Monday, March 31, 2008

Dysfunctional Festival Family Dynamics

In 1982, Martin Knelman published a book (A Stratford Tempest) about the disasters caused by co-artistic directorships at the Festival. What he calls "attempted suicide". Now the Toronto Star arts columnist is feeling the reverberations of déjà vu.

"A recent cover of The New Yorker magazine depicted Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton sharing a bed, both drowsily reaching for the same fabled red phone at 3 a.m. The image gave one hilarious answer to the question of who would be better equipped to handle the ultimate crisis call. Why couldn't they share ultimate responsibility at the White House?

"Almost as ludicrous, it strikes me, was the notion that several people could share the job of artistic director of the Stratford Festival. But that is what the festival announced, in 2006, with no joke intended.

"To some of us, the only really surprising element of the news earlier this month about the acrimonious termination of the festival's group directorate was that almost everyone involved professed to be surprised that it didn't work.

"To veteran witnesses of the Stratford wars, this experiment was always destined to end badly. Members of the festival board especially should have realized from day one this plan could never work.

"According to Antoni Cimolino, the festival's general director, what caused the crisis was that two of the three artistic directors – Marti Maraden and Don Shipley – had suddenly resigned. That left Des McAnuff, a man preoccupied with his globally successful musical Jersey Boys, as the festival's sole artistic director – even though he is clearly not in a position to make Stratford a full-time job.

"But contrary to the festival's revisionist version of events, the evidence suggests there was nothing sudden about the decision of Maraden and Shipley to step aside, nor was it their idea to make the divorce public now, at the worst possible time, before the season opens, rather than wait until late summer.

"Almost inevitably, the nasty 'he said, she said' aspect of the saga is making Stratford seem even more viper-infested than the entertainingly dysfunctional family in August Osage County – a current Broadway hit likely to win the Tony for best play.

"But beyond the backstage gossip lies an inconvenient truth about the cultural world: Gifted artists don't necessarily get high marks in the category of 'playing nicely together.'"

Continue reading online.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Maraden's Statement

At the end of last week, former Artistic Director Marti Maraden issued a statement to the Globe and Mail, which we received in pieces. Here is the original text, edited by the newspaper:

"I have loved the Stratford Festival since I first set foot on its stages in 1974. As both actor and director I have received from it gifts beyond measure. When I was asked to become one of three new artistic directors in a shared leadership of the Festival I was utterly thrilled. This was not only an opportunity for me to give back to a theatre which had given so much to me, but a chance to be part of a great adventure. Though an earlier attempt at a shared leadership had foundered, having never been given a chance to prove itself, I have always believed this model of governance could work very well, and, despite recent events, I still do.

"I wish the Stratford Shakespeare Festival all success and I wish it no harm, and precisely because of this my actions and decisions of the past few months have been consistently tempered by my concerns for its well-being. However, comments in the press on March 15, 16, and as recently as [March 22] by Antoni Cimolino and Des McAnuff have left me compelled to refute misleading statements.

"Impressions have been created that Don Shipley and I resigned in a sudden and impulsive manner.

"This is the history of my resignation.

"On December 3, 2007, I told Antoni Cimolino that I had great difficulty continuing as part of the Festival's leadership because of the lack of protocol for decision-making, and because of what was becoming his own ever-increasing involvement in artistic decision-making, including the virtually unilateral imposition of his agenda. Over the past months I have made it clear that I did not wish to harm the Festival, that I was determined to act with as much integrity as possible and that I would leave my position in a manner that would cause the festival as little disruption as possible. I repeatedly suggested that we delay the announcement of my departure until late summer and that I finish my year out as Artistic Director. Amicable discussions were held as recently as March 3 with the three Artistic Directors and Antoni confirming everyone's wish for a graceful transition.

"Don Shipley, who had been troubled for many months but who clearly had more optimism than I that the partnership might succeed, found it necessary to resign. I will not presume to speak for him but I will say that I understand and sympathize with his motives. At this juncture, still hoping that the announcement of our departures could be delayed for the Company's sake, I volunteered that as both of us were going to resign, it might be better for all concerned to make one announcement rather than staggered ones. I certainly wasn't expecting or wishing for an abrupt or immediate announcement. In discussions with Antoni no precise timing had been discussed and I continued to hope for as long a delay as possible.

"It would appear from statements in the press that Antoni was the only one to make a last ditch effort to salvage the partnership. In fact Don Shipley, desperate to find a resolution, created talking points to urge a solution. He persuaded me to agree that if certain fundamental conditions could be agreed upon that I might reconsider my decision to leave. I will confess that I wasn't optimistic, but agreed it was worth a sincere effort.

"On Wednesday, March 12, Antoni visited me briefly during a break from my rehearsal and asked me to speak to him that evening after I had finished work as no resolution had been achieved. After my rehearsal ended I went to his office. Antoni told me that Don's and my resignation would be announced the next day, and that settlement papers had already been drawn up. I was very surprised.

