Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New International Ambassador

From Richard Ouzounian at the Toronto Star:

"The Stratford Shakespeare Festival is appointing Elizabeth Bradley as its senior artistic associate.

"Bradley, who was born in Toronto, has served in the past as the director of communications at Stratford, as CEO of the then-Hummingbird Centre and as head of the School of Drama at Carnegie Mellon University. She is currently in her first year as the head of drama at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.

"Stratford describes her newly created position as one that will 'focus on international creative development, assist the festival in establishing relationships that will enable it to export productions, provide details of opportunities for collaborations and suggest new markets of interest.'

"Bradley, who is accepting the position for the first year as an unpaid volunteer, told the Toronto Star from her New York office that, 'This relationship re-establishes a professional dialogue with an organization that influenced my career profoundly. I look on this as the best possible way to make a positive offering of my skills and knowledge to the distinctive Canadian artistic excellence that the Stratford Shakespeare Festival represents.'

"Festival artistic director Des McAnuff said in a phone interview, 'I've always been impressed by Liz and her remarkable mind. I think she's one of the most articulate people I've ever met in any field. I think she'll do good diplomatic work for us out there in the field.'

"McAnuff and Bradley first worked together in 1974 when she was a high school intern working on his play Silent Edward at what was then known as Young People's Theatre. They have stayed in close contact over the years, with McAnuff serving on committees for her during her years at Carnegie Mellon.

"'I trust her and we have similar tastes,' McAnuff said.

"'We literally grew up together in the halls of the alternative Toronto theatre scene. I thinks she cares really deeply about Stratford. That, above all else, makes her a good candidate.'"

Read the official press release.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Medea in Manitoba

Between now and December 13, Winnipeg audiences can Seana McKenna and Scott Wentworth at the Manitoba Theatre Centre.

Medea is "Euripides' great drama of romantic obsession, the most searing of Greek tragedies, tells the tale of the princess Medea. For the love of Jason, an ambitious adventurer, she has betrayed her father and her people, murdered her own brother and gone into lonely exile in an alien land. Now, casually dismissed by the arrogant man for whom she has given her life, she plans a terrible revenge."

This Mirvish co-production, directed by Miles Potter, will reach Toronto audiences January 9, 2009, for a four-week run at the Canon Theatre.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Interview with the Feores

From Richard Ouzounian at The Toronto Star:

"It's rare that the entertainment gods allow both partners in a marriage to step into the spotlight at the same time, but that's just what's happening this coming week to Colm and Donna Feore, the 'first couple of Canadian show business.'

"Tomorrow night, Colm makes his first appearance as a regular character on 24 in a special two-hour TV movie prequel, Redemption (Global/Fox at 8 p.m.), while on Thursday evening, musical comedy stage veteran Donna will debut as the director of a straight play when It's a Wonderful Life opens for the Canadian Stage Company at the Bluma Appel Theatre.

"They're both riding the crests of incredibly successful careers these days, but a double play like this is still cause for celebration, so they are marking their good fortune with dinner at Nota Bene.

"You might think a duo as glamorous as the Feores do the fast-lane restaurant number all the time, but nothing could be farther than the truth.

"'The first question I always ask myself about every job,' insists Colm, 'is how much time I'm going to have to spend away from home.'

"Home is a gorgeous house in Stratford – literally, a stone's throw from the Festival Theatre – where they live with their three children.

"'I know it would be easier if we had all moved to Los Angeles years ago,' Donna concedes, 'but we both decided that Canada is where we wanted to raise our kids.'

"Most of their lives are spent juggling their respective calendars around who's going to be home, who's working in New York or Europe, who's making dinner (usually Colm) and who's ferrying the kids to their various sporting events (usually Donna). With all that, you can understand Colm's answer to the question, 'What did it feel like when you were offered a role on 24?'

"He raises one eyebrow. 'I told my agent, I don't know how to tell you what I feel until I check with Donna.'

"So he called her from London, where he was shooting a movie, and said, 'This is a stupidly good opportunity. I don't think I can pass this up, but it will f--- up our lives.'

"Luckily for all concerned, Donna's answer was: 'Go ahead and do it. We'll make sense of this when we get a chance to.'

"The part is a fascinating one. Colm was asked to play Henry Taylor, the husband to Allison Taylor, the first woman president in American history.

"The fact that two-time Tony award-winner Cherry Jones would be playing his wife made the deal even more attractive.

"'I don't know if they knew what they were getting when they hired Cherry,' quips Colm. 'Not only is she the best actress in New York, but she can be presidential just standing there.'

"Discussing details of 24 with a cast member is always a tricky business because of the cloak of security the producers insist on wrapping around everyone.

"'Our one rule in the house,' Donna says with mock gravity, 'was that no 24 scripts were to be left out.'

"'Because you're weak,' Colm taunts.

