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Monday, 31 January 2011

David Grindley to direct The Misanthrope


[Press Release]

January 29, 2011… The Stratford Shakespeare Festival is pleased to announce that David Grindley will direct the 2011 production of The Misanthrope.

“We are very fortunate to have such an accomplished director come on board for this production,” says Artistic Director Des McAnuff. “I have been an avid fan of David’s work in London and New York and was deeply impressed by his astonishing production of Journey’s End. David did an inventive and imaginative production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2009, which featured memorable performances from Geraint Wyn Davies, Tom Rooney, Dion Johnstone and Yanna McIntosh. I know our company is thrilled to welcome David back.”

Brian Bedford had been slated to direct The Misanthrope. However, his wildly successful Broadway production of The Importance of Being Earnest – based on his 2009 Stratford production – was extended yesterday causing him to withdraw as director. He will still take on the role of Oronte in The Misanthrope as originally planned. Sara Topham, who plays Gwendolen Fairfax in Earnest, will also return to play Célimène in The Misanthrope, as well as Olivia in Twelfth Night.

“David will be working with some of our most accomplished artists on this production,” says General Director Antoni Cimolino. “Ben Carlson and Juan Chioran – two wickedly entertaining leading men – are absolutely perfect for Molière. They’ll be joined by Brian Bedford and Sara Topham, fresh from their success on Broadway, along with Martha Farrell, Kelli Fox, Steve Ross and others. A director couldn’t hope for a better cast.”

Mr. Grindley, who made his Stratford debut in 2009 with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is well respected for his work in the U.S. and U.K. His Broadway credits include The Philanthropist and The American Plan in 2009, as well as Pygmalion and Journey’s End in 2007. Journey’s End won a Tony Award for best revival and won Mr. Grindley a Tony nomination for Best Direction. His West End directing credits include Honour with Diana Rigg, Abigail’s Party (which was nominated for an Olivier Award), The Philanthropist, Some Girls with David Schwimmer, and Loot.

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s 2011 season, which begins April 16, features The Merry Wives of Windsor, Camelot, Twelfth Night, The Misanthrope, The Grapes of Wrath, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Homecoming, Richard III, Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s Will, The Little Years and Hosanna. Tickets are available by calling 1.800.567.1600 or visiting http://www.stratfordshakespearefestival.com/.
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Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Brian Bedford’s Earnest extended on Broadway: new director for The Misanthrope to be named

Brian Bedford as Lady Bracknell

[Press Release]

January 26, 2011… Brian Bedford’s delightful interpretation of The Importance of Being Earnest – based on his 2009 Stratford production – has become the toast of New York. Rave reviews and jubilant audiences have prompted the Roundabout Theatre Company to extend the run by seventeen weeks to July 3.

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival sends hearty congratulations to Mr. Bedford on the success of his production and is delighted to welcome him back for the 2011 season. Mr. Bedford will play Oronte in The Misanthrope, which will feature Ben Carlson in the principal role of Alceste.

The origins of this production of The Importance of Being Earnest can be traced back to 2007, when Brian Bedford directed King Lear and played the title role at Stratford. Artistic Director Des McAnuff asked Mr. Bedford if he would like to return to the company, to which Mr. Bedford replied: “What do you do after King Lear?” Mr. McAnuff responded: “Play Lady Bracknell.”

“It took a little while for Brian to warm to the idea” says Mr. McAnuff, “but we were delighted he did, and now all of New York is sharing that delight.”

“Our congratulations go to Brian Bedford for the success of his New York production based upon his wonderful work here in Stratford,” says General Director Antoni Cimolino, “Congratulations also to Sara Topham who has made an absolutely smashing Broadway debut. This kind of success outside our borders shows once again how fortunate we are in Canada to have the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in our own backyard.”

Mr. Bedford will no longer be directing The Misanthrope, but the Festival is in discussion with a director to replace him.

Sara Topham, who plays Gwendolen in the Broadway production of Earnest, will also return to the Festival company to play Célimène in The Misanthrope and Olivia in Twelfth Night.

“We are fortunate to have a stellar cast for The Misanthrope, led by Ben Carlson, who debuted at Stratford with a riveting portrayal of Hamlet and delighted audiences with his Touchstone in my production of As You Like It last season,” says Mr. McAnuff.

