Tuesday, May 27, 2008

"Curtain Rises on a New Festival Era"

From Laura Cudworth at the Stratford Beacon Herald:

"The forecast called for thunderstorms during the Stratford Shakespeare Festival opening but they never materialized. Perhaps that’s a sign.

"There were a few bumps during the Festival’s 56th preseason and much has been written about all that’s gone wrong. Most notably were the resignations of two of the three artistic directors, Marti Maraden and Don Shipley, as rehearsals were about to start.

"There have been smaller hiccups as well. Director Michael Langham broke his leg and was delayed getting to Stratford for rehearsals.

"Anika Noni Rose, cast as Cleopatra opposite Christopher Plummer’s Caesar, had scheduling conflicts and dropped out.

"But last night the Stratford Police Pipes and Drums played, crowds came out to see the spectacle and celebrities walked a new red carpet to see the opening production of Romeo and Juliet.

"This is the start a new era at the Festival under the leadership of remaining artistic director Des McAnuff and general director Antoni Cimolino.

"'This place is invincible,' said actor Sheila McCarthy. 'I think change is good, it’s positive. It’s sad what happened, but time heals everything.'

"She noted the theatre has survived many things and said it will also survive a rising dollar and rising gas prices.

"'It’s going to be a wonderful season,' she said.

"The Beacon Herald Citizen of the Year and former Festival board chair Tom Orr said he’s worried about the border being a turnoff to American visitors but he’s confident in the quality of the productions.

"Like every other year, actors and patrons were full of optimism and expectation last night.

"'I feel this is the strongest week we’ve seen in years,' Mr. Cimolino, himself a past Romeo at the Festival, said on his way into the theatre. 'It’s a phenomenal year and we’re in for some extraordinary results.'

"Mr. McAnuff stressed this season was planned by Ms. Maraden and Mr. Shipley as well. He acknowledged the administrative changes could have been a distraction for the artists, but they remained focused.

"'I’ve noticed the difference but not in bad ways,' said actor Abigail Winter-Culliford, 11.

"Regardless of the drama during the preseason, it’s the performances on stage that will inevitably make or break the season.

"For Mr. McAnuff, last night represented the opening of the first season he collaborated on and the first play he directed at Stratford.

"'I feel great. I feel really great. It’s too late to worry now,' he said.

"As for regular patrons devoted to the Festival, none of the hubbub early on has been a deterrent.

"'I’m really looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to all the Shakespeare,' said Susan Davidson.

"She hasn’t missed a production of Hamlet in 30 years, she said. 'Growing up this was my community theatre. How lucky.'

"American actor Brian Dennehy called Stratford 'actors camp' as he walked the red carpet.

"'For someone like me it’s a privilege to be here.'

"He observed, 'it’s been raining and cold, all of a sudden it’s hot and sunny.'"

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