About the Guild » History » Time Capsule

Shaw Guild Time Capsule

In June 2004, a Time Capsule was installed in the exterior wall of the new addition to the Festival Theatre. Following are two articles that provide information about the capsule, its genesis and contents. The first article was prepared for ‘Pshaw’, a Festival Theatre member’s magazine, while the second is a copy of the cover letter included by Faye Goodwin and Pamela Ward in the time capsule.

In 2001, shortly after Christopher Newton announced his planned retirement as Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival, the Shaw Guild executive committee gave considerable thought as to how the Guild might acknowledge Christopher’s contribution to the Shaw Festival. During his long and successful tenure, Christopher had been a strong advocate of the Guild and worked to ensure that members knew their efforts were appreciated. The Guild agreed that an annual contribution to the Shaw Library was a logical, perhaps obvious, expression given the Company’s focus on continuous learning. In addition, we looked for an opportunity to ‘capture’ for posterity some of Christopher’s initiatives, efforts and accomplishments at the Shaw.

The suggestion of a time capsule generated a positive response from Jackie Maxwell, the Shaw Company, Guild members and fortunately, from Christopher himself. Notionally, the capsule was slated for opening in 2061 – the centenary year of the founding of the Festival. Faye Goodwin and Pamela Ward assumed responsibility for this initiative on behalf of the Guild.

What Faye and Pam initially perceived, as a relatively straightforward task proved to be quite the opposite. The first order to the day was to acquire an appropriate container. This turned out to be a challenge and after much searching, Architect Bill Lett came to their rescue with a custom built 17” x 15”x 5” copper box. The box would provide the ‘shell’ and further protection for the items, using archival paper and packaging, would be tackled at a later date.

Certainly, filling the rather small copper box with Shaw memorabilia would not be a problem. However, finding pamphlets, CDs, Communiqués, Press Clippings and other items that were unique and not available to future generations through the Library, archives and internet was much more difficult. The challenge was one of ‘capturing’ (from the wealth of information available within the Shaw Festival Archives and provided by many members of the Company) a sense of the growth and development of the Shaw Festival during Christopher’s tenure and an essence of Christopher himself, not an easy undertaking but certainly a very interesting one.

As the project was nearing completion, Christopher made an interesting suggestion – that the capsule include a thought or two on what the world might be like in 2061 – which he felt might make the 2061 capsule opening ‘more fun’. A few members of the Shaw Company agreed to add their prognostications to those of Christopher, Faye and Pam; writings that will certainly be of interest and perhaps some amusement in 2061!

Before packaging all the bits and pieces and placing everything in the box, a ‘note to the reader’ was added to the Time Capsule to assist those opening the capsule 58 years hence. The note is intended to provide some background information and itemises the contents of the capsule, under headings: About Christopher Newton; Promoting the Shaw Festival and Niagara on the Lake; Shaw Membership; Professional Development and Public Education; The Company & The Ensemble; The Festival Gardens & The Coat of Arms; Shaw Festival Production History 1962- 2002; Building on Experience, Shaw Festival Annual Reports and the Shaw Guild.

The capsule’s contents were packaged and sealed in a copper container in May and placed in the wall leading to the new annex, in preparation for the official opening in June when a plaque identifying the Time Capsule will be unveiled.

April 2004

To the Reader,

As you open this ‘time capsule’, we in the Shaw Guild[1] who put together its contents, would like to explain its purpose and outline its contents. In April of 2004, the Shaw Festival is beginning its 43rd season and the company will benefit from the extensive new training and production facilities available with the opening of a major addition to the Festival Theatre. It is in the entry wall of this addition that we have located this time capsule to commemorate the contributions of Christopher Newton, Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival from 1980 – 2002. Construction of this addition began in November 2002, coincident with Mr. Newton’s retirement at the end of the ’02 theatre season.