The Roundabout production of The Importance of Being Earnest, playing at the American Airlines Theater on Broadway, was originally scheduled to close on March 6.

The 2011 season, which begins April 16, features The Merry Wives of Windsor, Camelot, Twelfth Night, The Misanthrope, The Grapes of Wrath, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Homecoming, Richard III, Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s Will, The Little Years and Hosanna. Tickets are available by calling 1.800.567.1600 or visiting http://www.stratfordshakespearefestival.com/.

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Brian Dennehy entering Theatre Hall of Fame


Brian Dennehy
[Press Release]
January 24, 2011… Actor Brian Dennehy will be inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in New York City tonight.

Mr. Dennehy will be returning to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival for his second season this year to play Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night, directed by Artistic Director Des McAnuff, and Max in The Homecoming, directed by Jennifer Tarver.

“I’m disappointed not to be attending Brian’s induction into the Theatre Hall of Fame but I will be cheering from afar,” says Mr. McAnuff, who is currently directing a production of Doctor Zhivago in Sydney, Australia. “Brian is one of the great stage actors of our time and deserves to be celebrated. While he has dozens of notable film credits, Brian’s heart is in the theatre, as anyone who has been fortunate enough to see him on the stage can attest.”

“I extend congratulations to Brian from everyone at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival,” says General Director Antoni Cimolino. “Brian is a true man of the theatre. In just one season here, he became a treasured company member. Beloved by cast and crew alike, Brian gives generously of his time and has proven to be an outstanding role model in Stratford – and I’m sure far beyond.”

Mr. Dennehy is currently appearing in the John B. Keane play The Field at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin, Ireland, and so will be unable to attend the ceremony at the Gershwin Theatre. Robert Falls, Artistic Director of the Goodman Theater in Chicago, will accept on his behalf.

Mr. Falls directed Mr. Dennehy in the Stratford Shakespeare Festival production of Eugene O’Neill’s Hughie in 2008, which was part of a Dennehy double bill also featuring Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, directed by Ms Tarver. He also played the King of France in All’s Well That Ends Well, directed by Marti Maraden.

Nominees for the Theatre Hall of Fame must have at least five major credits and 25 years of working in theatre on Broadway. They are voted on by the American Theatre Critics Association and members of the Theatre Hall of Fame. Other nominees this year include Michael Blakemore, Caryl Churchill, Linda Lavin and James Lapine.

Mr. Dennehy has won two Tony Awards for Best Actor for Long Day’s Journey Into Night in 2003 and Death of a Salesman in 1999. He also starred with Christopher Plummer in 2007’s Inherit the Wind. His most recent Broadway appearance was as Ephraim Cabot in Desire Under the Elms in 2009, directed by Mr. Falls.

Tickets to see Mr. Dennehy at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival are now available by calling 1.800.567.1600 or visiting http://www.stratfordshakespearefestival.com/.

The 2011 season, which begins April 16, features The Merry Wives of Windsor, Camelot, Twelfth Night, The Misanthrope, The Grapes of Wrath, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Homecoming, Richard III, Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s Will, The Little Years and Hosanna.

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Monday, 17 January 2011

Festival mourns the loss of Michael Langham

Michael Langham 1919-2011
[Press release]

January 16, 2011… It was with profound sadness that the Stratford Shakespeare Festival learned of the death of Michael Langham, the Festival’s Artistic Director from 1956 to 1967. Mr. Langham, 91, failed to recover from a chest infection contracted before Christmas and died at home near Cranbrook, Kent, at midnight on January 15.

Tyrone Guthrie, the Festival’s founding artistic director, passed the reins to Mr. Langham in 1956. What Mr. Langham inherited was a summer Shakespeare festival in a tent. Within a year he had overseen the building of the permanent Festival Theatre. He went on to extend the season and introduce student matinees. He established the Stratford Music Festival, originally founded under the leadership of Louis Applebaum, and introduced musical directors such as Glenn Gould. He advocated the purchase and renovation of the Avon Theatre and launched North America’s first film festival. In 1962 he worked with Tanya Moiseiwitsch to modify her original design for the Festival Theatre stage, making possible a more dynamic approach to productions there. During these years he also contributed to the establishment of the Canada Council and the National Theatre School.

