Niagara-on-the-Lake Shaw Festival Theatre

shaw-fest-building shaw-fest-play

The Shaw Festival is a major Canadian theatre festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, the second largest repertory theatre company in North America. Founded in 1962, its original mandate was to stimulate interest in George Bernard Shaw and his period, and to advance the development of theatre arts in Canada.

About Shaw Festival Theatre

The Festival’s roots can be traced to 1962 when Ontario lawyer and playwright Brian Doherty staged a summertime “Salute to Shaw” in the town’s courthouse, a venue later known as the Court House Theatre. For eight weekends Doherty and his crew produced Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell and Candida. The “Salute,” with its mandate to promote the works of Shaw and his contemporaries, was an immediate success. With the addition of actor and director Barry Morse as Artistic Director in 1966, the Festival gained huge international publicity and its productions garnered sold-out performances. Morse also joined the company as actor during this season. Paxton Whitehead took over management of the company with the 1967 season and under his leadership, the Festival gained new heights. He served for twelve seasons as Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival. During his tenure he was able to push through a plan of building the purpose-built 869 seat state-of-the-art Festival Theatre to expand considerably the capacity for audiences at Niagara-on-the-Lake. Queen Elizabeth II, Indira Gandhi, and Pierre Elliot Trudeau were among those who attended performances at the Shaw Festival Theatre during its inaugural season in 1973. Tony Van Bridge was interim artistic director for the 1974-75 season.

In 1980, Christopher Newton, joined the company and continued to foster its development with the addition of a third theatre. Outstanding directors such as Derek Goldby, Denise Coffey, and Neil Munro (who became Resident Director in the company) were hired, and the acting ensemble was carefully cultivated until it was widely recognized to be one of the best in the world.
Under Christopher Newton, the Festival’s mandate became more narrowly defined: to produce plays written during the lifetime of Shaw (1856–1950), “plays about the beginning of the modern world,” as Newton was quoted. In Newton’s last years as Artistic Director, the mandate was widened to also include contemporary plays which are set within Shaw’s lifetime. His successor, Jackie Maxwell, has strived to program increasingly with a view to a younger audience, a tendency evident, for example, in her programming of Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Belle Moral in the 2005 season.

Location(s) Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada
Artistic director Jackie Maxwell
Foundation 1962
Founded by Brian Doherty
Date(s) April-October each year
Type of Play(s) plays by or written during the lifetime of George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)