The Shaw Festival: Behind the Curtain
Theatres at The Shaw Festival
The Shaw Festival presents plays in four distinctive theatres: the Festival Theatre—the Shaw’s flagship theatre, the historic Court House Theatre where the Shaw Festival began, the Royal George Theatre—modeled after an Edwardian opera house and the Studio Theatre—the home of contemporary Shavians in the festival's 175-seat most intimate space.
The Festival Theatre stage is where you can see major works from the Shaw Festival’s mandate.
The Festival Theatre officially opened in June 1973. During the inaugural week, visiting dignitaries included Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. The proscenium-arch theatre seats 856 and is equipped with advanced technical facilities, making it an ideal venue for large-scale productions. Designed by Peter Smith and the late Ron Thom, the Festival Theatre is constructed of rose-colored bricks and natural woods specifically chosen to harmonize with the historic setting of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Construction of a new 36,000-square-foot building, The Donald and Elaine Triggs Production Centre, was completed in 2004. It includes three new rehearsal halls—one large hall adaptable for education programs and workshop performances, and two smaller spaces—as well as music rehearsal rooms, a patrons’ lounge, and a Green Room for the company. The project provided desperately needed working space for the behind-the-scenes activities so fundamental to creating great theatre.
Court House Theatre
Each year during The Shaw Festival the Assembly Room of Niagara-on-the-Lake's historic Court House is converted into a small theatre. The Court House Theatre combines a 327-seat auditorium with an intimate thrust stage that puts action right in the middle of the audience.
The historic Court House was constructed on the site of Upper Canada’s first parliament, which convened in 1792. Built in the 1840s during a period of intense rivalry with nearby St. Catharines, the new Court House was intended to secure the town’s hold on local government. Although it served as county seat for Lincoln, Welland and Haldimand for more than a decade, county government was transferred to St. Catharines in 1862. The Court House is a national historic site.
The design of the Court House exemplifies the neoclassical style so popular in the early nineteenth century. Its beautiful Assembly Room and its Lord Mayor’s Parlour are still in use today. The Shaw Festival’s association with the Court House dates back to 1962 when the festival launched with eight weekend performances of Bernard Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell and Candida in the Assembly Hall. Despite some early hardships (such as building sets in the parking lot), the Court House has continued to host Shaw Festival productions throughout its past 51 seasons.
The Royal George Theatre
The Royal George Theatre presents a modest exterior, but inside it is all lovely Edwardian gilt moldings, red walls and golden lions. Built as a vaudeville house in 1915, this theatre entertained troops stationed on the Commons during World War I. Renamed the Royal George, it operated as a road house in the 1920s, but fell into neglect and disuse during the Depression. In 1940, it was reopened as the Brock Cinema. During the next two decades, the Brock Cinema was the focus for much local activity—even the town’s grocery store stayed open late on Saturday nights to serve local farmers who came into town for the movies.
The Shaw Festival purchased the Royal George Theatre in 1980. New seating in 1994 completed the gradual restoration of this charming 328-seat opera house. It was remodeled to replicate the kind of theatre that would have staged Bernard Shaw's plays in the late 1800s.
The Studio Theatre
The Studio Theatre is located within The Donald and Elaine Triggs Production Centre which opened in 2004. It is home to many workshop presentations, the Shaw Festival's Annual Directors Project and Reading Series. This large rehearsal hall is transformed into an intimate 200 seat theatre allowing the Shaw to present experimental and innovative work that sits just outside its mandate, offering an opportunity to explore writers who, like Shaw himself, shook the establishment of their era and questioned existing notions and mores.