Theatre director Richard Monette dies at 64

Richard Monette, the longest-serving artistic director of the Stratford Festival, has died at 64.

Richard Monette, the longest-serving artistic director of the Stratford Festival, has died at 64.

Monette had been suffering from vascular disease and was going into hospital for tests Tuesday evening when he suffered a pulmonary embolism, said Antoni Cimolino, general director for the theatre festival in Stratford, Ont.

Cimolino described Monette's death as a terrible loss for Canadian theatre.

"He had a Canadian voice at a time when we were still finding our voice as a nation," he told CBC News.

As a former actor, Cimolino said he was "blessed" to be directed by Monette.

"I always felt that actors were at their best under Monette's direction," he added. "He allowed them to speak with their own voices."

Although Monette was a larger-than-life theatrical personality, he was also an honest, real person, Cimolino said.

Monette retired from the festival in August 2007 after 14 seasons during which Stratford added a fourth theatre and an acting school, and again become financially profitable.

'Ran this theatre with his heart'

"Any note that you ever received from Richard he signed it with his name and a heart, and he ran this theatre with his heart," said actress Cynthia Dale, who joined the Stratford company at Monette's urging in 1998.

"It made such a difference to so many people," she said, recalling Monette's role in bringing musicals to the Shakespearean company.

"I think he showcased the musicals because he realized what an important part they were of theatre," she said in an interview with CBC News. "I think he was smart enough to realize that there were many parts that he had to showcase, and that being populist and making money was not a bad thing."

'He [Monette] was a brilliant actor, a gifted director, an inspiring artistic director and a great Canadian.'—Des McAnuff, artistic director at Stratford

Dale said Monette "changed my life" by bringing her into musicals such as Camelot on the Stratford stage.

"He was singularly the most important person in my career because of the opportunities he gave me and belief he had in me," she said.

He was born in Montreal on June 19, 1944, and graduated from Concordia University in that city.

He received his first theatrical notice at an inter-varsity drama competition at Hart House Theatre in Toronto in 1959, where he took top acting honours.

He went to Stratford in 1965 where he played small roles. He performed in Rolf Hochhuth's Soldiers at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto and the production took him to Broadway.

Moves to London

At 23, he moved to London, appearing in the British production of Oh Calcutta.

On his return to Canada, Monette played in the English-language production of Michel Tremblay's Hosanna.

He played more than 40 roles at Stratford, and in 1988, he directed his first play at Stratford, The Taming of the Shrew.

He was appointed the company's artistic director-designate in 1992 and was officially named to the post in 1994.

Des McAnuff, now artistic director at Stratford, said the loss of Monette creates an "immense void" that will not soon be filled.

"He was a brilliant actor, a gifted director, an inspiring artistic director and a great Canadian," McAnuff said in a statement.

"I will sorely miss his wit, his insight, his advice, and especially the warmth and wisdom that were among his many distinguished attributes."

Expressed 'some regrets'

Monette told CBC News in 2007 that he had done everything he had set out to do at Stratford, now known as the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

"There are always some regrets , but basically I did what I wanted to do. And I've been at it a long time — my back was giving out, I was tired. This is a very difficult job. Very. It's 24-7," he said.

Looking back on his 14 seasons, he said the accomplishment he was most proud of was establishing Stratford's Birmingham Conservatory of Classical Theatre Training, which trains new actors and directors.

"They're the future of this place as much as the audience."