For his first season at the Shaw Festival, artistic director Tim Carroll is poaching several big-name actors away from the Stratford Festival.
Michael Therriault, Sara Topham and Tom McCamus will be all be defecting from one Ontario repertory theatre company to the other in 2017. All three starred in Carroll's production of Peter Pan in Stratford in 2010 – the British director's very first work in Canada.
On the Shaw Festival's main stage, Therriault, a two-time Dora-winning musical theatre actor who has also appeared on Broadway, will star opposite Kristi Frank in Me and My Girl, a little-known Noel Gay musical from the 1930s revised by Stephen Fry in the 1980s.
Also on the Festival Theatre stage, Topham will take on the lead role in Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan – with a cast that also includes McCamus and Shaw festival veterans such as Gray Powell, Graeme Somerville, Steven Sutcliffe, Benedict Campbell and Jim Mezon.
Meanwhile, over at the Royal George Theatre, McCamus, who has not performed at the Shaw Festival since 1988, will also play the title character in Alan Bennett's The Madness of George III.
"Tom McCamus has been in every show I've done in Canada," says Carroll, who notably directed him in a production of Shakespeare's King John filmed for cinemas and TV at Stratford. "He's just an actor whose spirit and playfulness and courage are exactly what I love in an actor."
Unlike the Stratford Festival, the Shaw Festival does not have a casting director, so Carroll has been hands on with the actors chosen for each of the 11 shows in his initial season. As a relative newcomer to the country whose Canadian credits are only in Stratford Festival, he says he's been driving "up and down the QEW pretty incessantly" to see shows.
In addition to Therriault and Topham, 12 other performers will be making their Shaw Festival debuts next season including Karl Ang, Ryan Cunningham, Marci T. House and PJ Prudat – whose "joie de vivre" Carroll admired when he saw her in Jillian Keiley's recent production of Twelfth Night at the National Arts Centre "I've been trying to make a virtue out of that I came here with something of a clean slate," Carroll says. "It seemed to me that this was an opportunity to give everyone a level playing field."
It's certainly not a clean sweep in Niagara-on-the-Lake, however – with 49 members of next year's 63-person ensemble returning for at least their second season.
Having wrenched guts in his first appearance at the Shaw this season in "Master Harold"…and the Boys, Allan Louis will return to suck blood on the main stage in the title role of Dracula – which, in an adaptation by Scottish poet Liz Lochhead, puts a particular emphasis on three female characters, who will be played by Marla McLean, Cherissa Richards and Natasha Mumba.
André Sills, a stand-out for the last couple of seasons at the Shaw, will be back to take the lead role in the hotly anticipated Canadian premiere of An Octoroon, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins's sensational race-bending off-Broadway hit.
After a few years' absence, Sanjay Talwar will return for his third season to star as former prime minister Joe Clark in Michael Healey's new comedy, 1979.
Long-time ensemble members Fiona Byrne, Diana Donnelly, Claire Jullien and Tara Rosling will join new-to-the-Shaw Sarena Parmar to play the five Irish women at the heart of Brian Friel's classic Dancing at Lughnasa, while Festival favourites Moya O'Connell and Gray Powell will be back to take the leads in Will Eno's surreal play Middletown.
While the ensemble is, over all, more continuity than change, there are some absences from the ensemble that will be apparent to long-time festival-goers. "Of course, there's going to be change – and, of course, it's not your problem to consider who's bought a house here or whatever," Carroll says. "I won't pretend that no one is disappointed."
Tickets for the 2017 Shaw Festival season go on sale to members on November 5 and to the public on Dec. 3. For full casting, visit shawfest.com.