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.


Jinnayah said...

So sorry to hear all the gossip. Best of luck to the Festival picking itself up before next season, and for that matter getting through this season.

I look forward to when this blog will have more On-Stage reportings.

A. W. Gray said...

You can expect more frequent updates when the season begins, Jinnayah.

Previews begin April 23 (Hamlet), and the first opening is May 26 (Romeo and Juliet).