In 2001, shortly after Christopher Newton announced his planned retirement, the Guild’s executive committee gave considerable thought as to how this group might acknowledge his contribution to the Shaw Festival. Not only was his tenure long and successful, Christopher has been a strong advocate of the Guild and worked to ensure that Guild members knew their efforts were appreciated. The Guild agreed that an annual contribution to the Shaw Library was a logical, perhaps obvious, expression given the focus on continuous learning fostered by Mr. Newton and embraced by the company. In addition, we looked for an opportunity to ‘capture’ for posterity some of Christopher’s initiatives, efforts and accomplishments here at the Shaw.

The suggestion of a time capsule generated a positive response from the Shaw Company, Guild members and Christopher himself, who’s first thought, was that the capsule should contain information not broadly available elsewhere. Later, as we discussed the proposed contents with Christopher and referenced a notional ‘opening’ date for the capsule as 2061 (the Centenary of the founding of the Shaw Festival) he had a second suggestion. “Wouldn’t it be fun”, he said, “if you included a thought or two on what you think the world might be like in 2061?” You will find a few of these thoughts enclosed; we hope that you do find them fun, indeed.

It is worth noting that as we reviewed the archives and available material, we became increasingly aware of how fortunate the Festival was to have had this Artistic Director at its helm during this period. Perhaps as you review this material you will begin to share this point of view. Today the Shaw Festival is the third largest repertory theatre in North America. It is the only theatre company with a mandate focussing on the time period labelled ‘the beginning of the modern world’ – the span of George Bernard Shaw’s lifetime, from 1856-1950. Perhaps more importantly, the Shaw Festival is acknowledged as one of the English-speaking world’s finest acting companies.

Before we begin itemising the contents of this time capsule, a little history and background on the Shaw Festival in the event you, the reader, feel the need for a refresher:

According to its late founder, Brian Doherty a local lawyer, The Shaw Festival began, “on a cold February evening in 1962 in Niagara-on-the-Lake” with a small group of people discussing how to bring new life to the beautiful old town while preserving, even enhancing its heritage. This triggered Doherty’s recollection of a dream he had had for many years. Impulsively, he said, “Shaw!” [2]

A few months later during a late June heat wave, a sweltering audience of two hundred sat in a makeshift theatre in the town’s old Court House. A company of unpaid actors – no doubt also sweltering – performed the ‘Don Juan in Hell’ scene from G. Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman. Fortunately for the rest of us, the applause was thunderous and the Shaw Festival got off to an enthusiastic start. Clearly, Southern Ontario and Upstate New York were ready for more summer theatre. The 1962 ‘season’ consisted of just eight performances (four of ‘Don Juan in Hell’ and four of Candida) over four weekends.

By late 1979, when Christopher Newton arrived to take the helm in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the Shaw Festival had been through several ups and downs. The Festival had built a beautiful theatre, opened for the 1973 season, with more than twice the capacity of the Court House Theatre and had established itself as one of the few repertory companies in North America. Its 1972 season ran for over four months. Yet the Shaw Festival was running a deficit and had acquired a dubious reputation among the artistic community and critics. (We are told it was referred to as ‘the shoddy festival’). A total of 6 Artistic Directors had provided varying styles and degrees of leadership. Mr. Newton had his work cut out for him, particularly when it was revealed that the deficit had risen from $250,000 to over $600,000 in the previous 12 months.

By 2002, the Shaw had built an endowment fund of $7.8 million and growing, with the objective of having financial ‘cushion’ for years ahead. Its season of 7 months included 11 productions and 798 performances in its three theatres.


The Festival Theatre – opened in 1973, the Festival Theatre seats 869 and has the technical support lacking in the two smaller theatres. It is the venue for the Festival’s large-scale productions.

The Court House Theatre – As noted above, this was the Shaw Festival’s ‘first’ theatre. It continues to serve as a key venue, its 327 seats around a deep thrust stage, generally used for productions demanding a level of intimacy with the audience or those considered either experimental or appealing to a smaller audience.