"Don Shipley and I never marched into Antoni's office offering our resignations abruptly and in tandem, though that is the impression created in the press I have previously quoted.
The reason I haven't spoken before is that the settlement agreement given to me (which I have declined to sign) contains a clause limiting what can be said by either me or the Company to anyone, to the media, or to members or former members of the Board. I was prepared to sign the settlement for the sake of the Festival, its staff and its artists and in the hope and expectation that any statement made on behalf of the Festival re our departure would be fair to all parties. However, as Antoni Cimolino and Des McAnuff have spoken forth beyond these strictures and have left the public with a very misleading impression of the manner of my departure, I feel I must speak. An attempt was made to persuade me to issue a joint statement with the Festival. I declined. I need my own voice. To date, so far as I know, only Antoni, Des and the Board Chair, Richard Rooney, have had been heard.

"My original Stratford contract states that 'Maraden will report to the General Director of the Stratford Festival, along with her partners, and will have the creative responsibilities and authority of an artistic director of a not-for-profit theatre.' Though Antoni clearly held ultimate authority, he repeatedly told us that we three Artistic Directors were to make decisions regarding programming and hiring of artists and that he was there to let us focus on artistic matters while he looked after the Festival as a whole and sought the means to make our dreams and vision a reality. I would never have agreed to become part of this leadership if this had not been the understanding. However, the General Director's increasing involvement in artistic decision-making on large and small matters, especially as the 2009 programming began, and as I indicated earlier, a virtual unilateral imposition of the General Director's agenda made it impossible for me to continue. I felt more and more like an artistic associate.

"I cannot be an Artistic Director in name only. That would betray the Stratford Company's, the Board's and our constituents' belief and conception of the way in which its artistic leadership is functioning. Either a leadership is shared or it isn't.

"I don't think it can be disputed that I have l have lived up to the 'responsibilities that my contract imposes' with integrity. In my designate year I worked for ten months instead of the six months for which I was contracted. Though compensation for the additional time was modest, I didn't care. I loved the theatre and I wanted it to thrive.

"I have done my best to express my fundamental reasons for resigning and the timing and manner of doing so and hope this puts the matter to rest.

"The focus now rightly belongs to the actors, directors, designers, artisans, crews and staff of a great theatre in the midst of creating a new season. My focus belongs in the rehearsal hall and on the stages with them.

McAnuff Moves Forward

Richard Ouzounian plays catch-up on what the Globe and Mail spit out over the weekend about the split in artistic directorship, while remaining frontman Des McAnuff says it's time to move forward.

"SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - My hotel here is on one of the highest hills in the city and offers a spectacular view, not just of the surrounding Korean countryside, but — metaphorically speaking — all the way to Perth County.

"It’s amazing what a bit of space and distance can do to give one some perspective, especially on the turmoil that’s overtaken the Stratford Shakespeare Festival since two of its three artistic directors, Marti Maraden and Don Shipley, resigned almost two weeks ago. Des McAnuff remains.

"The already-heated atmosphere grew steamier still yesterday when Maraden’s side of the story appeared in The Globe and Mail. Her complaints settled on several points, the major two of which seemed to be that 'there was no protocol for decision-making, neither written nor spoken' and that 'a virtually unilateral imposition of (general director Antoni Cimolino’s) Öagenda made it impossible for me to continue.'

"Let’s tackle the first issue. Contrary to what Maraden said on the weekend, it was always clear what the decision-making process would be: consensus.

"The word was on everyone’s lips that June day in 2006 when their appointments were announced. 'As a group, that’s what we’ll be striving to do — to find consensus,' said Shipley. 'It’s never going to be easy but certainly we’ve been skilled at doing that.'

"It worked well at first but seemed forgotten once consensus grew harder to achieve, with increasing arguments that would find Maraden and Shipley on one side and McAnuff on the other, being resolved by Cimolino in McAnuff’s favour.

"Maraden admits that 'Antoni clearly held ultimate authority' and that should have always been obvious.

"On the day in April two years ago when Cimolino was appointed general director, I asked him to define his job. 'I’m the team captain,' he said without a moment’s hesitation.

"The deal-breaking line in the sand that Shipley supposedly wanted to draw would have changed the artistic directors’ method of choice from consensus to simple majority. It was rejected, the resignations were accepted and the hard part began."

Read more at the Toronto Star.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Marti Maraden Speaks Out

"The high backstage drama at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival may have opened a second act.

"Refusing to exit silently, Marti Maraden says her resignation as co-artistic director 12 days ago was the result of creative interference and an agenda imposed by general director Antoni Cimolino despite earlier assurances that the unusual triumvirate arrangement that was put in place 21 months ago would work as a partnership.

