Tree-lighting, Santa parade in Gananoque

The St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival’s new leadership is a team.

The festival board on Wednesday announced that Julia Nish-Lapidus and James Wallis are the new co-artistic directors for the upcoming 2024 season, following the recent departure of previous artistic director Richard Sheridan Willis.

The directors, who are partners in life as well as the theatre, start Friday.

“We are honoured to be joining the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival as the new co-artistic directors,and are thrilled for the opportunity to lead the festival into its next phase of artistic excellence,” Julia said in a prepared statement.

“We love this festival and its beautiful outdoor waterfront venue,” added James. “There isn’t another theatre with a view like it. We’re excited to get started.”

The pair currently runs a theatre company in Toronto called Shakespeare BASH’d. They are experiencedartists and administrators, having both worked multiple seasons as directors at the Stratford Festival, while also organizing and leading events for the Stratford Festival Forum and education department, the local board noted.

Board chairwoman Jo-Anne Beckstead welcomed the new leaders.

“We’re very pleased to have Julia and James coming to Prescott to take us into our 22nd year of great theatre right here in Prescott,” said Beckstead.

“It was also very encouraging that we had an exceptional list of more than 20 applicants from across the country who were interested in being a part of our special festival,” she added.

“I’m very excited to welcome James and Julia to the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival team. We planto hit the ground running,” festival general manager Ingrid Bjornson added in a statement of her own.

The festival board noted the couple has visited Prescott many times to see friends who were working with the Shakespeare festival, and enjoyed performances on the Kinsmen Amphitheatre’s outdoor stage.

In their statement, the co-artistic-directors emphasized the importance of community and a family feeling in a theatre company.

“We feel that we are stronger as a team, and our greatest joy and best work stems from our collaborations. As a family, we are committed to building a solid foundation together with the community of the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival,” they added.

“As individuals, we both share many of the same strengths, in addition to bringing our own unique skillsets to the work; whether it be in the rehearsal room, fundraising endeavors, patron enhancement or strategic planning.”

Keith Dempsey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times