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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Martha Henry in a role written expressly for her Taking Shakespeare begins previews

July 12, 2013… William Shakespeare acts as the unlikely agent in bringing together a jaded professor and a struggling student in Taking Shakespeare featuring Martha Henry and Luke Humphrey.

The first new play in over a dozen years by acclaimed Canadian dramatist John Murrell began previews on July 13, at the Studio Theatre.

A witty and compassionate celebration of the power of words, the story centres on an aging and disenchanted professor who begrudgingly agrees to tutor the university president’s son, Murph, who is floundering in his freshman English course and in his life.

The professor is ready to give up before the end of the first session, until Murph asks for help with Othello – a play with special meaning for her. As they explore the text together, both draw new strength from Shakespeare’s extraordinary insights.

Diana Leblanc, whose remarkable career includes the Festival’s celebrated 1994 production of Long Day’s Journey into Night, returns to Stratford as director of this two-person play, with Ms Henry as the professor, a role that was written especially for her, and Mr. Humphrey as Murph.

“John wrote this play knowing Martha’s strengths and the particular intelligence and wit that she brings to parts,” says Ms Leblanc. “It’s really a gift.”

Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino programmed Taking Shakespeare as a counterpoint to this season’s production of Othello. The pairing is indicative of Mr. Cimolino’s vision for the Festival – to offer plays that “complement and reflect one another, while at the same time connecting with contemporary social issues. Each will offer a complete and fulfilling experience on its own – but the experience will be even richer for those who see several of the productions and take advantage of the opportunity to draw connections among them.”

“When you watch a major Shakespearean play, there’s an awful lot going on; you have a lot to take in,” says Ms Leblanc. “Taking Shakespeare talks about why things unfold in Othello as they do. So if you’ve seen the play the day before, or you’re going to see it later, it gives you incredible insights into what you saw or what you’re going to see. I think that will be great fun.”

To meet demand for tickets, two additional performances have already been added to this season’s schedule, something Mr. Cimolino attributes to the incredible group of talent involved in the production.

“John Murrell is one of Canada’s great playwrights,” says Mr. Cimolino. “I always find with his work that he is able to really touch to the centre of humanity and make you feel for the people in his plays. Diana Leblanc at the helm, along with Martha Henry and Luke Humphrey make a terrific trio, together bringing John’s vision to life beautifully. What a treat it will be for audiences to see Martha, one of Canada’s most respected actors, in a role written expressly for her.”

The production’s artistic team features Designer Michael Gianfrancesco, Lighting Designer Itai Erdal, Sound Designer Todd Charlton and Dramaturge Bob White.

Taking Shakespeare Forum Highlights

The Forum, the new festival within the Festival, is a series of activities and events designed to make a visit to Stratford an immersive, all-encompassing cultural experience. Through debates, talks, concerts, comedy nights, hands-on workshops and more, The Forum offers theatregoers more ways to discover and examine the themes running through this season’s productions.

Taking Shakespeare will be explored through several Forum events, including: Honest Villains and Noble Killers: The Iago/Othello Character Dynamic, the second annual Stratford Festival symposium, in which leading artists and scholars express their views on the play; Reform It Altogether: Directing Shakespeare Today, a panel discussion with this season’s Shakespeare directors Chris Abraham, Tim Carroll, Antoni Cimolino and Martha Henry; and Sex and Love in Verona, Venice and Vienna, a talk by Stanley Wells, Honorary President, Life Trustee and former Chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and general editor of the Oxford and Penguin Shakespeares.

Support for the inaugural season of The Forum is generously provided by Kelly and Michael Meighen and the Province of Ontario, in partnership with the University of Waterloo, with media sponsorship provided by The Walrus. Support for the Speakers Series is generously provided in memory of Dr. Philip Hayman. Support for the Symposium is generously provided by Dr. Jules and Josephine Harris.

Taking Shakespeare officially opens on July 30 and runs until September 22. For tickets, contact the box office at 1.800.567.1600 or visit stratfordfestival.ca.

Production support is generously provided by Dr. David Goldbloom and Dr. Nancy Epstein.

Support for the 2013 season of the Studio Theatre is generously provided by the Parnassus Foundation, courtesy of Jane & Raphael Bernstein and Sandra & Jim Pitblado.

The Festival’s new Toronto bus service Stratford Direct is now available twice daily on performance days for only $20 return. Reservations can be made through the box office.

Support for Stratford Direct is generously provided by The Peter Cundill Foundation.

The Stratford Festival’s 2013 season runs until October 20, featuring Romeo and Juliet, Fiddler on the Roof; The Three Musketeers, The Merchant of Venice, Tommy, Blithe Spirit, Othello, Measure for Measure, Mary Stuart, Waiting for Godot, Taking Shakespeare, and The Thrill, along with more than 150 events at The Forum.

Cast (in alphabetical order):
Martha Henry………………………………….         Prof

Luke Humphrey……………………………….         Murph

Artistic Credits:
Director………………………………………..         Diana Leblanc
Designer……………………………………….         Michael Gianfrancesco
Lighting Designer……………………………..         Itai Erdal
Sound Designer………………………………..        Todd Charlton
Dramaturge……………………………………         Bob White
Producer……………………………………….         David Auster
Casting Director……………………………….         Beth Russell
Creative Planning Director…………………….        Jason Miller
Assistant Lighting Designer…………………...        Tristan Tidswell
Stage Manager…………………………………        Maxwell T. Wilson
Assistant Stage Manager………………………        Angela Marshall
Production Stage Manager…………………….        Marylu Moyer
Technical Directors……………………………         Robbin Cheesman, Kaileigh Krysztofiak

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2013 Season | Romeo and Juliet | Fiddler on the Roof | The Three Musketeers
The Merchant of Venice | Tommy | Blithe Spirit | Othello | Measure for Measure
Mary Stuart | Waiting for Godot | Taking Shakespeare | The Thrill

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