Tag Archives: Stratford Festival

From the bookshelf: Twice Have the Trumpets Sounded

My mother-in-law, Arisa, when she left us, left us some books. This one in particular caught my eye.

It was published by Clarke, Irwin & Company (now defunct) and was released by the Stratford Shakespearean Festival of Stratford, Ontario, on the occasion of its second season, in 1954. I’m sure that Arisa acquired it used – she was barely a teen when it was published – but I’m not surprised that she had it. She was a lifelong fan of the performing arts, including the Stratford Festival, which she joined us to on several occasions.

I too am a lifelong fan of the performing arts, as my three degrees in theatre may suggest. I even auditioned for Stratford once, when I was a mere university stripling of about 19 years old. I didn’t get cast, of course. But within a year or so I went to the festival for the first time, in 1987. I saw Othello with Colm Feore, if memory serves. 

The book in my hand certainly serves memory: it is an archive of a moment in Canadian theatre, when it was just beginning to come into its own. The first season of Stratford drew audiences with stars from across the ocean – James Mason, who came back for the second season, and Alec Guinness, who spoke the festival’s very opening lines as Richard III: “Now is the winter of our discontent Made glorious summer by this son of York.” Its artistic director, Tyrone Guthrie, joined with noted Canadian author Robertson Davies and illustrator Grant Macdonald to make a book, Renown at Stratford, which sold so well that the same trio made another book for the second season, and titled it Twice Have the Trumpets Sounded – a line from Measure for Measure.

This copy – like any copy of the book – is nearly 70 years old now, but it’s in good condition. The dust cover is only a bit tattered at the edges, and the while the binding, like any old cloth binding, has a few places where it falls open more readily, it is not at all coming apart or losing pages. The paper is solid – halfway to card stock – and smooth and shiny, just slightly creamy in colour, and well suited to the reproduction of its numerous illustrations in line and watercolour interspersed with the text in good-quality four-colour offset. There is no colophon, so I don’t want to say what the text type face is, but it’s at least similar to Times New Roman – perhaps a type enthusiast can comment:

This book is full of entertaining observations that are very much of their own time, and yet… Tyrone Guthrie writes, in his essay “A Long View of the Stratford Festival,” “A large number and a wide variety of Canadians are becoming more and more conscious that in many important respects Canada is a very dull place to live in; that economic opportunities are immense but, having made enough money to live comfortably, there is comparatively little in Canada to nourish the spirit.” The Canadian populace, he says, “are equipped with money, leisure, and an awareness of ‘culture’ for which there is therefore a large demand but, as yet, a very small supply.” What was available from south of the border got no comment.

At length he comes to the point that “Canadian artists, if they are to thrive, must express what the Canadian climate, the Canadian soil and their fellow-Canadians have made of them. It is vital for their health as artists; and it is no less vital for the health of the community that those with artistic talents should contribute to its life, instead of taking the first opportunity to escape to places where their gifts are welcomed, understood, respected and even rewarded with money.” He does not directly mention the various Canadian talents who had over the years escaped to the American screen, or were on a path to do so. But he is realistic: “Stratford, as I see it, should provide an outlet for frustrated and gifted ‘hams’ who for the greater part of the year earn their bread and butter in the studios.”

Mister Guthrie, we must remember, was not Canadian. He was born in England of an Irish family; he arrived here with a reputation already established in Britain, and after his stint in Canada he moved on to Minneapolis. And he had views not just on Canadian culture but on Canadian pronunciation too. He didn’t want Canadians to sound British – “It really seems of no importance whether the word ‘No’ is pronounced in what passes in London for good English, or with the much more nasal production which is usual in Canada” – but he notes that “most of the Canadian actors who are seriously interested in their craft, as opposed to their careers, have already at command what seems to me an entirely acceptable accent. No one could mistake them for Englishmen, yet they avoid the more rasping mannerisms and slovenliness of much current Canadian speech.” 

He protests that he “would not dream of telling an actor how to pronounce his words” – except where “his pronunciation seems to belie his characterization.” So, for instance, he “would check an actor who was cast to play the role of an educated person” if the actor did such “bad speaking” as, for example, “if he slurred his dental consonants à l’américaine (‘wazza maddurr’ for ‘what’s the matter’)” or “if he made a dissyllabic out of a trisyllabic word (‘Tranna’ for ‘Toronto’ or ‘Can’da’ for ‘Canada’),” notwithstanding that these “mistakes” are “made by many Canadians of the very highest education and most eminent attainments.”

