Justin Bieber-upon-Avon

The Bard that Stratford, Ont., used to be best known for gets short shrift in this new doc

Justin Bieber-upon-Avon

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Don’t call Angie Adair the woman who discovered Justin Bieber. All she did was post videos on YouTube of a 12-year-old Bieber singing in her “Stratford Star” competition, an American Idol-style sing-off where he placed second. Now the 26-year-old coordinator at the Stratford-Perth YMCA fields callers from L.A. asking about how to discover an international teen idol. “We weren’t planning on finding Justin Bieber when we did, so I really can’t give anyone advice,” she laughs.

These kinds of aftershocks from Justin Bieber’s career explosion are felt all the time in Stratford, Ont., with the 3-D documentary Justin Bieber: Never Say Never promising to further reposition the Ontario town of 32,000 for an audience that never shrieked like this for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Kids have gathered outside the arena on tips from texts and Twitter that Justin is inside playing hockey. Mayor Dan Mathieson’s responsibilities have expanded to include photo shoots with fans who’ve followed one of the town’s “Justin’s Stratford” maps into his office.

“It’s almost overwhelming for some of the residents to be thrust so far into the spotlight,” Mathieson says. “To have a 16-year-old who has such incredible draw around the world refer to Stratford in such glowing terms as he does about it being his hometown, they just can’t believe how incredible this is.”

The feeling is mutual. “Coming from a small town, and having that mentality, it’s just made me humble,” Bieber said at a press conference in Toronto on Feb. 1. “I didn’t have a lot of money growing up. I lived in a little apartment, with geared-income housing. I was just as happy then as I am now. I’m just really blessed.”

That sentiment is captured in Never Say Never, which opens across Canada on Feb. 11, but previewed on Feb. 10 in Stratford. A special 2-D screening for 350 was held at the Justin-frequented Stratford Cinemas. Barb Fletcher, who has run the theatre for 25 years, says tickets are selling at the pace of a summer blockbuster. She’s been answering emails from across Ontario from fans determined to see the doc in Bieber’s hometown. Some ask which screening he’ll be at.

“We just say, ‘We have no information, so come to whichever show you want,’ ” Fletcher says.

As described in the opening line, the film chronicles Bieber’s journey from “a small town in Canada” to a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden. Part of that journey is a homecoming to Stratford, where he shoots hoops at the Y, says grace at Pizza Pizza, and revisits the steps of the Avon Theatre where he once earned up to $200 a day busking. “We’ve had a lot of people who come in and ask the ushers if they’ve ever met Justin Bieber,” says Eldon Gammon, the 30-year-old house manager at the Avon. “If the ushers talked to Justin, then they want to get a picture with them.”

The Avon is another of the locations on the “Justin’s Stratford” map that the Stratford Tourism Alliance’s Eugene Zakreski published last spring. The fiftysomething was inspired by kids, often on school trips, asking for Bieber’s home address. Instead, the map steers them toward Justin’s haunts—the Scoopers ice cream parlour, the city skate park, and a Subway. New destinations will be added this spring. “I think it’s no secret that Shakespeare’s theatre attracts adults, couples, over-40s, and [people in their] 20s and 30s,” he says. “If you’re trying to appeal to a younger, pre-20s market, Justin Bieber is the guy to go with.”

The Bard that Stratford was previously best known for won’t be getting much of a boost from the film. It paints Stratford as an Everytown, glossing over the fact it’s the home of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. A story about Bieber auditioning for the role of the Artful Dodger in the festival’s production of Oliver! didn’t make the final cut.

Last week Angie Adair kicked off the first night of the fifth annual Stratford Star. “If I wanted to, I could spend all day, every day talking about Justin,” she says. “I get phone calls and emails pretty much every day, but we still have a youth centre to run.” And so when Never Say Never opens at the Stratford Cinemas on Feb. 11, Adair knows where she’ll be. “At the second night of Stratford Star.

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