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Shaw continues with popular outdoor program

Puppeteers Mike Petersen and Alexandra Montagnese in A Short History of Niagara (Shaw Festival, 2021). Photo by Lauren Garbutt.
Puppeteers Mike Petersen and Alexandra Montagnese in A Short History of Niagara (Shaw Festival, 2021). Photo by Lauren Garbutt.

Though two years ago it may have been a decision made out of necessity, for 2022, Shaw Festival will host a number of outdoor shows for a number of other reasons. 

Perhaps top of the list is demand. The vast outdoor program in 2020 and 2021 came about with the spectre of COVID-19 forcing restrictions on indoor gatherings or, in the case of 2020, prohibiting them altogether. But by all accounts, theatre-goers and music-lovers raved about the outdoor setting the past two years.

“TC (Shaw artistic director Tim Carroll) had been doing some outdoor activities through the Secret Theatre project before the pandemic,” says executive director and CEO Tim Jennings. “After 2020 and 2021 it became very clear that if you do something twice it becomes tradition. Our audience really wanted it back desperately this year and is really excited about the continuation of these outdoor programs.”

The charming A Short History of Niagara is back by popular demand for a second run July 21 to August 14. Puppeteers Alexandra Montagnese and Mike Petersen brought to life Niagara’s story, from its pre-settler roots to the founding of the Shaw Festival itself, with sophisticated artistry by two masters of the art form, punctuated with sound design by Ryan Cowl. 

Created in partnership with Parks Canada, A Short History of Niagara moves from the Shaw grounds on to Fort George, where it will be performed until Aug. 4. The next day it moves inside to the Market Room at the Court House for the rest of its run. The 30-minute presentation is a perfect, entertaining break for the day for parents and children alike. 

From June 12 to July 24, Drew Plummer and Mike Nadajewski play the title characters in A Year with Frog and Toad - in Concert. The BMO Stage plays host to this one-hour musical revue based on the popular children’s books by Arnold Lobel about two friends who are very different. 

Frog and Toad is directed by Johnathan Tan and also features Alexis Gordon, Graeme Kitagawa, James Daly and Jenny L. Wright.

Molly Atkinson directs Fairground in the Shaw Festival Theatre gardens July 2 to Sept. 28. This family-friendly celebration of the arts and the human spirit features an hour-long assortment of song, music, dance and visual arts, with a few promised surprises. 

Set amid the backdrop of the Festival Theatre’s lush grounds, this family-friendly celebration of the arts and the connectedness of the human spirit features an hour-long array of song, music, dance, visual arts and a few hidden talents.

More than a dozen Shaw ensemble members collaborated to create the Fairground program, which uses the lush setting of the Shaw grounds to its fullest extent, the beautiful surroundings being another of the reasons for the return of outdoor programming. 

“It’s one of the things that makes Shaw a destination theatre,” Jennings says. “It’s one of the things that makes Shaw, Shaw. We’re on Parks Canada lands, we’re in the most beautiful part of Canada. It’s a great way to combine the art with that beauty.”

Though Shaw still has an indoor mask policy in effect, Jennings acknowledges that some of the company’s audience members may still prefer to avoid indoor gatherings, masked or not. To that end, the 150 outdoor performances will give those visitors a chance to enjoy what Shaw has to offer. 

From July 20 to Oct. 6, Shawground is another hour-long event, tying together a number of Shavian themes, readings and performances in a one-of-a-kind fair-like setting. Visitors will be greeted by troubadours, who will lead them through one number to the next, encompassing art, magic, music and big ideas. 

Like Shawground and Fairground, 1922 - in Concert is another collaboration between a number of members of the Shaw ensemble. Performed on the BMO Stage from Aug. 17 to Oct. 2, it turns the clock back 100 years for the music of the jazz age and the fashion styling of the flappers. 

There’s also a series of classical music performances from members of the Shaw Festival Orchestra, being billed as
Coffee Concerts on June 5, Aug. 28 and Oct. 2.

Back for another year is What’s In Your Songbook, giving members of the Shaw ensemble a chance to showcase their favourite audition songs and share some of their humorous experiences from their lives in theatre, bringing them closer to the audience. 

“It really gives us a chance to show off our people with a different set of skills,” Jennings says, outlining yet another motivation for the return of the outdoor shows. “We get to hear some of the great voices of some of our ensemble members who may not be in our musical currently.”

“It’s a great opportunity,” Jennings continues. “Our ensemble members appear in two shows and understudy for a third or fourth. This year we’ve had to add some extra understudies due to COVID. This gives these folks some opportunities to get out there in front of an audience on their own. And some of the folks in the musical are simply doing concerts as their second track.”

Shaw’s outdoor program is rounded out with Speakeasies, an evening of jazz favourites under the stars, and Gospel Choir, presented on the Humeniuk Foundation Stage, a morning concert with the inspirational sound of gospel music performed by members of the Shaw company and community members as well. 

For dates, information and ticket prices, visit