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In summer, GBS fans head for Niagara on the Lake

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It is highly unlikely that the great Irish dramatist George Bernard Shaw ever heard of the small and quaint Ontario town of Niagara on the Lake. Yet Shaw might well have been offering instruction to the town's current inhabitants and summer visitors when he wrote, with characteristic tongue-in-cheek and unabashed overstatement, the following:

"When once you get accustomed to my habit of mind, which I was born with and cannot help, you will not find me such bad company.But please do not think you can take in the work of my long lifetime at one reading. You must make it your practice to read all of my works at least twice over every year for 10 years or so."

During the summer of each year, devotees of theater and literature gather here to delight in, study, and celebrate Shaw's profound philosophizing and elegant wit. The Shaw Festival, as this celebration is known, is dedicated to production of plays by Shaw, about Shaw, and by the best of Shaw's contemporaries -- and, because Shaw's productive lifetime spanned the years 1856 to 1950, that includes quite a few great playwrights.

The festival began in 1962 as an amateur project, "Salute to Shaw," presenting eight performances of two Shaw plays by 10 unpaid actors. The first season was organized in the 115-year-old courthouse by Brian Dougherty. In 1963 , the festival was incorporated and the ensuing years of constant artistic and economic growth have culminated in the festival's current place as one of Canada's leading cultural institutions, with its highly acclaimed summer production season and regularly scheduled events throughout the year.

Since 1962, the festival has presented 50 productions of Shaw plays, with favorites such as "Pygmalion," "Heartbreak House," "Candida," and "Arms and the Man" produced more than one time. The festival still occupies the 400-seat Courthouse Theatre. In addition, a new 830-seat Festival Theatre, opened in 1973, has become the festival's year-round cultural center. The 1981 season will also use the recently acquired Royal George Theatre, an intimate auditorium with an attractive white and gold Georgian facade.

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