Culture
9:33 am
Mon August 4, 2014

Stratfords of the world bond over shared name, culture

Visitors from Stratford, Connecticut's sister cities gather on the lawn outside the Connecticut Shakespeare Theatre.
Visitors from Stratford, Connecticut's sister cities gather on the lawn outside the Connecticut Shakespeare Theatre.
Credit Davis Dunavin

About 100 travelers from the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are in Connecticut for the Stratfords of the World Reunion. They all have one thing in common: they’re from towns called Stratford.

Stratford is a name made famous as the hometown of the world’s greatest playwright. And Shakespeare is never far from the minds of those at the reunion, like Hilary Rash of Stratford, Australia. 

“We all have a Shakespeare connection. We don’t even all have a River Avon. Some do, some don’t,” she said.

The famed Martin Droeshout engraving of William Shakespeare, printed on the cover of Shakespeare's first Folio, or first complete collection of his plays, printed in 1623.
The famed Martin Droeshout engraving of William Shakespeare, printed on the cover of Shakespeare's first Folio, or first complete collection of his plays, printed in 1623.

Some do have a Shakespeare Theatre, but Stratford, Connecticut’s theatre has been closed since the 1980s. In the 90s, Stratford local Hugh Catalano started looking for a way to bring back the Bard. His son Matt, a reunion organizer and a local councilman, says he gave a call to Stratford, Ontario's successful Shakespeare theatre.

“To see, basically, how they did their Shakespeare and what their city was and [we] decided to start a relationship with them to help us further our cause here of bringing our theatre back to life,” Catalano said.

They're making progress this year,  Catalano said. The theatre’s hosting a Shakespeare academy for young actors, and visitors can actually go inside now. It used to be too run down to enter.

“We’ve taken 30 tons of garbage out of the building,"  Catalono said, "we’ve got it open to the public for the first time in a decade.”

But the theatre is still in no shape to put on plays. They are treating their visitors to a production on the lawn. It’s a very American 1960s-flavored version of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, complete with a “Make Love Not War” chant and a flare of musical accompaniment for the play’s fool character, Touchstone.

Tim Raistrick watched the show. He’s an amateur actor from Shakespeare’s actual hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon, where their theatre is a big tourist draw.

“I just hope that you can get your theatre open here. It so cries out to reopen," said Raistrick, "I’ve just been across to see it now. And it’s a wonderful building, and I’m desperately keen to perform there.”

Raistrick said he'd even fly back to America just for the chance.

Stratford, Connecticut owns the land where the Elizabethan-inspired theatre sits. They’re looking at proposals from groups this summer, at least some of whom want to revitalize the theatre. Meanwhile, the U.K. will host the next Stratfords of the World Reunion in 2016.