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Shaw Festival: A Theatrical Pilgrimage in Niagara-on-the-Lake

The Shaw Festival is a tribute to the enduring legacy of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries, held annually in the picturesque town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. The festival is not just a celebration of Shaw's work but a showcase of theatre from the late 19th century to the present, reflecting the social issues and the human spirit that Shaw's plays delve into. In this blog post, we'll explore the history, offerings, and unique experiences that make the Shaw Festival a must-visit event for theatre enthusiasts.

Location: 10 Queen's Parade, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0

Distance from Toronto:

The Shaw Festival Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.
The Shaw Festival Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

The Origins and Growth of the Shaw Festival

Founded in 1962, the Shaw Festival started with the simple yet ambitious vision of lawyer and playwright Brian Doherty. Alongside Calvin Rand, who became the festival's first chairman, Doherty organized a summertime theatre festival dedicated to plays by Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries. The festival began with a modest eight performances of "Don Juan in Hell" and "Candida" over two weekends and has since blossomed into one of North America's premier theatre events.

Today, the Shaw Festival runs from April to December and includes a repertory of 10 to 12 plays performed in four theatres: the Festival Theatre, the Royal George Theatre, the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre, and the outdoor stage. With over 250,000 attendees each season, the festival has become a cornerstone of Canadian theatre and a significant contributor to the cultural and economic vitality of the Niagara region.

The Theatrical Experience


The Shaw Festival's repertoire is diverse, covering a range of genres from comedies and dramas to musicals and contemporary works. While Shaw's plays remain at the heart of the festival, productions also include works by his contemporaries such as Oscar Wilde and Noël Coward, as well as modern plays that reflect the festival's themes and ethos. This eclectic mix ensures that each season offers something for everyone, from thought-provoking political pieces to lighthearted romps.

Direction and Production

The festival is known for its high-caliber direction and production values. Directors from Canada and around the world bring fresh perspectives to classic plays, often with innovative staging and contemporary relevance. The production teams, including set, costume, and lighting designers, work tirelessly to create immersive and visually stunning experiences that transport audiences to different eras and worlds.

Acting Ensemble

The Shaw Festival boasts a talented ensemble of actors, many of whom return year after year to take on different roles. This repertory system allows audiences to witness the versatility of the actors and creates a strong sense of community within the company. The ensemble's dedication to their craft is evident in the powerful and engaging performances that bring each play to life.

Shaw Festival Garden Entrance, Niagara-on-the-Lake
Shaw Festival Garden Entrance, Niagara-on-the-Lake

Beyond the Stage

Educational Programs and Workshops

The Shaw Festival is committed to education and outreach, offering a range of programs for students, theatre professionals, and audiences. Pre-show talks, post-show discussions, and backstage tours provide insight into the creative process, while workshops and summer theatre camps engage aspiring actors and theatre makers.

Community Engagement

The festival actively engages with the local community, hosting special events and partnering with area businesses and organizations. From wine and culinary tie-ins that celebrate the region's bounty to themed weekend packages, the festival encourages visitors to explore all that Niagara-on-the-Lake has to offer.

The Setting

Niagara-on-the-Lake is an integral part of the Shaw Festival experience. This historic town, with its well-preserved 19th-century architecture and charming streets, is the perfect backdrop for a festival celebrating classic theatre. Surrounded by vineyards and the natural beauty of the Niagara Escarpment and Lake Ontario, the town complements the theatrical offerings with its own array of attractions, including boutique shopping, fine dining, and the world-famous Niagara Falls a short drive away.


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Planning Your Visit

Season and Tickets

The Shaw Festival season typically runs from April to December, with the bulk of the performances scheduled between June and October. Tickets can be purchased online, by phone, or at the box office. It's advisable to plan your visit in advance, as popular plays and peak times can sell out quickly.


Niagara-on-the-Lake offers a range of accommodations, from luxury hotels and quaint bed and breakfasts to vacation rentals. Many visitors opt to stay within walking distance of the theatres, enjoying the ambiance of the town during their stay.

Travel Tips

Niagara-on-the-Lake is easily accessible by car, and there is ample parking available near the theatres. For those without a car, shuttle services from Toronto and other nearby cities are often arranged during the festival season. Remember to check the border crossing requirements if you're visiting from the United States.

The Shaw Festival is a testament to the enduring power of theatre to entertain, educate, and inspire. With its world-class productions, beautiful setting, and commitment to community engagement, this theatrical pilgrimage is an experience that enriches the soul and sparks the imagination. Whether you're a seasoned theatre-goer or a newcomer to the world of Shaw, Niagara-on-the-Lake's Shaw Festival awaits with open arms and a diverse playbill. Don't miss the opportunity to be part of this unique celebration of the dramatic arts in one of Canada's most scenic and historic regions.




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