I know few people who enjoy crossing the American/Canadian border. There’s stress, fear and precautions taken- even when you have nothing to hide. The long lines are aggravating and can throw off your schedule from minutes to hours. I’ve seen cars break down in line- overheating in the summer sun. I’ve seen cars ripped apart and detained for a significant period of time filled with couples and families that say, “never again!” Well Buffalo, what if I told you about a festival just across the river that is worth the sideways glances, drug-sniffing dogs and duty fees? It is a festival with more than 50 years of successful performances. A festival that is world-renowned for its high quality theatre focusing on one of the great masters in theatre’s long history. Let’s Step Out Buffalo, across one international border and 33 miles to beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake home of Canada’s Pride, the one and only Shaw Festival.
Queen Street in Niagara-on-the-Lake is the definition of picaresque- dotted with lit lampposts, striking flower gardens and cozy park benches. The hustle of people varies throughout the day according to show time but is always filled with an electric energy. Young and old, everyone is welcome at the Shaw- dressed in his or her finest and excited to be a part of a scene that is every bit as beautiful as the show they’re about to experience. There are old-fashioned pubs, tearooms, and wine bars all ready to serve the fine patrons of the Shaw. Go for a stylish dinner before, a nightcap after and a nice dessert to add some sweet romance to the evening. Clydesdale-drawn carriages clomp along Queen Street and carry guests to and from the excitement and their charming bed and breakfast hideaways. The Shaw’s four festival theatres are each a spectacle all their own. Festival Theatre is contemporary and streamlined; The Court House is a fine vintage wine; The Royal George presents Edwardian luxury; and The Studio Theatre, cozy comfort complete with patio and gardens.
The Shaw has been presenting excellent evenings of ambiance and theatre since 1962. With ticket prices in all ranges, it is the perfect romantic getaway for couples, mini-vacation for families or educational interlude for students. The Shaw specializes in the works of theatre juggernaut, George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries from 1865 to 1950. They feature musicals, dramas, and comedies on timeless themes that also happen to be a great deal of fun. Queen Street may be aflutter with action but the real spectacle lies within theatre doors. Why is the Shaw Festival so phenomenal? We can trace this back to Canada. The Shaw Festival is a nationally recognized non-profit which is fully supported by the citizens and government of Ontario. There is nowhere in the US quite like the Shaw- a festival which presents art for art’s sake. The mission of The Shaw is education, appreciation of beauty and prizing the true value of entertainment.
This writer finds it far too difficult to choose a favorite Shaw memory. Maybe it was the hilarious “My Fair Lady” at Festival Theatre? A show, which showcased a number of Canadian talents in stunning costumes and gifted with melodic voices. Or perhaps, my favorite was afternoon tea at The Prince of Wales Hotel and a matinee of “Candida” at The Court House. The ceiling to floor master bookcase was the perfect backdrop for an actor driven tour-de-force with the classic lack of brevity, which has made Shaw famous. I supposed my favorite was any visit which found me on the free wine tour that accompanied my Shaw Ticket Stub. It’s not to be missed.
Come for a day; come for a weekend- JUST COME. Smile pretty through inspection and head up North of the border. The Shaw Festival is a highlight of living in Western New York and offers a number of beautiful accommodations for a range of budgets. Nearby you’ll find Fort Niagara, weekend fireworks at Queen Victoria Park, the Niagara Gorge, powerful Niagara Falls, art museums, wineries and golf courses. If you’re a Theatre nut like me you can pay a little extra for a backstage tour or experience a pre/post show talkback with cast members or directors/ producers. There are discounts for combining things to do with show tickets and special prices for students, children and seniors.
The Shaw Festival runs April- November. You can find more information online at, www.shawfest.com.
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