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.'"

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