"In an exclusive interview, Ms. Maraden said she was 'misled' about the unconventional leadership construct that she, Don Shipley, Des McAnuff and Mr. Cimolino agreed to in 2006.
'It was supposed to be a partnership, a shared leadership, and Antoni would intervene only if it was urgent, and it came not to be that,' Ms. Maraden said. 'We were misled as to how we were actually functioning.'

"In effect, she said, hers had become an associate's job, without real artistic decision-making authority. 'There was no protocol for decision-making, no clearly defined method either written or spoken by which we could all know when a choice of project or artist had a green light,' she wrote in an e-mail Sunday."

Keep reading at the Globe and Mail.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Directors Versus Dollars

J. Kelly Nestruck, writing for the Globe and Mail, summarizes the recent shifts at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, only to determine:

"The battle to worry about at Stratford this year is probably economic rather than artistic, thanks to the strong Canadian dollar and the threat of a U.S. recession.

"Overall ticket sales are down about 7 per cent for this time of year, according to the Festival press office - and it's due to a drop in American sales. However, Monette's biggest legacy to the festival was financial stability. Stratford never ran a deficit during his tenure and the For All Time Endowment Foundation he started has investments with a market value of $57-million.

"Things aren't so rosy elsewhere in Canadian theatre: While Stratford had a surplus of $221,483 in 2007, the nearby Shaw Festival ended last year $927,000 in the hole. But, so far, it is evading the dark headlines.

"As next year's season is already tentatively drawn up, we'll have to wait until the summer of 2010 to see what a Stratford Shakespeare Festival led by McAnuff will truly look like - and to see if he can please everybody as Cimolino's well-balanced trio was intended to do. Unfortunately for McAnuff, the honeymoon period is over before it even begins."

Friday, March 21, 2008

Des McAnuff: A History

From Simon Houpt at the Globe and Mail:

"The epic personality clashes that brought the Stratford Shakespeare Festival briefly to its knees last week, and saw two of its three artistic directors depart in anger, may have shocked the Canadian theatrical community, but they were no surprise to those who knew Des McAnuff, Stratford's last man standing, when he ran California's La Jolla Playhouse.

"In 18 seasons at the helm of that once-comatose regional theatre, McAnuff earned a fearsome reputation as a visionary who could be brilliant, maddening and egotistical, a personally and professionally provocative director who demanded the best of his actors, designers and craftspeople and, in turn, gave the same of himself. Yet while McAnuff has a reputation as an adept charmer, he is not known as a man who likes to share power, nor will he back down from a fight.

"And in La Jolla, the San Diego suburb which he put on the theatrical map by exporting almost a dozen shows to Broadway and making the Playhouse a magnet for talent, even his critics praise his achievements.

"'He's tremendously gifted. He really is a visionary. But like many visionaries, he's erratic,' says Anne Marie Welsh, who covered dance and theatre at The San Diego Tribune for 23 years. 'It's like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead.' As the poem goes (to paraphrase): When he's good, he's very, very good; and when he's not, he's horrid.

"And at the moment, there are whisperings that McAnuff is worse than horrid, that he is solely responsible for the sucker punch that Stratford is now absorbing. McAnuff is doing all he can to counter that perception. After Don Shipley and Marti Maraden suddenly resigned last week amid significant but thus far undisclosed disagreements, McAnuff insisted he had never intended to grab the Stratford, Ont., festival all for himself. And though he has just flown back from London, where he opened a West End production of his hit musical Jersey Boys to rave reviews on Tuesday night, and next season's schedule is in sudden disarray, he is making himself as available as possible to the press."

Continue reading.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Opinion from Stratford

The Beacon Herald editorial for Saturday, March 15, is concerned what affect the resignation of Artistic Directors Marti Maraden and Don Shipley will have on the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

"Lovers of Canadian theatre read their newspapers and listened to the radio with heightened attention on Friday as there was indeed big news at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

"With the planning for the upcoming season well underway but still a couple of months away from the curtains rising in earnest, the Festival made a major artistic change.

"For the third time, the Stratford Festival was going to operate under the banner of three artistic directors. Many Stratford residents and true patrons of the Canadian arts will recall that similar formulas have failed in the past.

"Jean Gascon and John Hirsch were co-artistic directors for a year between 1968-69 and in 1980 a group of four was set to lead the festival artistically, but the board changed direction and all four were let go before the season began.

"That decision was the flashpoint of a dangerously tumultuous time for the Festival.

"This time around, the decision process has been markedly different. First, the decision to go with three artistic directors is a testament to the success of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. In short, the task of mounting a season has gotten two great for just one person, and general director Antoni Cimolino and the board of directors hired Marti Maraden, Don Shipley and Des McAnuff as the artistic directors. Their task was to fill the shoes of Richard Monette who retired after 14 very successful years at the helm.