“Michael Langham was one of the true giants of 20th-century international theatre. For that matter, in the 21st century he was still directing at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, staging Love’s Labour’s Lost right before his 90th birthday in 2008,” says Artistic Director Des McAnuff.

“While great credit rightfully goes to Tyrone Guthrie as Stratford’s founding artistic father, it is important to recognize Michael as the intellectual architect of this theatre’s artistic policy. It was Michael who articulated the approach to Shakespeare’s text – a philosophy he described as ‘living thought’ – that to this day forms the aesthetic foundation of the classical work done at Stratford.”

Says General Director Antoni Cimolino: “For so many of us, for so long, and for the Stratford Festival as a whole, Michael was our father. It was Michael’s vision and attention that enabled Stratford to stand and grow as an institution of international renown.

“Michael Langham had a shrewd eye for talent. His commitment to so many young, untried but promising actors created Canadian theatre – Christopher Plummer, Kate Reid, Bruno Gerussi, Douglas Rain, William Hutt, Martha Henry, Christopher Newton and Richard Monette, among so many more.”

Mr. Langham’s directorial mastery of the thrust stage gave Stratford an extraordinary succession of stage triumphs. His Henry V in 1956 vaulted Christopher Plummer to the world stage and introduced William Shatner to prominence. He also brought the incomparable designer Desmond Heeley into the Stratford fold with Hamlet in 1957.

“Michael Langham more than anyone – even Tyrone Guthrie – solidified, matured and transformed the Stratford Festival into the finest theatre company in North America,” says Mr. Plummer. “He also gave me, quite literally, my career. Without his talent, taste, intellect and wit, God knows where I might have gone with my life. I owe him buckets for his wisdom, his deep friendship and astonishing loyalty – and so does North America, whose culture he so enriched.”

Adds Mr. McAnuff: “Michael Langham was, without question, one of the greatest directors of his generation, mounting glorious production after production of significant and memorable works. His ingenious stagings of Henry V and Cyrano de Bergerac, starring Christopher Plummer, were quite simply the stuff of legend.”

For Timon of Athens in 1963, with John Colicos in the title role, Mr. Langham featured music from jazz great Duke Ellington and a dazzling modern design from Brian Jackson, bringing new meaning to a rarely produced Shakespearean play. He tackled it again in 1991 with Brian Bedford in the title role. That production transferred to Broadway in 1993, winning three Tony nominations for best director, best actor and best revival of a play.

“We’ve lost a great man of the theatre,” says Mr. Bedford, who worked with Mr. Langham on a number of other productions in Stratford and the U.S. “Michael Langham was a great influence on me. He was a meticulous director and was relentless in his pursuit of an interpretation of a play. He put productions together like a sort of mosaic, paying tremendous attention to what we might think of as minutiae. It drove some people crazy but I don’t think I worked with him on a single production that wasn’t a tremendous success.”

Mr. Langham first directed what would become his signature work, Love’s Labour’s Lost, at Stratford in 1961. He directed the play three more times at Stratford in addition to productions elsewhere. In 2008 at Stratford, he directed what would be his last production, and fittingly it was Love’s Labour’s Lost. It featured the members of the Birmingham Conservatory, allowing him to touch a new generation of actors with his searing discipline and insightful direction.

“Rehearsal days with Michael were long, arduous but always rewarding,” says Mr. Cimolino, who worked with Mr. Langham on Timon of Athens and Measure for Measure. “No one left unscathed. From the stars to the apprentices, we were all pushed to our limits. At day’s end our reward might be to hear him mutter, ‘Well that was promising.’ Yet we all returned eager to see what the next day’s work would bring. So often it was marvellous.”

Mr. Langham’s 1962 redesign of the Festival’s thrust stage served to establish the famous diagonals between the downstage tunnels and the upstage entrances. He became the master of this stage, with an uncanny instinct for organizing movement on it to allow for perfect focus at each point in a play. It was one more in a series of accomplishments that established the Festival as a cultural leader.