The Royal George – Built originally as vaudeville house in 1915, and later serving as a roadhouse and a cinema, the Shaw purchased the Royal George in 1980 and gradually restored to a 327-seat Victorian theatre with a proscenium stage. Here the Shaw presents its musicals, thrillers and lunchtime productions and readings.

Following is an itemisation of the material enclosed in this capsule.


[A] About Christopher Newton

Artistic Director, Shaw Festival 1980 – 2002

[A-1] Excerpts from archived press clippings, 1979 – 2002

  • Christopher Newton ‘Summer Theatre’s Brilliant Impresario’ Chatelaine, Aug 1984 by Gina Mallet
  • Christopher Newton ‘The Secret of His Success’ Globe and Mail, 3 Sept 2002 by Kate Taylor
  • Christopher Newton ‘A forty-year run? Pshaw!’ The Standard 19 May 2001 by Christopher Waters

[A-2] Extraordinary! – A celebration of the ‘Newton Years’ by and for the Shaw Company and guests

[A-3] Circa 2002 – a recorded message re ‘cell phones’ from the Artistic Director precedes each performance

[A-4] Circa 2001 – Christopher announces his successor, Ms Jackie Maxwell to the assembled Shaw Company

[A-5] Photograph – Christopher Newton, 1980

[A-6] Photograph – Christopher Newton, 2002

[B] Promoting the Shaw Festival and Niagara-on-the-Lake

Sample local promotional material

(Advertisements in major newspapers were the backbone of paid advertising campaigns.)

[B-1] Shaw Festival 2002 – the season handbook, a very successful format initiated by Mr Newton early in the 1990’s

[B-2] Niagara-on-the-Lake Official 2002 Visitors Guide – produced by the local Chamber of Commerce

[B-3] Festival Shaw 2002 – an insert in regional weekly newspapers, produced by the local, weekly Niagara Advance


  1. ‘on-hold’ messages, 1995 – potential theatregoers telephoning to order seats would hear Christopher Newton’s voice apologise for the delay, then brief summaries of the Season’s plays
  2. on-hold’ messages, 2000 – as above with box office hours, ticket ordering and descriptions of the season’s first five plays
  3. Website audio message, 2002 – Christopher discusses Shaw, the playwright; the Shaw’s new Artistic Director – Jackie Maxwell, and briefly, the Shaw company and audience.

[C] Shaw Membership

An important component of fundraising for the Shaw – as for other arts organisations – is the sale of ‘memberships’. Members make a charitable donation to the Shaw Festival in return for various benefits, commensurate with the amount of the donation. By 2002, approximately 42% of fundraising revenue (7% of total revenue) was derived from memberships.

[C-1] Shaw Festival Membership – Make a Difference – a brochure

[C-2] The Shaw Festival Story 2002 – provided to Shaw members

[C-3] Sample ‘Members’ Day’ program book. Members were given several opportunities throughout the season to attend half or full-day (or weekend) programs which included learning sessions / workshops, etc, plus meal(s) and performance(s). The program enclosed, for October, 12th, 2002 honoured Christopher.

[D] Professional Development & Public Education

As noted earlier, the Shaw Festival developed a strong emphasis on ‘continuous learning’ during Christopher Newton’s tenure. This reflected the importance of building a highly skilled and diversified company, as well perhaps as the benefit of keeping a large number of energetic artists very busy and hence less likely to cause mischief in a small town. Early on, Christopher created The Academy of the Shaw Festival to offer company members the benefit of expert coaching and instruction in voice and movement – and training as diverse as duelling and dance. Audience education – of both educational groups and patrons of all ages – became an important commitment at the Shaw. Today the Academy offers patrons a range of seminars, tours, etc.

