Artists from across Canada, as well as internationally, are converging at SpringWorks, an eclectic, 11-day theatre festival taking place in Stratford, Ontario from May 12 -22. The festival provides a platform for artists to showcase their works in all stages of development: from works-in-progress, finished products, new works and revised works.
Seventy per cent of the box office goes to participating theatre companies — many of which include young artists — with the remaining 30 per cent going to the SpringWorks Festival. Each company markets their own production.
The town of Stratford helps out, too, with many local merchants setting up their own celebrations. Along with the Stratford Festival, local resident musician Loreena McKennitt is also a high-profile supporter.
Days before SpringWorks is set to begin, we spoke to Eileen Smith, the theatre festival’s artistic producer, to find out about the festival’s origins and what we can expect this year.
How did the SpringWorks Festival come about?
The Stratford Tourist Authority came to me and said “We need some programming for the shoulder season, early spring, before The Stratford Festival opens. Something to bring added value for tourists who want to visit the area.” I thought, “I can do that!” So we decided to be the ones who do what the Stratford Festival doesn’t do. This is our fifth year. When we first started, we thought we’d run three or four days on weekends, and two days of school performances. Then one of our performers, one that we were really excited about, was only available on a Monday — so there went that idea! We gradually expanded to eleven days, and this is our third year of that format.
How do you select the performers and productions?
The artists apply to us. We are fully juried, meaning that we have a jury of six to twelve people reading the applications. We have three people reading each submission, and they make recommendations about whether or not the piece is suitable for the festival. They also answer to any queries from the applicants who have not been accepted.
What makes SpringWorks unique?
We offer intimate, up-close and personal theatre. There are Q & As after the performances, so the audience always gets to converse with the artists, which makes for a very accessible experience. We offer an eclectic mix of productions, a broad spectrum, so there’s something for everyone. We are also very family friendly!
In what way?
The last two days of the Festival, May 21st and 22nd, is devoted to Puppetry. It’s a mini-puppet festival. This year, there are eight international puppet companies running in rep. So of course, there are lots of things for children and families during these two days.
Besides puppet shows? What kind of things?
There’s a puppet tea party, a puppet dance, and a puppet kissing booth.
So it’s mainly aimed at families?
At the moment, yes. We’re open to adult puppetry too, which is very popular in Europe. We did have one adult company submit a few years ago … but as it involved the use of, shall we say, male body parts. We decided that perhaps it was not a good match for us.
Anything else unexpected we should know about?
We have a full-mime performance called The Immigrant, that is very moving and topical. We’re also introducing public workshops for the first time this year.
We’re hosting a company from Dartmouth, with a production called How Often Do I Dream, which deals with memory loss and is a multi-sensory performance experience. There’s also a wonderful show called Weird, based on the three witches from Macbeth, and performed aerially. We have three dance companies performing: one from Winnipeg and two from Toronto. There’s one called Much Ado About Feckin’ Pirates, which has been described as “a romantic comedy, only with pirates and no romance.” With performances by 45 companies in eleven days, you’ll find something that will make you say “I’d love to see that!”
For more information and a full SpringWorks program guide, visit their website. SpringWorks runs from May 12 to 22 in Stratford, Ontario.