I Sat on Queen Elizabeth's Throne !
The Canadian Stratford Festival started in 1953 in a huge tent under the supervision of British director Sir William Tyrone Gutherie. The first two years of the theatre my father John Hayes was the stage manager while my mother JoAnn Elliott Hayes worked in wigs. In 1955 Dad moved onto the stage where he played Lepidus in Julius Cesar and the Tutor in The Merchant of Venice. Although not yet 3 years old I remember watching my first Shakespearean play with my Daddy acting in it. Shakespeare was my second language. I still recall being moved by Portia’s soliloquy “ The quality of mercy is not strained.”
In 1957 the theatre moved from a tent to a permanent structure built around Tanaya Mosavich’s brilliantly designed thrust stage. By 1959 Dad was the Festival’s production manager and was involved in the theatre’s arrangements for the royal visit of Queen Elizabeth and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, during their 45 day tour of Canada. On July 2nd, they honored the playhouse by coming to see Shakespeare's “As You Like It” at the Stratford Festival Theatre.
Royal protocol required numerous preparations to be made in advance of the Crown's arrival.
All of Stratford’s city councillors who had daughters between the ages of 5 and 7 put their names into a hat. My friend Margie Polley was the lucky five-year-old girl picked to give the Queen flowers when she alighted from her train at the Stratford station.
For days Margie rehearsed walking up to the Queen, performing a curtsy, giving her flowers and then walking away backwards because even little girls know, no one never ever turns their back on the Queen. I watched with envy at the train station when Margie gave Queen Elizabeth the bouquet. I so wanted to be the girl to give her the flowers until Margie told me that she nearly tripped while walking backwards.
I had to ask “ What did the Queen say to you when you gave her the flowers? “
She innocently replied “ I don't know. I couldn't understand her accent. “
The required royal protocol that fascinated my six-year-old self the most was the new toilet seat that had to be installed in the theatre’s VIP bathroom prior to the Queen’s arrival. It couldn’t be just any new toilet seat. It had to be a pearl toilet seat. Finding a pearl toilet seat in a small Canadian town in the 1950’s was not an easy task for my father however after an extensive search one was acquired just in time to be ceremonially installed along with a new toilet.
No one was permitted to use the infamous royal seat before Elizabeth arrived. It had to be kept completely sterile and sanctified in case she needed to use the powder room during the play's intermission. Whether she actually used it or not I don't recall but I do remember feeling exceedingly royal whenever my bodily functions required me to sit on what was forever after known to theatre insiders as the “Queen’s Pearl Throne”.
Video link to Queen Elizabeth’s 1959 visit to Stratford:
has spent much of her life adventuring all over the world. If you enjoy the amusing stories and travel tips in this blog you will also love her books: Amazon Hitchhiker:A Woman’s Adventures from Canada to Brazil and her award-winning children's book Milo and the Mustang.