One of Ontario’s most notable cultural events is Stratford Festival, a series of live theatre performances set in multiple theatres and stages throughout the town of Stratford.
Both Shakespearean classics — Hamlet, King John and The Taming of the Shrew, for example — and modern tales grace stages and delight over one million annual tourists. The festival also hosts numerous workshops, camps, educational courses and forums.
Besides theatrical performances, kids and adults can enjoy behind-the-scenes programmes, day camps, summer camps and artist training. Visitors can spend all day on the festival grounds, as there are several on-site eateries. You’ll find three cafes, a bar and a take-out picnic menu. In between shows, browse the Stratford Festival Shop.
Stratford Festival’s main stage is just off Highway 8 near Lake Victoria in the downtown area of Stratford. It’s about 107 km west of the city of Hamilton and 150 km from Toronto.
For up-to-date information and details about Stratford Festival, we recommend visiting their website. For more information about the festival’s performances and other places of interest to explore nearby, keep scrolling to see what Destination Ontario recommends.
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More about Stratford Festival
Although Stratford is a small, rural town, it still draws a significant number of tourists to Stratford Festival each year. Nearly one million visitors annually enjoy the festival, its performances and the many educational programmes. Over time, the event has developed a reputation as the area’s premier classical theatre destination.
In the 1950s, the town of Stratford suffered a blow when the railway industry left the area. But that hardship allowed local journalist Tom Patterson (who has a theatre named after him) to brainstorm a new role for the town: a Shakespearean theatre festival. The first season opened in the summer of 1953 with a performance of Richard III that received great praise.
The festival’s signature appeal is its collection of Shakespearean classics. If you’re a fan, Stratford Festival showcases popular titles such as King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, The Tempest, Othello, Antony and Cleopatra and more. Aside from old favourites, the festival also highlights a few modern pieces. In previous years, they’ve performed titles like The Rocky Horror Show, Little Shop of Horrors, Billy Elliot the Musical, To Kill A Mockingbird and The Music Man.
The festival runs annually at four main theatres: Festival Theatre, Tom Patterson Theatre, Studio Theatre and Avon Theatre. There are also other performance venues, including at the organization’s Normal School, outdoor stages in the summer months and virtual events. Because of its expansive size, Stratford Festival has become the continent’s largest classical repertory theatre company. People from across the world travel to Stratford to watch the classics, contemporary dramas and musicals.
Each year, across several stages and theatres throughout Stratford, the festival shows at least a dozen or more performances. The organization’s artistic director helps guide the choices based on past productions and what’s popular in the current year. Whether you’re looking for drama, a good laugh or a chance to tap your toes, the Stratford Festival offers shows for all audiences. For kids, the festival provides Shakespeare, musical theatre and playwriting programmes.
Adults can also partake in educational events and workshops. The festival offers dance workshops and behind-the-scenes programming that lifts the curtain and allows a glimpse of show production. You can learn about puppetry, props, distressing furniture, sculpting toys and more. Teachers can take advantage of study guides for their classes or professional development materials for themselves.
Students of all ages from any school — primary, secondary or university — can schedule a Stratford Festival visit. University students can take for-credit courses in subjects like Shakespeare performances and acting and voice techniques. All ages can enjoy theatre arts day camps and summer camps. For the professionals, they can take part in immersive artist workshops and training.
Although you can purchase tickets individually, many membership programmes offer a few perks. Some benefits include ticket discounts up to 50%, priority booking, free tickets, waitlists, lounges with complimentary drinks, free tour passes and exclusive events. You can also rent the venue or costumes. If travelling to the festival, you’ll find paid parking lots throughout the town.
While in the vicinity of Stratford, you may want to explore the area. The main festival theatre is in Upper Queen's Park, bordering Lake Victoria near Arthur Meighen Gardens. You’ll find several other green spaces and walking paths along the waterfront, including North Shore Park, Lower Queen’s Park, Arboretum Park and the tourist favourite, Shakespearean Gardens.
If you like to play golf, Stratford Country Club is just across the way from the festival. Other nearby activities include browsing Gallery Stratford, a public art gallery and sculpture park featuring contemporary works from local and regional Canadians. You can also rent boats or enjoy a river cruise on Lake Victoria.
The downtown core of Stratford highlights charming brick buildings from the 19th century. The most famous structure is probably Stratford City Hall, with its red tones and decorated facade. You’ll also find plenty of restaurants, cafes and bars to enjoy, plus shopping the town’s boutiques and shops. And on the edge of town, you’ll find the Stratford Perth Museum with exhibits about the area’s history, including the most famous former resident of Stratford, Justin Bieber.