“By the time Michael resigned his artistic directorship in 1967, he had steered the Stratford Festival to the undisputed position it has held ever since: the leading classical theatre in North America,” says Michael Bawtree, founder of the Atlantic Theatre Festival, in Wolfville, N.S., a former associate director at the Festival, and a dramaturge and assistant director to Mr. Langham. Mr. Bawtree later brought Mr. Langham to Wolfville to direct a number of productions, some co-directed by his wife, Helen Burns.

Mr. Langham was Artistic Director of La Jolla Playhouse in California in the 1960s during its dormant period when plans were being made for a world-class facility. Mr. Langham moved on from La Jolla in 1971 to become artistic director of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, where he served until 1977. La Jolla Playhouse finally opened in 1983 under the direction of Mr. McAnuff, who served there for more than 20 years.

Mr. Langham also served as the Artistic Director of the Juilliard School in New York, from 1979 to 1982 and from 1987 to 1992, and continued to direct at Stratford.

“Michael deserves much recognition for his key role as a leader in Canadian national theatre,” says Mr. McAnuff. “During the 1950s and ’60s, he mentored many theatre artists who went on to pioneer our country’s resident and alternative theatre scene. As a mentor and teacher, he had a profound effect on my own career: he called me after seeing a New York production of mine in 1978 and invited me to teach in the Drama Program at the Juilliard School, which he headed at the time. As I got to know him, he encouraged me to direct Shakespeare. Michael’s inspiration and my high regard for his work led me to follow in his footsteps as artistic director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. I will greatly miss our meetings and his sage advice. I know for certain that I am not alone.

Concludes Mr. Cimolino: “While Michael Langham oversaw the building of our permanent theatre, he built something more important than bricks and mortar – he secured Stratford’s artistic foundations. The extraordinary example he set will guide us all in the important work ahead.”

To honour Mr. Langham’s legacy, the Festival established the Michael Langham Workshop for Classical Direction in 2009. The inaugural session was held during the 2010 season.

The Festival will dedicate the 2011 season to Mr. Langham.

Mr. Langham is survived by his wife, actress Helen Burns, his son, Christopher, daughter-in-law, Christine, two grandchildren, Emily and Harry, and three grandsons from Christopher’s earlier marriage. A memorial will be held at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival at a later date.

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Monday, 10 January 2011

Festival mourns the loss of actor Peter Donaldson

Peter Donaldson as Timon of Athens, Stratford Festival, 2004
Photo by Richard Bain
[Press Release]

January 9, 2011… The Stratford Shakespeare Festival was deeply saddened to learn of the death of actor Peter Donaldson on Saturday, January 8, 2011. Mr. Donaldson was to return to the Festival this year for his 25th season, playing Buckingham in Richard III and Marcus Andronicus in Titus Andronicus.

“Peter was the finest actor's actor,” says General Director Antoni Cimolino, who worked with Mr. Donaldson on many productions. “He was deeply admired for the conviction he brought to his work and the unsparing truth of his portrayals. He was versatile and able to give outstanding performances in modern plays, musicals and classics. But his home was Shakespeare.

“He spent a lifetime at the Stratford Festival and gave us a world of great performances. His Timon of Athens made a seldom-performed part unforgettable and was a tour de force of virtuosity. But this was only one of many brilliant performances at Stratford.”

Mr. Donaldson was last seen on the Stratford stage in 2008, when he played Rufio in Caesar and Cleopatra and Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet, both under the direction of Artistic Director Des McAnuff, and Don Armado in Love’s Labour’s Lost, under the direction of Michael Langham, the Festival’s artistic director from 1956 to 1967.

“I was looking forward immensely to Peter’s return to our company for what was to have been his 25th season, and I am shocked and saddened by his untimely passing,” says Mr. McAnuff.

“He was one of those rare actors who excelled at everything he touched, able to sound the depths of tragic emotion even as he delighted us with his flair for wryly deadpan comedy. No one who enjoyed his stellar performances at Stratford and elsewhere could have doubted that even greater triumphs lay ahead of him, and our sorrow is all the deeper when we think of the King Lear or the Prospero we might someday have seen him play but now have lost forever.

“Peter leaves those of us at the Festival with a tremendous sense of responsibility because we know he held this theatre in the highest possible esteem.”

