In 1950, the town of Stratford Ontario was dying. The main industry was repairing steam locomotives, a technology that was all but dead. When 30-year-old local journalist Tom Patterson pitched to the local town council producing Shakespeare plays as a way of saving Stratford they laughed, lookin’ at him like he had lobster’s crawling out of his ears.
Didn’t stop him. His next pitch was the tent- and that summer Stratford’s Shakespeare in the park was all the rage. A novel rage, and yet the potential rageyness was not lost upon the town council the second year around. They granted Patterson $125 to explore it further.
Where did his actors come from? He followed a familiar mantra, if you build(pitch) it, they will come. And they did. And talent begets talent, networks are small, opportunities inconsistent, soon the Stratford Festival caught the attention of famed British director Tyrone Gurthrie.
In 1953 the tent got bigger. A circus tent was shipped in from Chicago.
Innovative Dir. Guthrie wanted to experiment with his “new” concept of a thrust stage. Balked at by traditionalists and uncommon amongst dozens of Canadian prosceniums’, though fairly prominent in Shakespeare’s time.
In 1954 the Stratford Festival broke ground on a new amphitheater- funds took a hit, and the festival almost faltered. Miraculously, just-in-time cash was provided by the Governor-General, and private business. Four years made the town of Stratford treasure their beloved Shakespeare festival.
Good thing, too, because that summer the good people of Stratford were able to host Sir Alec Guinness onstage as Richard III.
And that, as they say, is that. Stratford became, and remains, quite revitalized.
Now I’d be remiss to assert parallels between Upper Peninsula Shakespeare Festival and the Stratford Festival, humbleness and reality prevents me. And Marquette is far from dying.
Marquette creatives, however, are floating thick in an abeyant nebula of amniotic fluid, boundless, yet desiring Marquette walls- searching for flocks, nests, space to scream safely- and most prominently a supportive, sustainable, unquenchable thirst for their offerings.
The potential is blinding at times. For some reason, our little town of Marquette is more rich with creative talent than so many other communities I’ve been apart of. Our modest metropolitan is formative, mapped, a hub. So many brilliant minds have built it, and not only have they came… they were here all along.
Now comes the organizing, the assessing, the mobilizing. The space to scream safely, and the desire to support and connect with it. It’s work, it’s hope and it’s a big tent to pitch.
But hey. They laughed at Patterson, too.