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."

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