[D-1] The Academy – a description of the various programs operated under the umbrella of The Academy

[D-2] The Directors’ Project 2002 – program for this annual event, culminating the Academy’s Directors Internship

[D-2] A Guide to the Shaw Festival – provided to students attending a performance and tour and / or workshop as a school group

[E] The Company and the Ensemble

At the Shaw Festival, every employee is a member of the company (the lower case ‘c’ is deliberate). By the mid-1990’s, this totalled about 500 people for the April – November seasons. The company is comprised of seven divisions, one of which is ‘The Ensemble’; this includes everyone who is working on a regular basis on or backstage at show time. The Ensemble is the front line: it includes actors, running crew stage management, musicians and directors. The other six divisions of the company include: Creative Management, Production, Media Relations & Marketing, Audience Sales & Service, Development, and Company Services (see Welcome Book referenced below).

[E-1] Shaw Festival Welcome Book 2002 – provided to company members at the beginning of each season, this was an initiative which proved itself invaluable to recipients and illustrates the commitment to the company

[E-2] Daily Schedule – this for June 26, 2002

[E-3] Ten-Year Pin – an initiative of Christopher Newton, the pin and a hand-written note acknowledge the Festival’s appreciation of a company member’s long service.

[F] The Festival Gardens & The Coat of Arms

The development of the gardens around the Festival Theatre began in earnest with the arrival of Mr. Newton. An early step was to hire a head gardener, Ingrid Riedke (still with the Shaw in 2004). Christopher and Ingrid worked to develop a ‘country house’ styled garden, popular in England at the turn of the 20th century. The objective of the Gardens was to add to the ‘experience’ of theatre-going at the Shaw.

In 1986, the Shaw celebrated its 25th anniversary and introduced the Shaw Festival Coat of Arms; a large copy hangs in the lobby of the Festival Theatre. This was an initiative of Christopher Newton who noted that the National Theatre, London is the only other theatre to have a coat of arms endorsed by the College of Heralds.

[F-1] Gardens at the Shaw Festival – an undated précis of the objectives for the garden, likely written in the early 90’s

[F-2] Photographs of the Festival gardens prior to the November 2002 start of construction Festival Theatre addition

[F-3] Shaw Festival Coat of Arms

[G] Shaw Festival Production History 1962 – 2002

Christopher Newton arrived at the Shaw Festival as Artistic Director late in 1979, to plan for the Shaw’s 19th season. Faced with a gaping deficit and a company lacking in artistic credibility, he was forced to handle the short-term while simultaneously planning for much-needed long term growth. Major critical – and financial – success was achieved with Cyrano de Bergerac in the 1982 and 1983 seasons. In 1985 the staging of Coward’s demanding Cavalcade brought the Shaw to the forefront of critical acclaim. (For a summary, see G-3).

Christopher Newton’s 23rd season with the Shaw was marked by two personal highlights. For his final production

As Artistic Director, Christopher directed a highly successful version of Noël Coward’s Hay Fever. (Denise Coffey had directed the only previous Shaw production of Hay Fever in 1987.)   Also in 2002, the Shaw produced, for the first time, a play written by a member of the company – and to critical and audience approval. Simon Bradbury wrote and performed his one-man, multi-media play, based on the experiences of actor Charlie Chaplin during the U.S. post-war (WWII) McCarthy era investigations. (Programs for both Chaplin and Hay Fever are enclosed.)

[G-1] Shaw Festival Production Record 1962–1999

[G-2] Production Record 2000-2002

Two pivotal productions early in C. Newton’s tenure:

[G-3] Edmund Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac (1982, 1983)

Excerpts from archived press clippings

  • ‘The man who made Shaw outshine Shakespeare’ Toronto Star, 23 Oct 1982 by Gina Mallet
  • ‘Cyrano is so good, you want more’ Detroit Free Press, 21 May 1983 by Lawrence De Vine
  • ‘A nose for delightful theatre’ Globe and Mail, 28 May 1983 by Carole Corbeil

[G-4] Noël Coward’s Cavalcade (1985)

Excerpts from archived press clippings, 1979 – 2002

  • ‘Shaw Festival Tackles Coward’s Famous Cavalcade’ Buffalo News, 11 Aug 1985 by Herman Trottier
  • ‘A Shaw Spectacular’ Daily Telegraph (London, Eng) 4 July 1986 by John Barber
  • ’All the whirl’s a stage in Shaw’s Cavalcade’ (Star turns of 42 actors in 300 roles and in 21 scenes revolve around a gigantic turntable built in the stage floor) The Toronto Star 23 August 1986 by Henry Mietkiewicz
  • Photo from 1985 production. ‘Emily West (young Fanny Bridges)…it’s morning – Sunday January 27 1901 – outside Kensington Gardens, the country is mourning the death of Queen Victoria. Note: shows part of revolving set.

