On this Date: First Stratford Festival Performance

It was on July 13, 1953, when actor Alec Guinness strode on to the stage - contained within a giant canvas tent on the banks of the River Avon in the village of Stratford, Ontario - at the first-ever Stratford Shakespearean Festival of Canada and spoke the opening lines of the first play produced by the festival: "Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this son of York." That first season of the festival lasted six weeks and comprised just two plays: Richard III and All's Well That Ends Well. It would, however, be the start of a yearly tradition that has thrilled theatregoers over the years, and has served as the launching pad for the careers of many of Canada's finest actors.

The Fisher Library has an extensive collection of Stratford Theatre material. (Click on the link for the catalogue record.) The material - 23 boxes in total - dates from that first festival in 1953, and runs through last year's festival.  Among the materials in the collection are annual reports, theatre programmes, reviews, and brochures and publicity material. The collection has an extensive and searchable finding aid.

Below are some images (click on the image for a larger view) from the first year of the festival from the collection, including the programme (the cast of Richard III includes Timothy Findley, who would of course become more renowed for his writing of such masterworks as The Wars and Not Wanted on the Voyage), and a souvenir programme for the entire season. Also below is an image of Alec Guinness as Richard III from the book Renown at Stratford: A Record of the Shakespeare Festival in Canada.