"On the surface, it appeared to be an informed, albeit somewhat unusual, decision to go with three people. After all, having more than one captain has failed in the past, but by the same token the Stratford Festival is a much bigger operation than it once was and perhaps the time was right for a new model.

"Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.

"'I chose them. I was heavily invested in this,' Mr. Cimolino said. 'No one was more invested in this model and these people than I was.'

"Despite best intentions combined with high hopes, there did not appear to be any chance to fix whatever problem had reared its ugly head.

"The three 'strove to avoid this,' and it wasn’t done lightly, Mr. Cimolino said.'What it really comes down to are artistic differences. Unfortunately, they turned out to be irreconcilable.'

"While it is unfortunate a decision like this had to be made, by all accounts, it had to be made and credit should be given to Mr. Cimolino and whoever else gritted their collective teeth and made what was surely a difficult change of course.

"It’s well on in the process to make such a drastic change but it’s also never too late to do the right thing.

"And, unlike people elsewhere who read this story with interest on Friday, this all matters very much to people in Stratford for another reason. Certainly, there are many people in Stratford who love live theatre in general and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in particular.

"But the Festival is also an industry here and one of the city’s largest employers. Many people are watching this situation for reasons far greater than to find out what we can expect to see on stage this summer.

"Also, these are incredibly challenging times for the Stratford Festival, perhaps the most so in a generation. The soaring loonie has made trips to Stratford much more expensive for American patrons. In addition, the American economy is going through an economic downturn that has left millions of people with less disposable income.

"Combine that with record gas prices that not only make it expensive for American visitors to Stratford but for Canadians tourists as well.

"For that reason, the decision-makers at the Festival deserve some credit. It’s clear that there was a real desire to make this work. It’s also clear this new artistic structure was not going to work out.

"That’s unfortunate but it would have been worse try to soldier on with an artistic team that was unworkable. It was better to recognize that now than after the season was over.

"For theatre in Canada, and for Stratford in particular, there’s just too much at stake not to put the best foot forward from day one."

Non-Stop Gossip in Wake of Resignations

In the wake of resignations from two of three Artistic Directors - Marti Maraden and Don Shipley - last week, Richard Ouzounian summarizes the gossip:

"Even though the Stratford Shakespeare Festival isn't presenting Julius Caesar this season, it's hard not to think of that particular play when reviewing the events of the past few days.

"Just before the Ides of March, two members of the Festival's triumvirate of artistic directors resigned suddenly under mysterious circumstances.

"We want to believe the parties involved are, in Marc Antony's words, 'all honourable men.' But the early talk pointing the finger at surviving artistic director Des McAnuff might yet yield to another theory– that the same combination of envy and misguided idealism that motivated Cassius and Brutus is the source of the current troubles.

"Here are the facts: on Thursday afternoon, general director Antoni Cimolino announced that Marti Maraden and Don Shipley had resigned their positions as artistic directors and that the lone survivor, Des McAnuff, would become the festival's sole artistic director.

"Cimolino would remain in charge overall; still, as he put it in an interview with the Star, 'I may be the CEO, but Des and I are going to work as partners.'

"In practical terms, this will have little impact on theatergoers this season. With the exception of Shipley stepping down from directing a double bill of one-act plays, everything is the same. Yet that isn't stopping the swirl of gossip, in Stratford and the Canadian theatre scene generally, all coming back to one question: Why did this happen?

"The terse official reason was, 'artistic differences,' which can mean many things, like – hypothetically – Shipley arguing with McAnuff about whether to have Billy Crystal star in The Merry Wives of Windsor.

"And don't ever forget the classic definition of the term offered by one of murderesses in Chicago: 'I guess you could say we broke up because of artistic differences. He saw himself as alive and I saw him dead.'

"That might be a lot closer to what probably happened at Stratford.

"To look at how this came to pass, you need to understand the four major players and the stage on which their drama played itself out.

"Cimolino heads the list. Make no mistake, he's the final authority at Stratford, despite the easy manner and user-friendly persona he has cultivated in the past few years.

"A triumvirate of artistic directors was his dream. 'I have put myself on the line with this,' he told the Star on Friday, 'and no one wanted it to work more than I did.'

"The first person Cimolino sought out was McAnuff and with excellent reason. The Scarborough boy who made good with Tony Award-winning hits like Jersey Boys is a commercial wizard, but he has also spent much of his career directing classical theatre (including a 1983 Stratford Macbeth). The combination was irresistible.

"Maraden was a logical second choice. One of the finest young actresses in Stratford's history had grown into a respected teacher, director and administrator much in demand across North America.

"But it's a fairly open secret that Don Shipley was not the first, second or maybe even third draft pick for the final slot.

"British directors of note like Mark Rylance and Edward Hall were approached. Hall had even tentatively agreed to the position, only to withdraw later.

"When Shipley's name was announced in 2006 it struck many people as a surprise, though he had strong Stratford connections, being born and raised in the town.