"'Okay,' Donna admits, 'I looked at one. I love that show. It makes my heart race.'

"Colm is surprisingly forthcoming, however, about some details concerning his character.
"Cherry and I have had a tragedy in our lives,' he reveals. 'Our son has died, but we have differing opinions about why and how it happened. I become fixated on finding out the truth and everyone else tells me I'm being delusional. But, somehow, it all dovetails with the stories about Jack Bauer and the big guns and world terror.'

"Pausing with a piece of pasta close to his mouth, he adds, 'Oh, and by the way, Tony Almeida isn't dead,' referring to Jack's right-hand man apparently slain in Season 5.

"'Colm!' chides a shocked Donna.

"'Oh, everybody knows that,' he says with a grin. 'It's all over the Internet.'

"Sunday night's two-hour movie is meant to set the stage for the January debut of Season 7 of 24, which was delayed a full year owing to both the Hollywood writers' strike and internal problems relating to script and budget.

"'I think, originally, they wanted to shoot a lot of Season 7 in Africa, but it was just too expensive,' Colm explains. 'But, now, they put it into the prequel and, I tell you, it's very timely, very politically charged stuff. I'll be curious to see how much makes it to air.'

"Getting on the air is also the theme of Donna's current project, because the adaptation of Frank Capra's classic 1946 film, It's a Wonderful Life, which she's directing, is set as a radio play of the period.

"'I don't know how else you could do it,' she admits. 'It's such an episodic film and such an iconic one that if you tried to duplicate any of its scenes totally, people would always just compare it to the movie.

"'This way, they get a certain amount of distance and novelty, which makes them look at the material in a different way. It's really a simple story and doing it as a radio play removes all the excess fat and lets us concentrate on the story.'

"The original film, with its tale of how a seemingly prosperous town suddenly totters on the edge of bankruptcy thanks to problems at a savings and loan company and the machinations of a greedy banker, has some scary echoes in today's headlines.

"'I'm shocked at how relevant it is and I'm always surprised by how much it still moves me,' Donna says.

"'It's about one individual asking what his whole life has been worth, which is something we're all doing a lot more of these days.'

"This summer brings the Feores back to Stratford, where Colm is playing Macbeth and Cyrano, the latter directed by Donna. After that, will there be another year of 24 for Colm?

"'I only signed for one season,' he hedges. 'I don't know if they have any further use for me or not.'

"When asked if that means he's alive at the end of Season 7, he tries to shove the words back into his mouth.

"'Oops, that's plot. Can't tell you that.' Then he smiles wickedly. 'I will say one thing, though: This is one program where you really don't know from week to week whether or not your head is going to blow up.'"

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Caesar Coming to Big Screen

"Stratford Shakespeare Festival's production of Caesar and Cleopatra, starring Christopher Plummer, will be hitting the big and small screens.

"A film version of the stage production will premiere as one-night gala screenings at up to 80 Cineplex theatres across Canada, according to a report by the Globe and Mail on Saturday.

"The partnership with CTV-Bravo also means the production will eventually air on television.

"'It's lucid, it is very very funny [and] it's got a real sense of interplay between the audience and the players,' the festival's general director Antoni Cimolino told the Globe.

"The Stratford adaptation of the George Bernard Shaw play involves sumptuous costumes and a highly visual staging which should lend itself to a screening, according to Cimolino.

"Funding for the project has come from CTV and a private donor.

"The venture follows in the footsteps of New York's Metropolitan Opera, which has been broadcasting its productions, in real time, to cinemas across the world. The only difference is that the Stratford model isn't a live experience.

"'It's partly brand extension. It's putting bums in seats. It's making people embrace Stratford as a national institution,' said entertainment lawyer Michael Levine, who helped broker the deal.'"

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Changes to the Festival Stage?

From Laura Cudworth at the Beacon-Herald.

"A scenic carpenter at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival is speaking out against any plans that may alter the famous Tanya Moiseiwitsch thrust stage.

"Walter Sugden is concerned the stage will be changed or 'destroyed' if it's modernized to increase the space underneath it. The stage would have to be pulled up for the excavation underneath to allow for larger trap doors and machinery below the stage, he said.

"'My basic feeling is I've worked there for 36 years, I can't consciously feel good with myself if I don't speak out,' he said. 'All I hope to do is make people aware. If they feel like I do, I hope they'll express to the Festival their feelings.'

"He admits he may be 'romantic about it' but he sees the stage as a critical piece of heritage for both the Festival and Canadian Theatre. In his earlier years he worked with Ms. Moiseiwitsch.

"'I love the nicks in the stage that have happened in past productions,' he said noting the likes of Maggie Smith, William Hutt, Nicholas Pennell and Jessica Tandy have all walked across the oak stage.

"The stage is nearly 50 years old, he said.