Above all, as befits a director of Shakespeare, Guthrie in his essay emphasizes the rhythm and phrasing. “In general a good speaker should be able to speak, loudly and at moderate speed, seven lines of blank verse without a breath,” he declares. (You try it.) But he notes that almost everyone breathes “far oftener.” And he avers that “meaningless pauses and breaks in the sense, due to inadequate breath-control, are in my opinion the single worst fault in contemporary acting.” One wonders what he might have thought of the phrasing of some TV and film stars of more recent decades.

Robertson Davies, whose text takes up the larger part of the book, does not spend so much time on admonitions or theory, although he does have some thoughts on “psycho-analysis” as it relates to Oedipus Rex. In the main, he gives descriptions of the staging and comments on the performances of the cast in the season’s three plays: Oedipus Rex, Measure for Measure, and The Taming of the Shrew. And what a cast it is: many actors who came to be luminaries of Canadian theatre, illustrated with drawings by Grant Macdonald. You may or may not recognize all of these people, but if you’re a Canadian theatre buff you likely will.

Frances Hyland, who also performed at the Shaw Festival and in Road to Avonlea on the CBC.

William Needles, a grand old fixture in Canadian theatre. Also father of Dan Needles, noted for his one-man Wingfield Farm comedies.

Barbara Chilcott, another luminary of Canadian theatre across the country.

Douglas Rain, who did much live theatre in Canada, but you most likely know his voice as HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey (such phrasing he had!). 

Don Harron, famous to Canadians of a certain era for his persona as the bumpkin Charlie Farquharson.

Mavor Moore, part of the bedrock of Canadian theatre and television and, for some time, a theatre professor at York University (where many theatre students have had winters of their discontent – and where I, having moved on from theatre, studied linguistics).

William Hutt, the great godfather of Stratford, looking much younger than he did when Aina and I last saw him on the Festival Theatre stage: in 2005, as Prospero in The Tempest, on a summer day with a literal tempest outside, rain hammering on the metal roof of the Festival Theatre to make a racket that threatened to drown out the actors.

Bruno Gerussi, who was actually from Exshaw, Alberta, where I lived as a kid, and who was to become famous to Canadians as Nick Adonidas, the bearded, grizzled marine scavenger from The Beachcombers on CBC.

William Shatner, a 23-year-old from Montreal whose “self-assured and somewhat brassy delivery of his first speech” was “in itself a pleasant bit of comedy, and all through the play he gave a dimension of comedy to a character which can very easily be a romantic bore.” You may have heard of some of his later performances in American television shows and movies, wherein he gained some renown for, among other things, a certain… style of phrasing.

But this was all back in 1954. That other great Stratfordian luminary I mentioned, Colm Feore, would not even be born for another four years. The Stratford Festival was performing in a large tent, which Guthrie notes was “not well adapted to extreme weather conditions. On hot nights the audience and actors are fried in their own fat. . . . Rain drumming on the canvas roof makes a most glorious Wagnerian effect but it completely, if temporarily, obliterates the puny competition offered by the actors.” Obviously he hoped that a proper building would remedy the faults. The authors of Twice Have the Trumpets Sounded could only speculate and offer opinions on what permanent theatre building might be erected; if, Guthrie says, “the Governors do plump for an ‘Elizabethan’ stage and an amphitheatre, their building will not be suitable for the production of all and sundry kinds of dramatic entertainment.”

The Festival Theatre, to which I – and my wife, and her mother – have been many times was finally opened in 1957. It is indeed an “Elizabethan”-inspired thrust stage, with the audience wrapping more than halfway around it, designed with the “two planks and a passion” attitude to Shakespearean production. And of course it’s still there, now joined by some other theatres. The last show Aina, Arisa, and I saw in it was just this past season: a splendid production of the musical Chicago. Stratford really is doing excellent musicals these days.

We three were to go see one more production at Stratford, but a few days before we were to go, Arisa went instead into the hospital, from which she did not return home. At length, the summer of our loss turned a vivid autumn, Aina and I went, just the two of us, to the intended play, the first one for us in the newest theatre building at Stratford, the Tom Patterson Theatre: a production of Richard III, starring Colm Feore.