- I moved to Michigan in January, 1983.
- I love live theater.
- ‘Up North Michigan’, Chicago, and Stratford, Ontario are all approximately the same distance away.
- In the last 36 years, I have feasted on copious amounts of fudge purchased ‘up north’ and gorged myself with too many bags of Garrett’s popcorn in Chicago.
- It took me until 2019 to visit the theaters of the Stratford Festival.
What is wrong with this picture?
At the end of June, Kathy and I made the easy drive to Stratford, a short two hours from the bridge at Port Huron. Yes, you need passports; yes, the drive to the bridge may be efficient but entering the country on the other side may be slow; yes, you’ll need $3 on the US side and $3.50 on the Canadian side to return, which made us wonder why it costs more to return?
Stratford is a lovely town set on the banks of the Avon River. The downtown is walkable and is home to numerous shops and restaurants, and you won’t want to miss Wuerth’s Shoes – when is the last time you’ve visited a wonderful, independent shoe store?
But it’s the Stratford Festival that brings thousands of theater-goers to the small town every year. Started back in the 50’s in an effort to boost the economy, the Festival runs from mid-April through the first weekend in November. We saw two plays and in addition, took two tours.
From their web site, the Stratford Festival is “North America’s largest classical repertory theatre company. Each season, we present a dozen or more productions in four distinctive venues. We produce classics, contemporary dramas and musicals, with special emphasis on the plays of Shakespeare.”
A repertory theatre hires a cast and they rotate between many different productions. In the afternoon, we saw the Noel Coward play, Private Lives, with five actors. All five were in a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor in the evening. Both were fabulous.
The tours were an absolute steal – @$5 USD for a senior. During the behind the scenes at the Festival Theater, we learned that each wig is made of human hair and washed and styled after every single performance, and that beards and mustaches are made of yak’s hair. We discovered that next year’s season will be made public in late summer or early fall, and once the play starts in 2020, the director hands off to the stage manager and moves on. At the tour of the wardrobe warehouse, we learned the difference between fat suits and jiggle suits and Kathy and I wondered where we could leave ours. Lots of fun information was shared in both tours, and we enjoyed the interactive displays during the wardrobe tour.
Stratford has no chain hotels, though I understand there are still several B&B’s in the area. We stayed at the Swan Motel a couple of miles out of town. It makes you think of the old-fashioned motels where car lights shine through your windows, and sketchy characters come and go, except the Swan is spotless and surrounded by lovely gardens and a swimming pool.
Are Colleen and Peter good hosts at The Swan? Eighty-five percent of their business are repeat customers, and I didn’t sense any of them were too questionable.
There are other facts about this destination as well, but too many to share – check out the link at the bottom of this post. If you’re looking for a short-excursion, and you love theater, plan a trip – just don’t wait thirty-six years to do so.