chats. For the public, The Academy provides free enrichment programmes, such as pre-show chats at the Festival Theatre, Tuesday Q&A in all three theatres, Saturday Conversations, and Sunday Coffee Concerts. Seminars, Play By Play (Autumn Experience) and Workshops are also available through our Academy.

The Shaw’s house programmes are among the best in the world. Since 1995 The Shaw’s publishing initiative has produced scripts, theatrical memoirs and a commemorative book of the Shaw Festival’s Granville Barker series. In 2003 we published Susan Coyne’s commissioned translation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters and in 2005 we published Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Belle Moral: A Natural History. This year The Shaw will publish an updated Production Record.

GBS was born in Dublin where he grew up in an atmosphere of genteel poverty. He attended four schools and was tutored by a clerical uncle, but left his formal education at the age of 15. He developed a wide knowledge of music, art and literature under the influence of his mother, a singer and vocal music teacher, and as a result of his frequent visits to the National Gallery of Ireland. In 1876 he moved to London, where he spent his afternoons in the British Museum and his evenings pursuing his informal education in the form of lectures and debates. He declared himself a Socialist in 1882 and joined the Fabian Society in 1884.

Soon he distinguished himself as a fluent and effective public speaker, and an incisive and irreverent critic of music, art and drama; his criticisms showed the sharp edge that would become characteristic of his dramatic writing. Now, more than five decades after his death, Shaw’s fame continues to grow. He entertains and stimulates the 21st-century audience no less profoundly than he teased and delighted those a century ago. The themes Shaw articulated through more than fifty plays and many thousands of pages of critical writings are as fresh today as when he wrote them.

Shaw’s plays succeed on two levels. First they are delightfully witty, sophisticated entertainments, and beyond that they are penetrating examinations of ideas or themes.

Above all, the Shaw Festival believes in the importance of art – that imaginative expression of ideas which reveals the subtlety and greatness of life. This theatre company believes that our particular ideas, our plays by Shaw, his contemporaries and the culture of 1856-1950, can best be revealed by a permanent company of actors who are knowledgeable, generous and talented. There is ensemble acting here of a kind you can rarely see anywhere in the English-speaking world. Our actors all contribute to this sense of ensemble, much like the players in an orchestra. Often, smaller parts are played by actors who are leading performers in their own right, but in our “orchestra”, they don’t command attention – instead they support the central action. Knowing that they are not the focus of the piece, they help create a density of experience that is both subtle and informative. This celebrated Acting Ensemble is surrounded by the best directors, designers and writers from across Canada.

Festival Theatre
The Festival Theatre stage is where you can see major works from the Shaw Festival’s mandate.

The Festival Theatre 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.

Recent renovations to the Festival Theatre’s front-of-house include a new retail shop and improved café. 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 – one large hall adaptable for education programmes and workshop performances, and two smaller spaces – as well as music rehearsal rooms, a patrons’ lounge, and a Green Room for the company. The project provided desperately needed working space for the behind-the-scenes activities so fundamental to creating great theatre.

Court House Theatre
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. Its beautiful Assembly Room and its 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) the Court House has continued to host Shaw Festival productions throughout our 44 seasons.

The Royal George Theatre
The Royal George Theatre presents a modest exterior, but inside it’s 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 philanthropist Walter Carsen.

