STRATFORD -- Preparations are underway at the Stratford Festival for a return of theatre this summer, with in-person rehearsals beginning last week.

Officials are eyeing July for the launch of the festival's outdoor season.

"The first day of joining each other in-person, in a parking lot, was actually a very emotional day for everybody," said Peter Pasyk, director of A Midsummer Night's Dream. "In any other case, rehearsing outdoors might seem a little crazy, but it's appropriate."

This year, the festival has set up canopies to hold shows once outdoor performances are permitted in Step 2 of the province's reopening plan, which, under the current timeline, could come in early July.

"We don't even know exactly how many people can come out yet and when exactly all of that will be allowed," Pasyk said.

Ticket sales will likely begin in July in the days before the festival kicks off, officials said, with performances planned to run until the end of September.

For businesses in Stratford's downtown, the prospect of curtains rising at the festival once again is being met with ovation.

"It's nice to see the signs of life coming back to the city," said Jessie Votary, owner of the Red Rabbit restaurant. "The reason that we have all been able to build businesses here and to thrive has been the festival's draw really from across the globe."

The Stratford City Centre Business Improvement Area says the Stratford Festival generates about $135 million annually. In a typical season, the festival can draw more than 3,500 people daily to the town.

"They dine in at our restaurants and stay with our accommodators, so it definitely has a huge impact on what would be a regular year," said the BIA's general manager, Rebecca Scott.

For the festival's cast and crew, there's excitement to perform in front of live audiences once again, regardless of what size crowd the province deems safe.

"The fact that we're coming back to theatre after a year-and-a-half of it being shut down feels very special," Pasyk said.