I've been living in Stratford for two weeks. I moved here on February 19, Family Day. The city looked like a scene from a movie because it was enveloped in thick fog and mist. For months I'd been anticipating a winter wonderland, but when I arrived most of the snow had melted. Also, every single store was closed. I'd expected a quiet town but, seriously, not one enterprising capitalist looking to profit from a poorly organized citizen? Not even Shoppers Drug Mart was open. There were about 4 restaurants open and I went to the closest one for a late lunch. I had pad thai for lunch, dinner, and breakfast the next morning.
As I walked to the Festival https://www.stratfordfestival.ca/ on my first day I worried about fitting in, being liked, getting used to a slower pace. I saw a black girl step out of a house on Albert Street and got excited. One of us! I beamed at her like an old friend. Had I been in Toronto I would have looked right past her since black people are everywhere. Here, they're special. We're special.
It takes 20 minutes to walk to the Festival from my place downtown. I listen to podcasts every morning on my walk. I choose a different route every day while listening to either 'Stuff You Should Know', 'Pod Save America', or my new favourite, 'The Nod'. Listening to The Nod serves as the conclusion to what I call, 'getting my black on' in the morning before work.
As soon as I get up in the morning I open YouTube and start a series of music videos to which I get ready; usually it's either Rihanna, Kanye, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, or Kendrick Lamar. I dance around to this while twisting my hair into bantu knots and picking something cute to wear. I wish to represent like Olivia Pope but all I have is a Banana Republic budget, so I make do.
I sit in the Director's Office at a desk outside Anita Gaffney's office and try to get in no later than 9am. I work on my own producing projects and wait for David, Bonnie, or Susan (David's assistant) to grab me for a meeting. You know how in a normal jobs meeting are boring experiences that you doodle through? It's very different when the topics relate to all the inner workings of the theatre. As someone who spent years in the private sector booking meeting, attending them, taking copious notes, and being bored over another PowerPoint presentation, these Theatre meetings were fascinating. It's like seeing the wizard behind the curtain, except the reveal is wonderful, not disappointing.
Once I step out of the Director's office I am surrounded by the best creative talent in the country. People sing as they walk down the halls, hum as they're eating their lunch in the cafeteria, and just stride up to you and say, 'hello, my name is...you're new here. Welcome!' Warm welcomes from complete strangers happened so often that I've decided that Stratford has the friendliest theatre in Canada. I've already attended a birthday party, been invited to a second, and joined the company bowling team for a charitable event on Friday (it benefits the Suchitoto Project https://www.stratfordfestival.ca/AboutUs/TheSuchitotoProject).
It may sound ridiculous but, this place is magical. The people here work long, hard hours, administratively and creatively. I imagine the dragons they battle are lack of sleep, anxiety about keeping their tracks straight, and eating properly (the cafeteria makes the best food, though). The Stratford Festival is the Hogwarts of theatre and it's pretty dreamy.
The water is hard, the people are warm, and the weather can't make up its mind. I like it, I really like it here, and I'm in no hurry to return to Toronto. Yet.