I posted this on social media yesterday, so you’ve probably seen it. If not, it’s the story of how live theatre changed my life. Please support the arts in through this terrible time. They have an importance beyond entertainment, and their value goes beyond mere ticket prices.
This is a stupidly long reaction to the Stratford Festival’s postponing their season. I had to mull over what I was feeling and why, and this is the result:
The Stratford Festival having to postpone their season broke my heart. Gutted me. Many of you probably wonder why I care so deeply for the Festival, why I’m such a champion of it over and above other venues. Well, it’s complicated, but here’s why. (Warning: this will be lengthy.)
My journey to scholar of Shakespeare/early modern drama has been convoluted. I left high school despising Shakespeare after a horrible encounter with Julius Caesar in my senior year and stayed away, certain that I would hate anything else Will had written. After a long stretch, I carefully dipped my toe into the Complete Works, more from a sense of obligation than anything else. I loved British literature and was afraid my ignorance of Shakespeare took away from my understanding of works by other British writers. I was surprised to find that I didn’t hate Shakespeare after all — in fact, I rather liked him. I enjoyed his plays as literature, but since I didn’t go to live theatre, my appreciation stopped there.
In London several years later (2008), I saw Dominic Dromgoole’s production of Lear at The Globe. My go-to description of that afternoon is “it was like scales dropped from my eyes.” Right then I understood that reading Shakespeare without seeing it is an incomplete experience. Things are going on in the plays that can’t be articulated, and if the plays aren’t seen, it’s impossible to grasp their true complexity. Unfortunately, where I live in Southwest Florida, Shakespeare on the stage is a rare commodity. I wanted to see the plays live, but it wasn’t going to happen at home.
In 2012, I took my parents to see a filmed version of the Stratford Festival’s The Tempest. They’ve gone to the Shaw Festival for decades and often make day trips to Stratford, so they had seen it live — they weren’t going to be three hours from Christopher Plummer and miss him! They loved seeing the production again, but it was my mind that was blown. I kept asking “This is what you go see?” “I don’t have to go to the UK or NYC to see this kind of thing?” As a live theatre newbie, I was amazed. I booked tickets to spend a weekend with them at Niagara on the Lake later that year, and planned my own overnight trip to Stratford to see Cymbeline and Henry V.
Reader, that 24 hours in Stratford changed my life. It took what was quickly becoming a passion for Shakespeare and made it an obsession. It made me want to take my knowledge to the next level, so within weeks of coming home, I decided to get my M.A. in English (and my PhD if life would let me).
Fast forward to December 2017… I graduated magna cum laude from FGCU with my Master’s, and my love for Shakespeare now included a love for early modern drama in general. I couldn’t possibly give up studying what I loved, so since I couldn’t give up my day job (due to house, husband, etc.) I became an independent scholar. Fast forward to today…I am set to become an adjunct instructor at FGCU this fall. If you had asked me only ten years ago if I’d be presenting at conferences, going to live theatre, and getting ready to teach my first semester at a university, I would have said you were nuts. But here we are.
The point of this ramble is that none of this would have happened without Stratford. The Festival literally changed my life, and I’m eternally grateful. It sounds sappy, but it helped me find myself, what I love, and who I want to be. On top of that, I fell in love with the town of Stratford, what it stands for, and the incredible people there. I feel at home there, like myself there, and my yearly visits (since 2012!) reconnect me to my dreams and goals. I’ve also made some amazing friends through my love of the Festival, people I feel close to and care about very much.
That, in quite a bit more than a nutshell, is why I’m so enthusiastic about Stratford. Not only does the Festival have some of the finest productions I’ve seen, it has an essence of outreach and welcome that encourages and challenges you. It’s truly a special place filled with special people. Not going this year will leave a huge hole in my heart, but you can bet I’ll be there in 2021.