"General director Antoni Cimolino downplayed the possibility the famous thrust stage would be altered. He acknowledged though an assessment of the Festival auditorium is underway but expects it will take about two years to complete.

"The assessment includes lights, acoustics and the backstage area.

"'Over time stages evolve,' Mr. Cimolino said. 'Pillars, locations of doors change over time but it's not our intention to change the stage.'

"However, he acknowledged the trap in the stage is 'too small to bury Ophelia' and ways to increase the space below may be looked at. Should the space underneath be increased attempts will be made to preserve the stage and keep the lumber intact, he said.

"'The fact is over the years a lot of that stage has changed. It's a living, working stage. I assure you, we'll hold onto all the pieces and keep them and use them when we can.'

"He suggested the emphasis of the study focuses on aging wiring and lighting systems rather than the stage.

"In order to do the work the Festival would have to undertake a fundraising campaign and get government grants. Whatever work is decided on will likely be done over the course of a couple of winters, Mr. Cimolino said.

"'We're in the process of a long-term analysis study -- there's lots of time for consideration before anything is done.'

"Mr. Sugden praised the new artistic team for the 'spectacular season' but also stressed 'there's a certain amount of stewardship they have to take on.'

"'In the business world now the popular talk is about the brand. I think that stage is an important part of the Festival's brand.'"

Friday, October 24, 2008

Meet Christopher Plummer

Christopher Plummer will be at the Indigo on Bay and Bloor in Toronto this Sunday, October 26, to promote his memoir In Spite of Myself. The event, which includes an interview, question-and-answer session, and book signing, begins at 3PM. Seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Christopher Plummer can be seen in Caesar and Cleopatra at the Festival Theatre until November 8.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Key 2009 Casting

In 2009, we'll see Geraint Wyn Davies back for another season and Jonathan Goad return to the classics.

Julius Caesar will be directed by James MacDonald and run May 23 through October 31 at the Avon Theatre. Its principal cast includes:

-- Geraint Wyn Davies as Julius Caesar
-- Ben Carlson as Brutus
-- Jonathan Goad as Marc Antony
-- Tom Rooney as Cassius
-- Yanna McIntosh as Calphurnia
-- Cara Ricketts as Portia

Macbeth will be directed by Des McAnuff and run May 22 to October 31 at the Festival Theatre. Its principal cast includes:

-- Colm Feore as Macbeth (previously announced)
-- Yanna McIntosh as Lady Macbeth
-- Geraint Wyn Davies as Duncan
-- Dion Johnstone as Macduff
-- Gareth Potter as Malcolm
-- Sophia Walker as Lady Macduff

A Midsummer Night's Dream will be directed by David Grindley and run August 7 to October 30 at the Festival Theatre. Its principal cast includes:

-- Geraint Wyn Davies as Bottom
-- Dion Johnstone as Oberon
-- Yanna McIntosh as Titania
-- Tom Rooney as Puck
-- Laura Condlln as Helena
-- Gareth Potter as Lysander
-- Sophia Walker as Hermia

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Friends Make Tributes to Monette

As previously announced, a tribute to longstanding Festival Artistic Director Richard Monette will be held on Monday, October 20, at 7 PM.

In a press release today, the Festival announced that Brian Bedford, Brent Carver, Dan Chameroy, Antoni Cimolino, Cynthia Dale, Colm Feore, Martha Henry, William Needles, Lucy Peacock, and Michael Therriault will be among those to make individual tributes to their late friend.

Reservations for the evening may be made by calling 1-800-567-1600.

2008 Tyrone Guthrie Awards

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival's 2008 Tyrone Guthrie Awards recently rewarded company members, theatre staff, and alumni with more than $60,000 for training, development, and special projects.

A few winners are listed below. You can read the entire list in the press release.

Abigail Winter-Culliford -- winner of the Mary Savage Award for an actress who has shown outstanding commitment to her craft. Winter-Culliford appeared this season as Moth in Love's Labours Lost after debuting last season as Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Stephen Kent -- winner of the John Hirsch Award for the young actor who shows the greatest potential. Kent appeared this, his second season, as Bernardo in Hamlet and Rodrigo in Fuente Ovejuna.

Ben Carlson -- winner of the Max Helpmann Guthrie Award for a company member who exhibits dedication and tenacity. Carlson debuted at the Festival season as Hamlet in Hamlet, Tranio in The Taming of the Shrew, and First Lord Dumaine in All's Well That Ends Well. He will return next season as Jack in The Importance of Being Earnest.

Ron Kennell -- winner of the City of Stratford Award to assist a local resident in gaining further training. Kennell appeared this season as Reynaldo in Hamlet, Tailor in The Taming of the Shrew, and in All's Well That Ends Well.