"He had worked as a boy actor at the festival, then carved out a career as an artistic director in several theatres. But it had been over 20 years since Shipley had actually directed a play, spending the intervening time selecting programming for Harbourfront and the Dublin Theatre Festival.

"When the 2008 season was announced it was possible to see all of their influences reflected in the choices. But it had never really been a happy group, Stratford insiders say. Their personalities were too disparate. The razzle-dazzle McAnuff frequently found himself at odds with the soft-spoken Maraden and the brooding Shipley.

"At this point, Stratford itself comes into play. It's a small town, which means gossip is a major activity and it's also a theatre community, which raises the level of rumour exponentially.

"In the weeks following McAnuff's initial appointment, it was possible to encounter normally well-informed people who would swear that the current Stratford season would feature at least two musicals McAnuff hoped to take to Broadway. They even had the names: The Wiz and Dr. Zhivago.

"The truth is that McAnuff is working on those shows for future production elsewhere, but they were never for one minute suggested for Stratford.

"And never forget this: Stratford protects its own. Before too many months had gone by, venom was trickling through the emails and phone lines. The recurring theme was that McAnuff was too powerful. If Shipley and Maraden had to adjust their schedules to match his or fly to New York for meetings when he was directing a show, they made their displeasure known, or so said the gossipmongers.

"'I had a variety of commitments when I took on the position,' explains McAnuff, 'and everyone knew what they were.'

"Cimolino backs that. 'I have never had a moment's problems with Des's other activities. The festival has not suffered because of them.'

"But the whispers continued. 'Did you know that McAnuff missed his first rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet?' the gossips would hiss, conjuring up visions of jet-setting indulgence.

"The truth, it seems, was a lot more prosaic. 'Des was on a research trip for (this season's) Caesar and Cleopatra,' explains Cimolino 'and he gave us three weeks notice of the conflict.'

"The chatter came to a head anyhow on Friday, March 7, when a session held to discuss several issues erupted in acrimony. 'It wasn't any one thing,' says Cimolino.

"Last Wednesday, Shipley and Maraden tendered their resignations. 'I begged them to reconsider, to take a breath, to wait until the end of the season, but they wouldn't,' Cimolino says. (Maraden and Shipley did not respond to requests for an interview.)

"By cocktail time Thursday, the story being told around Stratford was that a mistreated Shipley and Maraden had been forced out by a Machiavellian Cimolino and a power-hungry McAnuff.
A touching tale. But according to Cimolino, not a true one. 'I did everything I could to keep them here. This was a resignation, not a firing.'

"The next day, the gossip grew uglier. 'Many of the board are against Des's appointment,' stated a theatre veteran familiar with Stratford. 'Especially (former chair) Kelly Meighen. Talk to her.'

"Cimolino seemed amazed at that comment. 'There is strong unanimity among the board of governors. And in fact, although Kelly is out of the country, she sent me a message of support saying, Tell Des that he's just about one of the best guys in the world.'

"There are many questions to be asked, but here are one or two worth immediate consideration:
Why did Shipley and Maraden have to quit now, at a highly inopportune moment, if the good of the festival, not personal vindication, was their ultimate goal?

"If Maraden could find the generosity of spirit to stay on and complete her two assigned productions, why did Shipley demand to leave immediately, abandoning his show and leaving Brian Dennehy searching for a director?

"No doubt the rumours alleging transgressions by McAnuff will continue to spread among theatre insiders in any event. Others, though, might start offering a different theory, and they could even quote Shakespeare to do it:

"'The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,

But in ourselves, that we are underlings.'"

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Globe Reports on Resignations

From Michael Posner at the Globe and Mail:

"Des McAnuff is still in shock. The week's extraordinary backstage drama at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival - the sudden resignation of his two co-artistic directors, Marti Maraden and Don Shipley, and his own appointment as sole creative head - has left him reeling.

"He's barking into a telephone outside a restaurant in London, during a rehearsal break for his Tony-Award-winning musical Jersey Boys, which opens in the West End next week.

"'Of course, there have been challenges with this model,' Mr. McAnuff concedes, alluding to the triumvirate leadership arrangement that was put in place 21 months ago. 'We all expected that. But a week ago if you'd asked me if resignations would happen, I would have said absolutely not. I won't kid you. This is traumatic.'

"Certainly this wasn't what general director Antoni Cimolino had in mind in 2006 when he went to the Stratford board of directors with a succession plan for Richard Monette, who was retiring after 14 years the following year.

"On paper, it must have seemed like a stroke of genius - replacing Mr. Monette with a theatrical dream team - Mr. McAnuff and Mr. Shipley and Ms. Maraden.