[G-5] Two memorable productions of Christopher’s 23rd season:

Simon Bradbury’s Chaplin (2002)

Noël Coward’s Hay Fever (2002)

[G-6] ‘Granville Barker at the Shaw Festival’, compiled and edited by Denis Johnston. This book commemorated the Shaw Festivals series of seven productions of the plays of Harley Granville Barker, and Christopher Newton’s twenty-three seasons as the company’s artistic Director 1980-2002.

[H] Building on Experience

Backstage tours for most visitors to the Shaw Festival Theatre usually raised many questions, or more accurately, the same question asked many times, “How do they do it all in such cramped quarters?” While the Scene Shop had been relocated to nearby Virgil some years earlier and Props had off-site storage, everything else was done within the confines of the Theatre itself. Wigs, costumes and props were designed and made; lighting and sound were planned and developed within the confines. Limited dressing room space meant actors were often allocated no more than 60cm / 24” counter space each. There was only one rehearsal room with space equal to Festival stage. (Thanks to generous benefactors in the mid-1990’s, space above Properties had been reconfigured to create a small rehearsal area for musicals. And each year, a nearby church hall rented the Shaw rehearsal space.)

Yet, until the Shaw had sufficient financial cushion, primarily via its Endowment Fund, expansion was not feasible. By the late 1990’s, this was beginning to look feasible. And so the planning – and the fundraising – began for an addition to open in the spring of 2004. Literature and a DVD produced for The Campaign for the Shaw is enclosed to illustrate the original premises and the vision held for the redesigned site.

[H-1] Even Artistic Vision Needs Room to Grow (Blue Cover)

(Orange Cover – Commemorative Naming)

[H-2] Why Not? & Playhouse – introductory pieces to explain ‘The Campaign for the Shaw’

[H-3] The Campaign for the Shaw Festival – This ran on a continuous ‘loop’ on a large screen in the theatre lobby throughout the 2003 season.

[J] Shaw Festival Annual Reports

For interest, we enclose two annual reports – that for Christopher Newton’s 23rd and final season, 2002 and that for the Shaw’s 25th anniversary season, 1986. (Unfortunately, we were unable to obtain a copy of the annual report for 1979, the year prior to Mr. Newton taking on the position of Artistic Director.)

[J-1] Shaw Festival Annual Report – 2002

[J-2] Annual Reports presented January 17, 2003 at the Annual General Meeting

[J-3] Annual Reports presented January 17, 1986 at the Annual General Meeting

[K] Shaw Guild

We enclose both an Annual Report and a brochure written to provide information for prospective members, which provides a brief description of the Guild’s mandate and member activities.

[K-1] Shaw Guild Annual Report 2002

[K-2] Shaw Guild Volunteer Information Brochure

For the Shaw Guild, March 2004
Faye Goodwin
Pamela Ward

[1] The Shaw Guild is a volunteer organisation, with a membership currently of about 300; the Guild exists to support the objectives of the Shaw Festival. Members assist with the gardens at the Festival Theatre, welcome theatre patrons at the three theatres and assist as needed with special events, such as Shaw Members’ Days and the Shaw theatre company’s annual charity fundraiser, the ‘Village Fair & Fete’. The Guild also holds various fundraising events to contribute to the Shaw Endowment Fund, the Academy and recently, the Shaw Library.

[2] Not Bloody Likely, The Shaw Festival: 1962-1973