Stratford Festival ‘heartened’ by ‘King Lear’ results as it launches film series


TORONTO – “King Lear” may be a tragedy, but the Stratford Festival’s recent screening of it in theatres was not.

The festival says last month’s run in Canadian theatres “did really well,” and it hopes its ambitious new film series “will be a resource for generations.”

The repertory theatre company in southwestern Ontario plans to film all of Shakespeare’s plays over the next 10 years to release in cinemas and broadcast in Canada and internationally.

Its filmed version of “King Lear,” starring Colm Feore, played on over 65 screens through Cineplex Front Row Centre in Canada on Feb. 19. It also screened on 300 screens in the U.S. on Feb. 25.

“King Lear” will screen again through Cineplex Front Row Centre on March 7 and March 22. It will also air on CBC-TV at a date that’s yet to be announced.

“It was really well received and we were really heartened by the critical response and the response from people that saw it,” says Anita Gaffney, the festival’s executive director.

“There was lots of activity in social media, lots of people chatting about it.”

The festival has filmed several productions and released them theatrically in the past, including “The Tempest” and “Twelfth Night.”

But they were released in different years and not as part of a consistent series that the festival “can really get momentum behind,” says Gaffney.

“Certainly this is the broadest distribution that we’ve had. One of the real goals is to get them seen as far afield as possible.”

To do so, the festival has made marketing the films a priority, as well as “thinking through a whole distribution plan,” she says.

Besides cinema and broadcast distribution, the festival also plans to screen the films in schools, through on-demand platforms, and sell the whole collection on DVD.

Its next film is “King John,” which hits theatres April 9, followed by “Antony and Cleopatra” on May 21.

“It really heightens awareness about the Stratford Festival and the work that we do here,” says Gaffney. “It’s also great to be able to share the performances of some of our leading artists.

“When you think about people like Bill Hutt, who had been in our company for many years — it was really before we were actively filming things and it’s a shame. He’s such a renowned actor and that’s not a performance that we have preserved.”

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