Peter Donaldson -- winner of the William Needles Award in recoginition of special interest shown to newer company members. Donaldson celebrated his 24th season with the Festival this year, in the roles of Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet, Don Armado in Love's Labours Lost, and Rufio in Caesar and Cleopatra.

Shelley Simester -- winner of the Maureen Forrester Award for advanced classical training. Simester stole a few scenes this season as Alma Hix in The Music Man, and also appeared in All's Well That Ends Well.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Interview: Graham Abbey

Richard Ouzounian interviews Stratford veteran Graham Abbey (click to get personal and see the timeline):

"Relax, fellow Canadians.

"You can sleep securely as long as Graham Abbey is standing on guard for thee, which he will continue to do as agent Gray Jackson in the popular CBC TV series The Border, which starts its second season Monday at 9 p.m.

"Four years ago at Stratford, I described him as 'boyishly handsome.' Abbey is 37 now and he has a leaner, meaner edge to his appearance. Underneath, he remains the nice guy he's always been.

"It's early on a misty morning and Abbey has been working since 6:30 a.m. at the former Rochester Ferry Terminal, home base for The Border's production.

"'What have I learned about myself on this show?' he asks rhetorically on a break. 'That I can get up at 4:30 a.m. and still function.'

"The scene being shot today is a low-key, largely informational affair, but during the dozen takes, Abbey keeps tightly focused, snapping out his lines with just the right measure of casual tension, then relaxing as lights are reset and cameras adjusted.

"'For me, there's one basic thing that took getting used to,' says the veteran of nine seasons playing leading roles at the Stratford Festival.

"'It's that when you're performing in the theatre, it's dark and everyone disappears. Here on TV, when you're ready to go, suddenly 40 people with booms appear.'

"Throughout his career, Abbey has had a knack for learning where to seek the best counsel. In this case he turned to Colm Feore, who can play Coriolanus at Stratford or appear on the upcoming season of 24 with equal skill.

"'Colm gave me great advice,' recalls Abbey. 'He told me to remember that the actual size of the Festival stage is so intimate that you don't have to change your performance style that much from stage to screen.'

"Watching Abbey breaking hearts and taking prisoners as the complicated Gray Jackson in The Border, it's obvious he's learned his lessons well.

"The series is on one level an exciting drama about the people guarding the Canada-U.S. border, but it also manages to work a fair bit of social and political commentary into its scripts. Abbey enjoys that a lot.

"'This show presents a great forum for Canadians to debate and think about what that border means. Usually we hear the voices from the south, so it's nice to give voice to our point of view as well.'

"During the first season, Abbey mainly dealt with what he calls 'the action stuff,' which gave him enough to worry about.

"'I joked with the guys on the show that I spent 10 years learning how to fight with a sword, and now I have to learn how to carry a gun.'

"Having done a convincing job of that, Abbey has been rewarded by having the scripts delve more deeply into his personal life.

"'Nick Campbell has been brought on to play my dad, which is great. On stage, I learned from Bill Hutt. Here on TV, I'm learning from Nick. You don't get luckier than that.'

"This year he also gets a relationship with Grace Park (Battlestar Galactica).

"Abbey jokes, 'Hey, you even get to see my apartment. You look at the set they've designed for the first time, and you say, Oh, that's what my character is supposed to be like!'

"Besides dealing with the pressures of filming the second season of his first TV series, Abbey has had to deal with some major joys and sorrows in the past few months.

"The joys came in August, when he married his former Stratford colleague Michelle Giroux. 'We were very dear friends who finally fell in love and decided to get married,' says Abbey of the woman he's known for over a decade. 'I don't know what suddenly shifted in my mind, I can't explain it. All I'm sure of is that it was the right thing to do.'

"The story of their proposal is classic Abbey, combining romantic bravado with adolescent insecurity.

"'I thought Ireland would be a nice place to propose and I knew we were planning a trip there. So I bought the ring and carried it with me.

"'We climbed up this high mountain and looked down on this beautiful vista – it's where they shot Braveheart, actually – and all the way up I kept thinking, It's going to be a long walk down if she says no.'

"Fortunately, she didn't, and they tied the knot in August.

"Only a few weeks later, Abbey faced the loss of one of the main influences in his life. Richard Monette, who had been artistic director at Stratford during Abbey's time there, died on Sept. 9 at the age of 64.

"'So many of us have him to thank for our careers,' begins Abbey, his emotions held in check. 'I wouldn't be an actor if it wasn't for him. He brought me up there, he fought for me, he kept me there...'

"Despite his best intentions, his voice thickens and the tears start flooding his eyes. 'Damn it, I thought I'd be better at this,' he says. 'I always meant to thank him, really thank him, but those moments go by in a flash and before you know it, they're gone.'

"A small smile breaks through. 'He used to watch The Border and told me he was proud of me doing it. So I'd like to think this season is for him.'"