Mr. Donaldson was born and raised in Midland, Ontario, and attended performances at the Stratford Festival as a high-school student. A graduate of the University of Guelph, Mr. Donaldson began at the Festival in 1977 as a journeyman actor, playing Potpan in Romeo and Juliet and the Page to Bertram in All’s Well That Ends Well. He remained for three seasons, and then moved on to study in New York under Uta Hagen, Stella Adler and Olympia Dukakis, and to perform at a number of Canadian theatres, including the Shaw Festival, Toronto Free Theatre and London’s Grand Theatre.

After a single season at Stratford in 1982, Mr. Donaldson returned in 1986, growing into one of the Festival’s most versatile and admired leading men. Over 12 seasons, he gave such memorable performances as Jaques in As You Like It, both Kent and Edgar in productions of King Lear, Guy Thompson in Homeward Bound, Boy Staunton in World of Wonders and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, opposite Lucy Peacock’s Katherina.

One of his many stand-out performances came in 1994, when he was part of a remarkable ensemble, playing James Tyrone Jr., in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, with William Hutt, Martha Henry, Tom McCamus and Martha Burns, under the direction of Diana Leblanc. He reprised the role in a film version, winning a Genie for Best Supporting Actor. After that performance, he appeared in Atom Egoyan’s film The Sweet Hereafter.

From 1995 to 1999, he worked on the television series Emily of New Moon, in which he played Ian Bowles opposite his wife, Sheila McCarthy, who played Aunt Laura. They had also performed together on stage, in the Grand Theatre’s 1992 production of Norm Foster’s Wrong For Each Other.

In 2001, Mr. Donaldson again returned to Stratford to play Malvolio in Twelfth Night (directed by Mr. Cimolino), George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Trigorin in The Seagull. The following year, he was joined on stage by Ms McCarthy for the Festival’s 50th season. They performed as husband and wife in two productions, playing Mr. and Mrs. Peachum in The Threepenny Opera and Sir Percival Blakeney and Marguerite in The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Aside from The Threepenny Opera, Mr. Donaldson’s foray into musical theatre, included playing Harry the Horse in 1990’s Guys and Dolls (a production that featured Ms McCarthy as Adelaide), Horace Vandergelder in 2005’s Hello Dolly!, again opposite Lucy Peacock, and the Mysterious Man and Narrator in Into the Woods that same year.

Mr. Donaldson’s position as one of the finest classical actors of his generation was solidified with such significant performances as Mark Antony in the 2003 production of Antony and Cleopatra, featuring Diane D’Aquila as Cleopatra; his unforgettable portrayal of Timon of Athens in 2004, truly a piece of theatre history; Benedick in 2006’s Much Ado About Nothing, once again opposite Lucy Peacock; and Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird in 2007.

“Peter's work and career reminded me of William Hutt,” says Mr. Cimolino. “Like Bill, in his mid-life Peter was now coming into the best, deepest and richest part of his talent. We will not know exactly what we have lost from his sad early passing. We are only left to wonder and mourn.”

Mr. Donaldson died of lung cancer in hospital in Toronto, surrounded by his family and friends. He is survived by his wife, Sheila McCarthy, and daughters Mackenzie and Drew. His loss is deeply felt by members of his extended theatre family, who cherish him as a remarkable talent and friend.

Details of a funeral and memorial celebration will be announced at a later date.

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Mourning the Passing of Peter Donaldson

Peter Donaldson 1953 - 2011
In a season of losses, Canadian theatre-goers have yet another reason to mourn.

Actor Peter Donaldson, 24-year veteran of the Stratford Festival, lost his 2-year battle with lung cancer on Jan. 8th. He was 57.

Mr. Donaldson had a rare talent, even among Shakespearen actors, of making the Bard's language sound accessible to any audience. He spoke Shakespeare's prose and poetry as if it were everyday conversation, not an out-moded lyrical tongue of 400 years ago. I will never forget his lead performance in Timon of Athens in 2004, a performance which is still a yard-stick by which I measure current productions. Whether he was playing Ruffio to Christopher Plummer's Caesar, Jamie to William Hutt's James or Atticus to Abigail Winter-Culliford's Scout, Mr. Donaldson's consistently strong characters were always filled with intensity, passion and above all, integrity.

His passing is a loss to the Canadian acting community that can never be measured.

My warmest condolences to his family Sheila, Mackenze and Drew.

~RG

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