1962 Niagara-on-the-Lake lawyer and playwright Brian Doherty and a small group of Americans and Canadians produce eight weekend performances of Bernard Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell and Candida in the Assembly Hall of the old Court House in an event titled “A Salute to Shaw”
1963 Andrew Allan is Artistic Director for The Shaw’s first professional season
1964 Our first production of a play not written by GBS: The Shadow of a Gunman by Sean O’Casey
1965 The Shaw Seminar series is established, which continues to present day
1966 Actor and director Barry Morse succeeds Andrew Allan as Artistic Director
1967 Paxton Whitehead becomes Artistic Director; Major Barbara tours to Expo 67 and to Winnipeg
1968 Attendance for the season reaches 100%
1971 The Philanderer tours to Kingston, Montreal, Ottawa and Rochester NY, the Shaw Festival’s first performance outside Canada
1972 Misalliance tours to Kingston, Montreal, Ottawa, Rochester and Washington DC, where it is the first non-U.S. production to play in the Eisenhower Theatre
1973 The new Festival Theatre opens. Guests include Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. On June 28, 1973, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh attend a performance of You Never Can Tell
1980 Christopher Newton becomes Artistic Director; Cameron Porteous joins The Shaw as Head of Design. The Shaw acquires the Royal George Theatre
1981 The Shaw’s first-ever production of Saint Joan helps to establish the Ensemble and the Design department
1982 Cyrano de Bergerac is a runaway hit, with Heath Lamberts in the title role. It is the first Shaw Festival production to be remounted in an ensuing season
1983 The Shaw inaugurates its “Risk” series with The Vortex, a rarely-produced early play by Noel Coward. Eminent Shaw scholar Dan Laurence, literary and dramatic adviser to the Estate of Bernard Shaw, is appointed the Festival’s Literary Adviser
1984 The Shaw’s adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 is described by a U.S. commentator as “the largest work of environmental theatre ever staged.” It runs for one evening only, from 6 pm to midnight, on land, sea and air, encompassing the entire town of Niagara-on-the-Lake and involving most of the Shaw Festival company as well as an audience of 700
1985 The Shaw presents the North American premiere of Noel Coward’s Cavalcade, with The Shaw’s musical company integrated into the Ensemble The Shaw inaugurates its mystery series at the Royal George Theatre with Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Nile. The Academy begins as an informal skills exchange among the members of the Ensemble
1986 As a special 25th anniversary event, The Shaw presents Back to Methuselah in its entirety. This huge work, which Shaw subtitled “a metabiological pentateuch,” runs from 2 pm to midnight with a break for supper
1988 The Shaw presents Fire by Paul Ledoux and David Young in Toronto, the ninth play in our “Toronto Project”. Two-thirds of these were new Canadian plays: Dreaming and Duelling (1982) by John and Joa Lazarus, Goodnight Disgrace (1985) by Michael Mercer, Souvenirs (1985) by Sheldon Rosen, B-Movie: The Play (1987) by Tom Wood, Patria I (1987) by R. Murray Schafer, and Fire. The Shaw presents You Never Can Tell at the Olympic Arts Festival in Calgary
1989 The Shaw Academy assumes sole responsibility for the Shaw Seminars. Previous sponsors included McMaster, Brock and York universities
1992 With Pygmalion and Counsellor-at-Law leading the way, the Shaw Festival sets a new record for ticket sales: over 280,000 for the season
1994 With the installation of new seating, the refurbishment of the Royal George Theatre is completed. Philanthropist Walter Carsen dedicates the renovations to the memory of founder Brian Doherty. With the help of a four-week holdover, ticket sales exceed 300,000 for the first time in the history of the Shaw Festival The company spends a week at the University of Michigan as “artists in residence” and gains critical praise there for its performances of The Front Page and Arms and The Man
1995 “Christopher’s Loft” opens, a new rehearsal space and a new home for The Academy of the Shaw Festival. The Shaw’s new book-publishing programme is inaugurated with Also in the Cast, the memoirs of Tony van Bridge
1997 New play workshops begin in cooperation with Tarragon Theatre using Shaw Festival actors. Other Toronto companies participate in subsequent years
1998 New facilities are constructed in the Lobby, including an expanded Flag Deck upstairs. An expanded Members Verandah follows the next year
1999 A new record for ticket sales: 325,000 for the season, with Box Office revenue exceeding $14 million Leslie Yeo’s A Thousand and One First Nights, co-published by the Shaw Festival, wins the Canadian Authors Association prize for biography
2000 The Shaw’s mandate is expanded to include plays written about the period of Shaw’s lifetime (1856-1950) as well as plays written during the period
2001 Jackie Maxwell is named Artistic Director Designate
2002 Christopher Newton retires and is named Artistic Director Emeritus, and Jackie Maxwell succeeds him as Artistic Director for the 2003 season. Candida enjoys a successful tour to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and to Meadow Brook Theatre in Michigan
2003 Canadian playwright Michel Marc Bouchard’s The Coronation Voyage earns great acclaim for its Shaw Festival debut on the Festival Theatre stage. Shaw Festival Membership support soars to an all-time high with over 11,600 members, a 30% increase since 2000
2004 The successful $30 million CAMPAIGN FOR THE SHAW FESTIVAL results in the construction and opening of a vital new Production Centre that houses rehearsal space, an Academy Suite, and a green room for the entire company Niagara vintners and long-time Shaw supporters Elaine and Donald Triggs give $1 million to The Campaign for the Shaw Festival, which activates a $1 million Kresge Foundation Challenge Grant and successfully concludes the fundraising campaign for the new building. The Triggs’ gift is the largest single donation ever received by The Shaw. Rutherford and Son is remounted at the National Arts Centre for a successful three-week run in December.
2005 The world premiere of Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Belle Moral: A Natural History is presented to great acclaim on the Court House stage. Music Director Paul Sportelli and ensemble member Jay Turvey begin work on a new musical, Tristan, culminating in two public reading performances.
2007 Paul Sportelli and Jay Turvey’s Tristan receives its world premiere at The Shaw – the first new musical to be produced by the Festival. Saint Joan, directed by Jackie Maxwell, is presented as part of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s 2007-2008 The World’s Stage Series after its regular run at The Shaw.

In the early 1780s, the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake was established as Butlersburg by United Empire Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution. In 1792, renamed Newark by Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe, the settlement became the capital of Upper Canada (later Ontario). One of the largest communities in Upper Canada at the time, it boasted energetic shipbuilding and farming industries, as well as a library, court house, newspaper, and apothecary shop. Newark was the site of several strategic battles during the War of 1812. Although Fort George was built to guard the mouth of the Niagara River, American troops successfully invaded in 1813, burning the village to the ground and forcing a British retreat. By the time the first Welland Canal opened in 1829, Newark was rebuilt but had lost its lucrative shipbuilding trade to Port Colborne. In 1854 Newark’s name was changed to Niagara, and again in 1900 to the more poetic-sounding Niagara-on-the-Lake. The town served as a training base for Canadian Armed Forces during both world wars, but still retained the elegant homes, shops and parks that now attract about three million visitors annually.

In 1987, on the occasion of our 25th Anniversary, the Shaw Festival became only the second theatre company to be granted a Coat of Arms by the College of Heralds. (The other was the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain.) A large painted sculpture of our Coat of Arms adorns the lobby of the Festival Theatre.