Shaw Festival

The Shaw Festival is a theatre-lover’s paradise. The major not-for-profit theatre festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario is the second-largest repertory theatre company in North America. The company was founded in 1962 with the original intent of stimulating interest in the works of George Bernard Shaw and other playwrights of his time, while advancing theatrical arts in Canada.

Calvin Rand, a Buffalo businessman and Ontario lawyer and playwright Brian Doherty staged “Salute to Shaw” as the original production at the town courthouse, which later came to be known as the Court House Theatre. The productions were an immediate success, which went on to encourage director and actor Barry Morse to join the group as Artistic Director in 1966, and at that point the performances were flung into international publicity and sold-out performances. Today, the festival still enjoys great successes and world-renown familiarity.

The Shaw Festival is nestled into the heart of Niagara-on-the-Lake, only a short drive away from Niagara Falls on the lovely Niagara Parkway. Dubbed as one of the finest cultural attractions of the nation, the Shaw Festival offers an eclectic assortment of award-winning comedies, dramas, musicals, classic plays, thrilling mysteries and family-friendly stories for all to enjoy.

For up-to-date information and details on the Shaw Festival, we recommend you visit their website. For information about other places of interest to explore nearby, keep scrolling to see what Destination Ontario recommends.

Shaw Festival sign on close up of theatre

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More about Shaw Festival

During the first decade of existence, the Shaw Festival Company toured extensively throughout Canada and the United States, experiencing immense audience growth. 1973, when the Festival firmly planted its roots in Canadian soil, the Festival Theatre, designed by renowned Canadian architect Ronald Thom, became the permanent home.

Since its inception, the Shaw Festival has received an abundance of praise and drawn actors of the highest calibre as participants. The brilliant performances have drawn equally impressive audience members, like Queen Elizabeth II, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, and Indira Gandhi, since the inaugural season at the Shaw Festival Theatre in 1973.

By 1980, the festival added a third theatre, the Royal George. Incredible directors like Christopher Newton, Derek Goldby, Neil Munro and Denise Coffey have worked among the theatres for the festival performances to create the award-winning acting ensembles that have continued to draw patrons from around the globe.

Under Christopher Newton in the 1980s, the Festival’s mandate became more narrowly focused and defined: “to produce plays written during the lifetime of Shaw (1856 to 1950), plays about the beginning of the modern world.” In his final year as Artistic Director of the festival, the mandate widened to include other contemporary plays written during the period.

Jackie Maxwell, appointed in 2003, widened this more to include many plays written and directed by women, the “contemporary Shavians,” like Caryl Churchill and Tony Kushner. Now, under a new Artistic Director, Tim Carroll, appointed in 2015, the Festival celebrates the life and spirit of Bernard Shaw through works as “provocative and entertaining” as Shaw himself was.

The festival has encompassed a number of theatres over its nearly 60 years of existence, including the Festival Theatre, the Royal George Theatre, the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre, and the Court House Theatre. Today, the Festival finds a home at all but the Court House Theatre.

Each Artistic Director has led the way through different, unique takes on what it looks like to honour George Bernard Shaw’s life, works, and the theatre arts. While some have focused primarily on Shaw’s own works, others have helped to expand the world of theatre for audiences through well-known shows as much as through forgotten gems and restagings of classics often overlooked by modern directors.

The Festival runs from May to December, with world-class productions of nine plays on three stages throughout the season. The festival hosts a variety of other online and in-person events year-round, such as Q&A sessions with cast and crew, concerts, garden tours and “sip, savour, and stroll” events, discovery days, and behind-the-scenes looks in the theatrical spaces.

The Shaw Festival welcomes more than 250,000 audience members each year, growing it into one of the major Canadian cultural icons of the day. Each play is carefully selected, directed, and performed with artful insight to give audience members a memorable experience. Many audience members return year after year for performances of musicals like Gypsy and comedies such as Charley’s Aunt. Audience members may purchase a single performance ticket, group tickets or any of the multi-play packages. Holiday show packages are also available.

Visit the Festival’s website to discover what plays are available during the season of your visit, or book a backstage tour, garden tour, or other equally engaging activity as only a team of theatrical staff could offer.