Theatre experts come 'home' to Stratford as directors

Three Canadian directors who have found fame on national, U.S. and international stages will be "coming home" to the Stratford Festival as its new artistic directorship team.

Three Canadian directors who have found fame on national, U.S. and international stages will be "coming home" to the Stratford Festival as its new artistic directorship team.

Des McAnuff, Marti Maraden and Don Shipley will be the Shakespearean festival's new artistic leaders, Stratford general director Antoni Cimolino and board chair Kelly Meighen announced in Toronto Monday afternoon.

Each of the three new directors has a history with the southern Ontario festival and each described his or her appointment as a sort of homecoming.

"My main goal in coming back to the Stratford Festival is to return to the works of William Shakespeare," said McAnuff, a Olivier and Tony Award-winner most recently praised for his direction of the hit Broadway musical Jersey Boys.

Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Othello, Measure for Measure and Hamlet are among the works "I would love to do," McAnuff, who will remain artistic director at California's La Jolla Playhouse until April 2007, told CBC Arts Online.

However, he also emphasized the benefit of working with contemporary playwrights, both when staging new works and when mounting the classics.

"Whether it's Ben Jonson or William Shakespeare or Molière or Anton Chekhov, they were real flesh and blood people. I think you need to have living playwrights working side by side with the masters, as it were. They inform each other," he said.

"I think it's the way you really invigorate a company that does the classics."

Cancon champion

Mixing classical works on a program with Canadian contemporary theatre is something with which Maraden has experience.

Maraden, a Stratford veteran who has 16 seasons as an actor and director under her belt, recently completed a term as artistic director of English theatre at Ottawa's National Arts Centre. At Monday's announcement, she championed the "untold riches" of Canadian theatre.

"There are so many brilliantly creative and original and diverse theatre artists. We don't get to see one another's work. And I feel so lucky to have spent so much of my time travelling around to get to know the Canadian scene," she said.

For her part,Maraden said she hoped to bring to the table "an intimate knowledge of the festival itself, the experience of 23 seasons of classical repertory theatre as actor and director and some, but not nearly enough, knowledge of the theatre in our country as a whole."

Maraden also helped found the Magnetic North Theatre Festival, which is dedicated to Canadian work.

From Stratford to Stratford

Shipley completes the trio by bringing an international flavour to Stratford's new artistic architecture, first announced in April.

Shipley first appeared on Stratford's stage as a child actor and eventually became director of workshops and an artistic associate. His theatre credits range from directing productions across the country to serving as artistic director for theatres in Victoria, Vancouver and Toronto. However, his most recent post took him abroad to Dublin, where he is currently the artistic director and CEO of the Dublin International Theatre Festival.

There, Shipley has worked with top theatre talent from around the globe and, "as part of my future role with Stratford," he said he hopes also to bring some of these contacts to Canada.

"My personal goal is to ensure that we continue to develop the international profile that we deserve," he said.

New directors bring diverse backgrounds: Cimolino

"These new artistic directors represent diverse influences from theatre movements not just across Canada but from around the world," Cimolino told a crowd of reporters, actors, directors and theatre supporters Monday.

"They share in this vision, they share passion together for realizing this vision and they are chock full of great new ideas for realizing it."

Shipley and Maraden already have homes in Stratford and will be moving back, while McAnuff said he is looking forward to a Stratford residence.

The trio have signed on for a three-year commitment, which may be renewed after the initial run. The new artistic director architecture also allows them to take on other projects during their Stratford tenure.

Cimolino and the three directors will begin the transition by scouting out new talent and work with current artistic director Richard Monette for his final season next year. They will officially take over programming for the 2008 season.