Finding Shakespeare–and Bieber–in Stratford

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Straford1At Canada’s renowned Stratford Shakespeare Festival, the play’s the thing. But it’s no longer the only thing in this town. Just ask the throng of teen and pre-teen girls hoping for a glimpse of native son and pop superstar Justin Bieber.

We sat next to King Arthur at dinner.


Not at his famous Round Table, but, rather, the lively bar at Down the Street, a restaurant we’d heard was popular with actors performing in Canada’s renowned Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

By coincidence, we had tickets to see his Highness the next afternoon in “Camelot,” making our close encounter with stardom that much more exciting.

And we’d just come from a matinee of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” a riveting production that my 19-year-old daughter, Jenny, proclaimed the best play she’d ever seen.

We’d set off from Detroit that morning on a mother-daughter bonding trip, sharing a surprisingly deep conversation about college, careers and the meaning of life on the three-hour drive through southwest Ontario’s bucolic countryside.

Once in Stratford, where the festival is staged in four theaters from mid-April through October, we found that the play’s the thing, but not the only thing. Dropping by the downtown visitor information center, we discovered that the quaint Canadian town is home turf – “Where it all began!” — for real-life pop superstar Justin Bieber.

Justin Bieber Lived Here

Preteen and teen girls flock to Stratford, especially when Bieber returns to visit his grandparents, according to Robyn Lusk, a tourism marketing assistant. She says Selena Gomez, his equally famous girlfriend, tagged along on a visit this summer.

“We give out an average of 300 Bieber maps a week,” Lusk says, adding that “Justin’s Stratford” map has been reprinted six times since the promotion began last summer. The map details nearly two dozen of his haunts, from schools and favorite eateries to the Avon Theatre, where he earned enough money busking on the front steps to take his mother to Disney World.

“We’ve had tons of parents and grandparents bring their kids” and mix in a little theater and dining when they do, Lusk says. “It’s a good tradeoff –it gives them a nice taste of Stratford.”

Not surprisingly, T-shirts around this Shakespeare-centric town feature clever slogans such as “To Bieber or Not to Bieber” and “Bill and Biebs” illustrated with caricatures of the bard and Bieber.

Straford3Fun for Teens Too

Rolling her eyes at the Bieber mania, Jenny was more impressed with Stratford’s colorful array of boutiques, sidewalk cafes and chocolate shops, including sweet-smelling Rheo Thompson Candies.

Like most visitors, we strolled along the aptly-named Avon River, where paddleboats, gardens and swans are magnets for families and photographers, and a lawn bowling club is a curiosity.

And then Jenny got into the Stratford act. On the festival’s costume tour, in a warehouse near Romeo Street, she tried on, in quick succession, a king’s velvet robe, a ratty scarecrow jacket and quirky hats, from turbans to flower rings. “You’re never too old for make-believe,” she said.

For play schedules and lodging information, check www.stratfordshakespearefestival.com; (800) 567-1600. Ask about Stratford’s Family Experience discounts and $25 “Play-On” tickets for 16-29 year-olds. Most plays are accessible to children 10 and up, sometimes younger. Babes in arms are not admitted.

Susan R. Pollack is a freelance travel writer who lives in the Detroit area.

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