"Ms. Maraden had been a much-admired actress and for eight years artistic director of the National Arts Centre's English theatre. Mr. McAnuff, an American who spent much of his youth in Toronto, is a two-time Tony Award winner and was, for 20 years, artistic director of La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego. Mr. Shipley, a former child actor, has been in the theatre world virtually his entire life, and had run several Canadian theatres as well as festivals at Harbourfront and Dublin. All were willing to relinquish their respective posts and sign on.

"When the plan was announced in 2006, you could cut the euphoria with a knife. Under the agreement, Mr. Cimolino would attend largely to the administrative side, overseeing an annual budget of $60-million. The triumvirate would principally handle the creative burden.

"There, precisely, lay the rub. Largely and principally are relative concepts.

"Still, for roughly 20 months, the directorate appeared to operate without major conflict.
But although few members of the acting company were aware of it, tensions were building, fuelled by deepening discord over a host of issues.

"The crisis reached its tipping point a week ago Friday. By Monday, a crisis loomed, and Mr. Cimolino spent two frantic days trying to stave off the inevitable.

"It could not be saved.

"Mr. McAnuff and Mr. Shipley had dinner together on Tuesday, but were unable to cement the breach. On Wednesday, both Ms. Maraden and Mr. Shipley formally resigned and Mr. Cimolino immediately asked Mr. McAnuff - the last man standing - to become sole artistic director of one of Canada's most important cultural institutions.

"Where did the Dream Team come unravelled?

"Neither Ms. Maraden nor Mr. Shipley would agree to exit interviews - in part because lawyers are now dealing with severance issues. But Mr. Cimolino told The Globe and Mail that the core of the problem pertained to how decisions were to be made.

"'These were not petty, trivial issues - these are substantive people. I don't want be reductive about it,' he said.

"Some sources close to the festival suggested yesterday that Mr. McAnuff was the central problem, and that Ms. Maraden and Mr. Shipley had finally reached the end of their Mr. McAnuff tether. They were said to be unhappy with what they perceived as an indulgence of Mr. McAnuff's needs, particularly the scheduling juggling acts required to meet his extracurricular assignments.

"Last fall, while Mr. McAnuff was in New York directing The Farnsworth Invention, the other three had to fly there for meetings on Stratford business. When they raised these concerns with Mr. Cimolino, he backed Mr. McAnuff.

"Mr. McAnuff rejects the criticism that he had too many non-Stratford projects on his plate.

"'Everyone was aware going in that I had contracts for other projects. The board and Antoni are well aware of it. My schedule is chock-a-block and has been for years. I know where I'm going to be on any given date in September and which flight I'm on. It's all about communication. But I would not be agreeing to step up if I didn't think I could make a commitment.'

"Richard Rooney, the Toronto investment manager who chairs the Stratford board, noted that the festival had been criticized in the past for 'not taking chances. This [arrangement] was an experiment.

"'Would we do it again? I think we would. But it's sad that it ended this way.'"

Festival Shakeup at the Star

From Richard Ouzounian at the Toronto Star:

"The Ides of March came two days early for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival this year.

"In a move that shocked the Canadian arts community, general director Antoni Cimolino announced yesterday afternoon the resignation of two of his three artistic directors, Marti Maraden and Don Shipley.

"The third, Des McAnuff, will remain as the sole artistic director.

"'I am profoundly saddened by this,' Cimolino told the Star yesterday. 'No one was more invested in this model than I was and we only went down this path when all other avenues were exhausted. I still think it brought enormous benefits to the festival, but it just wasn't working out among these three individuals.'

"Neither Maraden nor Shipley responded to interview requests.

"The artistic directorate was revealed on June 19, 2006, meaning they hadn't yet survived two years in their roles.

"Stratford's earlier attempt at a group directorate also ended badly. It was led briefly by Martha Henry, Peter Moss, Urjo Kareda and Pam Brighton, who were hired on Sept.18, 1980 and fired by the board on Nov.10 that same year.

"The current scenario was somewhat different, with Cimolino in overall control of three artistic directors whom he selected, and these departures are resignations, not firings.

"Maraden is scheduled to direct two shows this season (The Trojan Women and All's Well That Ends Well). She will stay on to complete her duties on those productions.

"Shipley will step down as the director of Krapp's Last Tape, which stars Brian Dennehy, who will continue in the role.

"Cimolino would give no reason for the departure of Maraden and Shipley. But sources close to the festival suggested they had been displeased with the preferential treatment allegedly accorded McAnuff in artistic issues, as well as those of budget and scheduling.

"'In any situation, people are going to put out rumours,' said Cimolino, denying the accusations. 'Human affairs are such that people will always speculate, but we're talking about mature people here who wouldn't resign over such petty things.'

"Cimolino did concede there had been areas of disagreement among the directorate last fall, 'but I thought they had all been resolved.'

"He found himself mistaken recently when 'one or two things that happened' plunged the group into dissent again, and 'it finally unfolded over a very brief period of time,' with Cimolino himself realizing on Wednesday 'it couldn't be fixed.

