Taking the strain: Richard III at the 2022 Stratford Festival

“Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this son of York”

Richard III Act 1 Scene 1

After three years of building works and a year of performances under canvas, it’s great to see that the Stratford Festival 2022 is back – and with a brand new theatre.

The Tom Patterson Theatre sits at the heart of a striking new complex on Lakeside Drive, Stratford ON. The auditorium seats 600 people in an intimate u-shape around an elongated thrust stage, in an homage to the original theatre design. There’s also the new Lazaridis Hall, a gorgeous recital space with views across the water, and elegant bars and foyer spaces.


Getting back into shape

To paraphrase Shakespeare, it’s been a long ‘winter of discontent’ for the arts during the pandemic. Many actors, musicians and performers had to find other ways to earn a living, and as a result, may be only just restarting rehearsals.

Just like athletes, performers need to train and practice to be rehearsal-fit and performance-ready. And just like athletes, they can suffer from a range of strains, sprains and injuries that require services like ours.

Injuries also strike once a production has opened. A survey of professional performers in both dramas and musicals found that:

  • 46% of all performers sustained at least one injury
  • Lower extremity injuries were the most common for dancers (52.2% of injuries)
  • 61% of performers thought that their injuries were preventable


Common production-related injuries

Here are just a few potential causes of performance-related lower limb injuries:

Long hours of standing

This may seem trivial, but standing for extended periods of time can cause heel pain, sore ankles, and generally tired legs. At our Stratford foot clinic, we offer soft issue rehabilitation treatments including laser and ultrasound, which increase blood flow, reduce swelling and associated discomfort, and gently massage muscle tendons or ligaments in the treated regions.

Ill-fitting footwear

If you’re in a period play, you’ll be wearing period footwear as part of your costume. That often means hired boots or shoes that have been worn by several people before you. It also means that you may not be able to rehearse in this footwear, and only try them on a day or so before the first performance. This can cause problems with rubbing, blisters, sore feet, pinched or bruised toes, and tired legs and ankles.

Performers may also find their gait is affected, so they don’t walk well, and experience discomfort as a result. This is where custom-made orthotics can really help. These can be slipped into almost any costume shoe to provide the right support for your foot, as they are custom-moulded to your feet shape.

Dancers and dancing actors injuries

Dancing in a show is often a requirement for both actors and professional dancers. Dancers may be used to the various dance moves required, but not necessarily the actors. What’s more, the movements will be repeated over several hours of rehearsals, and often for several days in a row. Once into performances, this could be up to eight times a week.

Common dance injuries include:

    • pulled muscles and hamstrings
    • sprained ankles
    • heel pain
    • shin splints
    • trigger toes (ballet dancers)
    • Achilles Tendonitis
    • “Dancer’s Fracture” of the 5th metatarsal bone
    • general lower leg aches

These are all issues that a specialist foot clinic like ours can address. We might advise treatments involving taping, braces and limb supports, as well as a personalized program for recovery. We can also advise on specific warm-ups, stretches and cool-downs that focus on preventing future injuries.

Stage combat

Stage combat is highly choreographed and usually overseen by a specialist fight director. Injuries very rarely actually arise from the actual weapons used, but more from the unusual movements or acrobatic staging involved. (Think Errol Flynn!)

Trips and falls

Theatres are hazardous venues, even with the best health and safety measures in place. The contrast between a brightly lit stage and the dim wings at the side is always a transition zone ripe for tripping over objects, walking into scenery or other performers.


Take care, my liege

As a performer, if you are aware of what injuries you might sustain, you are more than halfway to preventing them. Equally, if you have sustained an injury, seeking professional help and treatment quickly helps you prevent further damage and recover more quickly too.

What you don’t want to do mid-rehearsal is learn the hard way that not seeking help for a minor injury turns into a major issue by opening night. As Shakespeare wrote

“To willful men, The injuries that they themselves procure / Must be their schoolmasters.”

King Lear, 2.4.297–99


“Thou lump of foul deformity”: playing Richard the Third

Playing Shakespeare’s Richard III brings a major challenge, as the character has a hunched back and a withered arm. In preparing for 200 performances of the role in 2014, actor Kevin Spacey did not want to end up with the catalogue of back, leg and knee injuries others had sustained.

“I didn’t want to hurt myself over all of those performances and, you know, massages were a good thing. But at the very end of the play, they hung me upside down after Richard is killed … They put these big ankle things on and lifted me up … and I was like, ‘This is the most awesome thing’. After crumpling up all night long, it was the best stretch ever.”


The real Richard III’s skeleton

When the remains of the real Richard III were discovered under a parking lot in Leicester England it was discovered that he had adolescent-onset scoliosis (a sideways curvature of the spine). He certainly was not, as Shakespeare describes,

“Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time Into this breathing world, scarce half made up.”

(Act I, Scene i, lines 18–21)

As a University of Cambridge biological anthropologist said:

“Shakespeare was right that he did have a spinal deformity. He was wrong with the kind of deformity that he had. He wasn’t a hunchback. Shakespeare also said that he had a withered arm and a limp. But looking at the bones, everything is very symmetrical. There are no signs of a withered arm. And both legs are perfectly well formed. There is no sign of him having a limp.”


The Stratford Festival’s Richard III for 2022

If you want to know how veteran Stratford Festival actor Colm Feore portrays Shakespeare’s “lamely and unfashionable “ anti-hero, the production previews from Tuesday 10 May. As the saying goes, book now to avoid disappointment! Stratford Festival

The 2022 Stratford Festival season runs April 6 – October 30, 2022, across all of the Festival’s four indoor theatres.

Check out the new theatre:

Discover the 2022 season.


Foot care professionals at your service

Contact us for an appointment to assess and treat your rehearsal/performance injury, and discuss ways to improve your foot health overall. We’re happy to help any members of your family!

Call us to make an appointment at one of our three local foot clinics in Ontario.

Stratford foot clinic

Ingersoll footcare clinic

London footcare clinic

Published On: March 29, 2022