Shakespeare and Niagara Falls

by Greta Olsson

105% above Stratford-on-Avon,
40% at Niagara Falls

Have you ever wanted to visit Stratford-on-Avon in England but were unable to do so? During the 2003 Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon, I learned about a Stratford-on-Avon in Canada, between a one and a half to two hours drive east of Toronto. It has a great Shakespeare Festival, possibly equal to that of the US's top theater in Chicago, The Goodman, and certainly on a par with Ashland's, which has a published rating of number two.

When the University of Southern Oregon experienced how popular and successful Elderhostel's Shakespeare program was, with seniors staying on their campus a week to ten days to attend classes given by the actors, directors, and designers, as well as to attend the plays, SOU created Senior Ventures - an almost exact copy of Elderhostel's event. They also developed a contact with Stratford, Canada to offer a similar program there, as well as on their own campus. The major difference is that we were housed in four and five star hotels instead of on a college campus. The program was certainly equally good if not better. In fact, some of Stratford's business men have put so much money into the theater budget that their costumes, scenery, and choreography are far more elaborate than any that I've seen elsewhere.

Our group compared Ashland and Stratford, and although there was a disagreement about various actors' effectiveness, most concluded that Stratford won for absolute elegance - far superior to what is offered in cities such as St. Paul, Ashland, Chicago, New York, London, etc., etc., etc. When they presented The King and I, a costume person was sent to Thailand to purchase perfect materials to make outstanding costumes.

The Avon River is much wider and longer than the one in England. One can sit on benches along the River near the Festival Theater, and watch birds, ducks, black swans, and boating in a peaceful, gorgeous setting. The Theater's Bakery Shop gives wonderful pre-theater tea, coffee, wine, snacks, and light lunches.

Located within an easy walk of Niagara Falls, we went through the power plant on the Canadian side and learned that at night tourists only see 40% of the water that usually makes up the Falls. America and Canada re-route 60% of the water into a reservoir to use for generating electricity. Having done so, the water is then returned to the river by early morning. Day tourists get to see 100% of the Falls.

Another one and a half to two hour drive takes a person to Niagara-on-the-Lake, a pretty, clean, little town with small shops, numerous restaurants, and two theaters devoted to George Bernard Shaw's plays. They will also include unknown, modern plays. What we saw was good.

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