"Again Cimolino wouldn't specify what the 'things that happened' were, but festival insiders point to annoyance from Shipley and Maraden about the amount of time McAnuff was absent, working on his worldwide hit Jersey Boys and other non-Stratford projects.

"Cimolino denied those accusations and said, 'Des understands perfectly what this workload will represent and there was strong support for him from the board of governors.'

"McAnuff elaborated on the issue in an interview. 'Yes, I have other contractual obligations, but I'm very good at managing my time. I'm a hardworking man and that's not going to change,' he said.

"'[The solo artistic directorship] is nothing I looked for or lobbied for, but I felt a sense of loyalty and commitment to Stratford and I couldn't let them down.'

"Asked for his feelings about his new position, he paused, then answered. 'It's going to change my life. It already has.'"

Friday, March 14, 2008

Lord of the Rings Loses London Audience

Producers of The Lord of the Rings: The Musical (2007, London) have announced that this July 19 will be the last show in what will be a thirteen-month run for the over-the-top production.

When it originally opened in Toronto in 2006, The Lord of the Rings didn't last six months.

Actors James Loye (Frodo), Peter Howe (Sam) and Michael Therriault (Gollum) reprised their roles in the revival.

According to the CBC, "Talks are currently underway to tour the complex fantasy epic in New Zealand, Australia, and Asia next year, as well as possibly re-open a production in Germany".

Will Therriault return to Canada, or follow the big show that couldn't?

Stratford in Shock at Festival Changes

From Laura Cudworth at the Stratford Beacon Herald:

"It was to be the first season under the stewardship of three artistic directors, but two have resigned as the Stratford Shakespeare Festival heads into rehearsals.

"Marti Maraden and Don Shipley have resigned, the Festival announced yesterday, leaving Des McAnuff the sole artistic director this season. He will continue to work closely with general director Antoni Cimolino.

"The triumvirate was meant to represent a new Festival headed in a new direction after 14 years under former artistic director Richard Monette.

"'I chose them. I was heavily invested in this,' Mr. Cimolino said of the three this morning. 'No one was more invested in this model and these people than I was.'

"A source close to the Festival acknowledged there was friction between Mr. McAnuff and the other artistic directors.

"'I don’t want to get into speculation as to the motives. People tried to find common ground,' Mr. Cimolino said.

"The three 'strove to avoid this' and it wasn’t done lightly, Mr. Cimolino said.

"What it really comes down to are artistic differences. Unfortunately, they turned out to be irreconcilable."

"The triumvirate model of artistic directors was chosen because the job has gotten too large for one person. The Festival won’t hire anyone else immediately, though the concept of adding an associate artistic director or resident director is being tossed around to ease some of the pressure on Mr. McAnuff.

"'We will look at a structure that supports Des,'” Mr. Cimolino said.

"Based on their long-term commitments to other projects, it’s not like Mr. Shipley or Ms. Maraden to walk out at a critical period in the season.

"Ms. Maraden will continue on with her directing duties for All’s Well That Ends Well and The Trojan Women.Mr. Shipley, however, will not direct Krapp’s Last Tape. 'I’m sorry that is the case,' Mr. Cimolino said.

"The hunt is on for a new director, and Mr. Cimolino has some people in mind but declined to say who.

"'We have shows to do and we’re going to do that.'

"This was the third time the Festival tried having multiple artistic directors at the helm. Jean Gascon and John Hirsch were co-artistic directors for a year between 1968-69 and in 1980 a group of four was set to lead the festival artistically, but the board changed direction.

"The fact it didn’t work this time either is a missed opportunity, Mr. Cimolino said. However, the Festival will still benefit from new talents, new programs and an exciting playbill as a result of the 21 months of collaboration between them, he stressed.

"Mr. Shipley grew up in Stratford and was a child actor at the Festival. He went on to become associate director under Robin Phillips. Mr. Shipley brought international theatre to Can-ada while running the Harbourfront Centre and the duMaurier World Stage Festival. He was the artistic director and CEO of the Dublin Theatre Festival for three years before resigning to come here.

"Mr. Shipley’s strength was his international cachet and connections. He had the potential to raise the Festival’s profile internationally and bring in foreign actors.

"Ms. Maraden has 16 Festival seasons under her belt as both an actor and director. The Festival is currently negotiating with her to direct a production next season.

"She was the artistic director of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa from 1997-2005. When she resigned she moved back to Stratford, where she maintained a home, and was offered one of the artistic director’s spots.

"She has also earned a reputation as a nurturer of Canadian work. In addition to her work at the National Arts Centre, she was instrumental in starting the Magnetic North Theatre Festival in St. John’s, N.L., which features some of the best contemporary Canadian theatre in English.

