All the World's a Stage: Local, National, and Transnational Histories of the Stratford Festival

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Dougherty, Sarah
Canadian history
This dissertation examines the history of the Stratford Festival, a theatre festival founded in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, in 1953, at local, national, and transnational levels. Through the case study of the festival, this dissertation investigates the intersection of and negotiation between culture and commerce in postwar Canada. This dissertation analyzes nationalism and tourism as concurrent and symbiotic processes in order to understand how identity and economics are negotiated in Canadian cultural industries. Echoing Vera Zolberg’s expression on the appeal of American museums, this dissertation argues that historically the Stratford Festival has attempted to function as “an elite experience for everyone.” The theatre’s negotiation of a mass culture of nationalism, on the one hand, and its elite cultural status on the other, has been integral to the festival’s commercial success and attraction of tourists since its founding. In studying the Stratford Festival in this context of local, national, and transnational influences and tensions, this dissertation contributes to an understanding of Canadian cultural nationalism and tourism, and engages with an emerging literature that addresses the nature of Canadian culture and the resilience of Britishness as a factor in Canadian identity. This work challenges the cultural categorization of the festival by positioning it as both an elite institution and one striving for mass appeal, and thus complicates hierarchies of culture. This dissertation is structured around thematic explorations of the theatre’s history: its founding, nationalist controversies over hiring British talent, the performance of Stratford as a tourist destination, public and private funding of the festival, and its national and international touring activities beyond Stratford. Ultimately this dissertation argues that the Stratford Festival’s success comes from balancing its seemingly divergent identities, but its difficulties also emerged as it operated within the liminal space between classical/commercial, national/transnational, and Canadian/Britishness.
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