Police evacuated the Festival Theatre in Stratford on opening night. (Beacon Herald Staff)
The opening night of the Stratford Festival was cancelled Monday after police evacuated the Festival Theatre shortly after 7 p.m. amid an "explosives threat."
Just half an hour before the sold-out opening night performance of The Tempest was set to begin, police officers asked the hundreds of well-dressed patrons to immediately evacuate the theatre, telling them to go as far from the building as the Avon River and Water Street.
Police, with the help of Stratford firefighters, set up a perimeter around the Festival Theatre, blocking off Queen Street, Water Street and Lakeside Drive.
"There has been a threat to the festival and at this point we're trying to ascertain what we have on hand," said Sam Theocharis, Stratford's acting deputy police chief.
At about 6:45 p.m., the Stratford Police Service received a call that explosives had been placed "at the Stratford Festival," prompting the speedy evacuations of both the Festival and Avon theatres.
As soon as Festival officials were notified of the threat by Stratford police, they executed an existing evacuation plan.
"Once the officers came to us and they told us that there had been this threat made, we felt it was important that we immediately take action and move on this," said Festival artistic director Antoni Cimolino. "We will not know whether or not this was serious and, at that moment, we couldn't make that determination. We had to act in the benefit of public safety and follow our policy."
Theatre security were advised of the threat and Stratford police were soon on scene.
"When you have opening night of the theatre, and you have 1,800 people her e and a couple of thousand people on the grounds, you're not going to take any chances and you're going to evacuate the property," Stratford Mayor Dan Mathieson said outside the Festival Theatre.
At the Avon Theatre, police also set up a perimeter, using yellow tape to block off Downie, Waterloo, George and Brunswick streets.
With both theatres evacuated as a "safety precaution," officers began searching the buildings for suspicious items or packages. Police were still searching the theatres hours after the actors were to take the stage.
Police indicated they had no suspects at this time.
Stratford Festival officials were "saddened" by the unprecedented bomb threat.
In a statement released shortly after the evacuations, the Festival said the decision to cancel the opening night performance was "to ensure the ongoing safety of our patrons and staff."
Monday's bomb threat was the first ti me in the Stratford Festival's 65 years of performances that an opening night was cancelled. While protests in 2006 by a coalition of anti-poverty groups resulted in additional precautions, the performers still took to the stage as scheduled.
At an evening media conference, Stratford Festival officials shared plans to enhance its security measures, including the possibility of hiring addition security personnel and bag checks.
"It's a sad situation that this has taken place now. We are hoping to find out that this was some kind of hoax," Cimolino said.
The Festival also announced that performances scheduled for Tuesday would continue as planned if the theatres were cleared by police.
"We're going to make sure all of our patrons are safe," Cimolino said. "We are taking action tonight and tomorrow and going forward to make sure the Stratford Festival is a very safe place."
As for opening night, Cimoli no indicated the Stratford Festival will be hosting a second event at an undetermined date in the near future. The Festival said all ticket purchases would be honoured and patrons would be contacted by theatre officials.
"It's profoundly disappointing. This is a tremendous loss," Cimolino said. "And of course, we will have an opening soon but there's something about this that leaves a really sad taste."Source: Google News