"Mr. McAnuff was named artistic director at La Jolla Playhouse in California in 1983, a position he held for a year and then took on again from 2001 to 2006. He was named director emeritus there. He has also had many successes on Broadway and with musicals."

Co-Artistic Directors No More

Des McAnuff has been asked by General Director Antoni Cimolino and the Board of Governors to be the sole Artistic Director for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

According to the press release, Marti Maraden will still direct All's Well That Ends Well (2008) and The Trojan Women (2008) this season, but neither she nor Don Shipley will be involved in preparing for the next.

Plans for 2009 were already underweigh when the change was made.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wednesday Webcast for March 12

This Wednesday Webcast is over, but you can look forward to the archived version tomorrow, and enjoy these highlights in the meantime:

-- General Director Antoni Cimolino takes us on a backstage tour of Cabaret (2008), emphasizing the millinery and costume departments;

-- We meet company members Jewelle Blackman (from Toronto; her most recent run was in We Will Rock You, during which she met Evan Buliung) and Sam Strasfeld (this is his third season, following four at the Shaw Festival);

-- During the question and answer session, Bruce Dow admits he's "never been an actor afraid of going out on a limb", and then proceeds to discuss the frightening freedom in preparing for his role as the Emcee (a character who is not defined in the original script);

-- Plus, find out what Cimolino says "blew his mind"!

DON'T FORGET: past webcasts are available online, too, and feature director Peter Hinton talking about The Taming of the Shrew (2008) and actor Peter Donaldson talking about Romeo and Juliet (2008).

NEXT WEDNESDAY: Stars Gareth Potter and Nikki M. James join the second webcast on Romeo and Juliet (2008). Already know what you want to ask? Ask a question in advance.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ha'Penny Bridge Cast Finding New Jobs

Last month, the cancellation of The Ha'Penny Bridge by producer Garrett McGuckian meant that thirty-six (36) Canadians were out of work.

Kyle Blair was one of them.

But Blair has since found work, acting in A Man of No Importance (2008), which runs until March 22 at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs.

Richard Ouzounian gave the production three out of four stars, and had this to say:

"Considering the weekend's weather, we should all be ready for a warm-hearted show like A Man of No Importance, which opened Friday at the Berkeley Street Theatre.

"This gentle musical tells the story of Alfie Byrne, a bus conductor in 1964 Dublin. He's well into middle age and lives alone with his spinster sister, finding his only excitement in the local amateur theatre group.

"But Alfie is also deeply in the closet, attracted to Robbie, the virile young bus driver he works with each day. This 'love that dares not speak its name' remains well hidden until Alfie starts directing Salome by Oscar Wilde and then his life falls apart on every front.

"It's a sentimental story, in both the good and the bad senses of the word, with Terrence McNally's book wavering between bitter wit and sticky pathos, needing a deft hand to steer through the narrows between the two.

"Though she has picked a fine cast and staged them with clever invention, director Lezlie Wade doesn't quite pull off the balancing act.

"The funny scenes lack an underlying sadness and the heart-tugging moments are missing the dash of humour that would make them sting even more.

"Things work better in the musical numbers thanks to the score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, as well as to the four-piece band led by Reza Jacobs that plays it with just the right Irish tang.

"Douglas E. Hughes is a magnificent Alfie and reason enough to go see this production. His craggy face houses the saddest of eyes and the most hopeful of smiles. The combination is devastating.

"Kyle Blair, as Robbie, the unknowing object of Alfie's affections, is bright, handsome and vocally skilled, but just a bit too suave to be the source of animal energy that Alfie's life is lacking."

J. Kelly Nestruck at the Globe and Mail was less impressed with the "sweetness and delicateness" of the show, but did appreciate that "Kyle Blair gets one of few brassy numbers in The Streets of Dublin and blasts some energy into the otherwise uptight show."

No Oliviers for Canadians

Despite the total of ten nominations between The Drowsy Chaperone (2007, London) and The Lord of the Rings: The Muscial (2007, London), there were no Canadian wins at the 2008 Laurence Olivier Awards.

Presented last night in London's West End, the awards were dominated by Hairspray (2007), which beat out both of our contenders as the Best New Musical.

For a full list of winners, follow this link.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Romeo and Juliet Webcast Archived

This week's Wednesday Webcast is now available in the archives.

NEXT WEDNESDAY: Antoni Cimolino and actor Bruce Dow (Emcee) take us backstage at the Avon Theatre for Cabaret (2008).

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

It's Webcast Wednesday

At 4:30 PM, a live webcast will feature Romeo and Juliet (2008) both backstage and in discussions with Stratford Shakespeare Festival General Director Antoni Cimolino, Artistic Director (and R and J director) Des McAnuff, and actor Peter Donaldson, who will be playing Friar Lawrence.

If you can't make it, don't fret; all the webcasts are being archived here. And you can now ask a question in advance, so when you watch it a day or two later it will be just like watching it live.