A Brief History of the Stratford Festival and 2021 Expectations

Posted on May 10, 2021

Are you looking forward to this summer? With vaccinations on the rise and cases going down, it's time to breathe a sigh of relief and get excited. 

Stratford Festival is back! 

Your home of some of the best theatres in Canada, it's time to enjoy new staging and productions. Don't worry! Safety precautions are present to keep you and your family comfortable this summer.

Keep reading to find out what's on offer at the Stratford Festival in 2021! 

The Stratford Festival | A Brief History

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The Stratford Festival began its first performance in 1953, Richard III. Its rousing success brought struggling Stratford to critical acclaim.

What began as a small settlement, Stratford became a major intersection during the railway boom of the mid-1800s. When the railways went bankrupt in the 1950s, Stratford-born Tom Patterson had a crazy idea.

With the help of an international team, Patterson's idea of the Stratford Festival quickly reached world acclaim. Stratford began with incredible and revolutionary Shakespeare productions. As the festival grew, Stratford has expanded productions to musicals, plays, ballet, and more. 

There's something for everyone, whether you're a family, a couple, or someone who just loves theatre. With the experience of over 700 productions, Stratford knows how to put on a show. 

For 68 years the Stratford Festival continuously offered amazing performances. For the first time in its history, they cancelled physical productions for the 2020 Covid crisis. But that hasn't stopped them, with robust online camps and events. 

Now that things are looking up, this year they're back and better than ever! 

What Types of Programs Are Offered at Stratford?

Stratford offers an amazing array of opportunities and programs for any age. 

Onsite workshops provide unique access to learning about theatre. Virtual programs have expanded the way the arts can be taught to students and educators. 

Stratford has developed committees to continually improve their programming. They have formed partnerships and associations with fantastic programs. It's clear there is something for everyone at Stratford Festival. 

Onsite Festival Programs

Due to Covid, many of the festival's traditional summer camps and events have moved online. The sign-up for 2021 workshops is currently still on hold.

Don't worry, there are tons of fantastic virtual options to keep you busy this summer! 

Virtual Programs 

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the Stratford Theatre has offered many virtual programs. From all ages spring camps to weekends of virtual fun Stratford has done its part to keep theatre alive. 

Youth Programs

Stratford welcomes students to learn and enjoy every aspect of theatre. No experience necessary. Stratford provides writing retreats, Shakespeare Intensive Weekends, and more! 

Behind The Scenes

Through a virtual course, Stratford sound design expert Debashis Sinha can teach you about Sound Design for Theatre.

Anyone can take this course. From those in high school to adults, you can learn more about the intricate aspects of sound design. 

Educational Programs

The Festival works with teachers and professionals. Even outside the summer performance schedule, there are virtual workshops and resources. From dance to acting, Covid can't stop you or your students from learning something new!

Q&As are easy to tune into for a variety of topics. Consider professional development courses on subjects like Theatre Making in Traditional Communities. 

Programs for Students and Teachers 

Stratford is home to many committees, clubs, and partnerships to get students and teachers involved in the arts. Aside from the educational programs for teachers and youth listed above, Stratford provides even more. 

Student Advisory Committee

The Student Advisory Committee works together with the Teaching Advisory committee to improve Stratford's programs. Through this committee students in Canada and the US can take an active role in helping to shape the Stratford Festival

In return for their volunteer efforts, students are awarded unique opportunities. Special access is given to Stratford's educational programs and the ability to join the Shakespeare Club. Special sessions allow participates to openly discuss specific plays. 

Teacher Advisory Committee

This committee is also open to any educator in Canada or the US. Through this committee, teachers can have a voice on the activities and programs Stratford provides. 

There is also a Teaching Artist Advisory Committee. Here, teaching artists can join to discuss and help develop the theatre's artistic programming for the coming years. 


In an incredible format, Stratford has created a virtual space to watch and learn from their past Shakespeare productions. All-Encompassing learning features filmed performances alongside the original text. 

It even includes lesson plans for teachers, Q&As with the performers, and more. All for the low price of free! 

How Is the Stratford Festival Adapting to Covid in 2021? 

Everything here sounds amazing, but you're probably wondering how the festival will happen this year.  As always, make sure to protect yourself with travel insurance

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Outdoor Transformation

This summer the performances will be held in the great outdoors! Under two tents six plays and five cabarets are yours for enjoying.

Unlike most years, productions won't have actors performing in multiple plays. To keep things safe, each play and cabaret will only have eight performers each.

This makes things smaller scale, but no less impressive. The Stratford Theatre schedule will still allow you to choose from several concurrent productions

Strict Covid Protections 

Of course, you're probably concerned about Covid. The World Travel and Tourism Council has approved the Stratford Theatre's Covid precaution plans. The Theatre will require all staff and visitors to wear masks and participate in health screening.

See-through barriers will be erected between theatregoers and performers. Contactless bathroom appliances have been installed along with UV sterilization devices. 

2021 Featured Productions 

Now that you know what protections are in place, let's hear about the great performances on offer.


Romeo & Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream share some things in common with each other and the world at large in 2021. People are being kept apart. The productions are looking to bring a unique perspective and explore the effects of isolation from within the plays. 

Romeo & Juliet, or more simply known as R + J this year, is directed by Ravi Jain. A Midsummer Night's Dream sees Peter Pasyk returning again to direct after his Hamlet production was halted due to Covid last year. 

Other Plays

Shakespeare is the Stratford Theatre's historical centre. But for decades now they have brought new and exciting plays to the forefront as well.

Three Tall Women is directed by Diana Leblanc and written by Edward Albee. This frequently sarcastic and yet full of heartbreak production follows the life of an old woman. Shocking things are laid bare to a caregiver and a young legal professional in the course of the play. 

The Rez Sisters is directed by Jessica Carmichael and written by Tomson Highway. This play is sure to have everyone laughing, and at other moments in tears. Follow seven women each struggling towards a strange shared dream of winning the world's biggest bingo. 

Marcia Johnson's Serving Elizabeth is directed by Kimberley Rampersad. This production seeks to tell two tales from different times. By contrasting 1952 Kenya to 2015 London the cast seeks to find an understanding of the present and the past. 

Last but not least, I Am William reimagines Shakespeare with a twist - what if it was all written by a woman instead? Written by Rebecca Deraspe and directed by Esther Jun is full of fun and joy as it follows "Margaret Shakespeare" on her journey to be a legendary writer. 


If you're interested in cabarets, there are a few select options that you won't want to miss. Each of these performances has its own notable distinctions and characteristics that make them stand out.

Our selections include:

  • Why We Tell a Story: A Celebration of Black Musical Theatre takes viewers through the ages of Black legends in poetry and music
  • You Can't Stop the Beat: The Enduring Power of Musical Theatre seeks to display how music can represent us as humans
  • Play On! A Shakespeare Inspired Mixtape brings pop culture into the Shakespearian realm
  • Freedom: Spirit and Legacy of Black Music pays homage to the influence of Black culture on modern music
  • Finally There's Sun: A Cabaret of Resilience follows the journey we have been on for the past year, exploring the obvious bad and unexpected good

Check Out Stratford This Summer

It's clear to see that Stratford is the place to be this summer. Make sure you get to see your favourite production as tickets will surely sell out fast.

Perhaps you are thinking of continuing your summer free from stress. After checking out the Stratford Festival consider where you're heading for vacation. With the help of Insurdinary, you can learn what else will be open to Canadians this summer! 

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