Richard Ouzounian's first article of the season. Is anyone else getting excited?
"Next Wednesday is Shakespeare's birthday. It also – appropriately enough – marks the start of the new Stratford Festival season, with a preview of Hamlet.
"This year heralds a new beginning for the festival, with general director Antoni Cimolino and artistic director Des McAnuff presenting their vision to the world.
"And, appropriately enough, it also welcomes a multitude of new faces bringing their energy to the task at hand.
"'Yes, it scares me,' admits Ben Carlson, who is playing the Prince of Denmark in this year's Stratford version, directed by Adrian Noble.
"Although he's a multi-year veteran of the Shaw Festival and played Hamlet before in 2006 at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, this will mark his Stratford debut.
"'It's a bit of leap for me,' confesses Carlson, 'coming into this company and playing this part right away, but I'm delighted to be here.'
"Carlson isn't the only newcomer on this year's roster. Leah Oster, playing the leading role of Marian Paroo in The Music Man, is also venturing into this celebrated institution for the first time.
"But instead of fear, she finds the experience inspires confidence.
"'You're surrounded by people who are so superb at what they do,' she says with admiration.
"'The best of the industry have gathered here and they're all devoted to making you look good on stage.'
"Another fresh face belongs to Nikki M. James, who portrays Juliet in McAnuff's signature production of Romeo and Juliet.
"Although she had played Dorothy in McAnuff's recent version of The Wiz, she was astonished when he wanted her to play Juliet.
"'At first, I wasn't sure it was something I could do,' she admits, 'but I knew that Des believed in me and I said, Okay, for you, I'll give it a chance.'
"It's the same kind of courage that's infused veteran lighting designer Kevin Fraser, who's tackling the new and edgy production of Cabaret by Amanda Dehnert with a sense he describes as 'purely intuitive. You see something that she's trying and it encourages you to experiment.'
"Actor Nigel Shawn Williams has been at Stratford before but he finds the work he's been offered this year 'incredibly exciting,' from the seldom performed Fuente Ovejuna by Lope de Vega to the world premiere of Palmer Park by Joanna McClelland Glass.
"'I'm always excited about doing things first,' he says, 'about birthing a play to the world and that's what's happening here this year.'
"Or, as Shakespeare himself said, 'O brave new world!'"