Friday, August 23, 2013

Runway Thrust

Three of four theaters in use at The Stratford Festival utilize thrust stages. “Measure For Measure” was presented in the mid-size theater with a thrust stage (housed in a former sport club), a space that accommodates 496 patrons.

The mid-size theater has a very unique design: it utilizes what is called a “runway thrust”, similar to what is used for fashion shows in Milan and Paris.

Entering the theater, I thought the playing space absurd—but “Measure For Measure” director Martha Henry proved me wrong. Henry, having performed on that runway thrust herself for forty years, knew how to handle the space. In fact, Henry made better use of this unique performing configuration than the Stratford Festival’s Artistic Director, whose work we were to experience in the same theater the following evening.

I was amazed at the visual variety Henry and her designers were able to introduce on a runway thrust. Elaborate props and an elaborate lighting scheme, and the constant redefinition of playing space, gave the illusion that something of visual interest was always occurring.

Shakespeare set “Measure For Measure” in Vienna, and Henry kept Shakespeare’s setting—but Henry changed the period of the play, moving the action forward to 1949. Placing “Measure For Measure” in the immediate post-war period did the play no harm—one of Shakespeare’s themes is the use of subterfuge and deception by a populace under duress—and Henry’s choice probably made the play more accessible to contemporary audiences.

The program booklet made frequent reference to a “signature” Stratford Festival production of “Measure For Measure” in 1975, a production in which Henry apparently had been a sensation as Isabella.

We were to see Henry as actress the following afternoon, in a new play written for her.

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