Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Richard Monette Dies

I regret having to report this. Here's the official press release from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival:

"It is with profound sadness that the Stratford Shakespeare Festival announces the death last night of Richard Monette, the longest-serving artistic director in its history. Mr. Monette, whose tenure lasted for 14 seasons, from 1994 to 2007, died of a pulmonary embolus in hospital in London, Ontario. He was 64 years old.

"'I remember first seeing Richard on the Stratford Festival stage as Berowne in Love’s Labour’s Lost,' said the Festival’s general director, Antoni Cimolino. 'He was brilliant – so brilliant that it changed my life and I’m sure the lives of many, many others. He made one of the most difficult parts in Shakespeare seem effortless and a joy. And so he did for the all the great roles he played, from Hamlet to Hosanna.

"'As an actor, a director and finally as an artistic director, he was singular. His love for the Festival was the centre of his being. His accomplishments as artistic director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival have set the standard by which all others will be judged.'

"'I am deeply distressed by our dear friend Richard’s death,' added the Festival’s current artistic director, Des McAnuff. 'I have been Richard’s ardent fan since I first saw him in Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre production of Hosanna, in which he was utterly virtuosic. He was a brilliant actor, a gifted director, an inspiring artistic director and a great Canadian. I will sorely miss his wit, his insight, his advice and especially the warmth and wisdom that were among his many distinguished attributes. The entire Stratford Shakespeare Festival family is in mourning, and we will not fill the immense void left by the loss of our beloved artistic statesman anytime soon.'

"Richard Monette was born in Montreal in 1944, the son of a French-Canadian father and an Italian mother. He attended Loyola College (now Concordia University), where he appeared in several student productions before making his professional stage debut at the age of 19, playing Hamlet for the Crest Theatre in Toronto.

"His first Stratford season was in 1965, when he appeared in Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and in Julius Caesar. After two more seasons at the Festival, he joined a new company, Theatre Toronto, and went to Broadway with its production of the controversial Rolf Hochhuth play Soldiers, before deciding to seek new opportunities in the United Kingdom.

"There he performed in open-air theatre in Regent’s Park, London, and toured with the Welsh National Theatre. In 1970, he was in the original cast of Kenneth Tynan’s groundbreaking erotic revue Oh! Calcutta!, and in 1972 he became a member of Charles Marowitz’s experimental Open Space company.

"Returning to Canada later that same year, he spent two seasons at the St. Lawrence Centre in Toronto before securing what would prove to be his breakthrough role: the transvestite title character in the English-language première of Michel Tremblay’s Hosanna. His electrifying performance in that production, which also transferred to Broadway, made him a Canadian star and led Stratford’s then artistic director, Robin Phillips, to invite him back to the Festival – this time as a leading man.

"Over the next decade and a half, he played a variety of major Shakespearean roles – among them his second Hamlet, in 1976 – as well as starring in the one-man play Judgement. He also appeared in many TV productions, and in such feature films as Iceman (1984) and I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing (1987).

"In 1988, he turned his focus to directing, scoring an immense hit with his first major production, The Taming of the Shrew. He went on to direct more than 40 Festival productions, in addition to working at other theatres across the country. He won a Dora Mavor Moore Award for his 1990 production of Saint Joan at Theatre Plus, and in 1991 he directed Beethoven’s Fidelio for the Canadian Opera Company.

"His appointment as artistic director, succeeding David William, was announced in June 1992. His first season, in 1994, produced a dramatic turnaround in the Festival’s economic fortunes, turning an accumulated deficit into an $800,000 surplus. That success continued throughout his tenure, which was marked by record levels of attendance, reaching an all-time high of 672,924 admissions in 2002, the Festival’s 50th season.

"Memorable productions he directed during his tenure included a multi-racial Twelfth Night in 1994; productions of King Lear (1996) and The Tempest (1999 and 2005) with William Hutt in the title role; his first musical, Camelot, in 1997; Much Ado About Nothing and The Miser, both of which transferred to New York’s City Center; a hitherto unproduced four-act version of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest in 2000; and the first production of a play by Shakespeare’s contemporary Christopher Marlowe to appear at the Festival: Edward II in 2005.

"Other artistic highlights of his tenure included Diana Leblanc’s production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1994 and 1995), later made into an award-winning film by Rhombus Media; Brian Bedford’s 1996 production of Waiting for Godot; and the world première of Timothy Findley’s Elizabeth Rex (2000), directed by Martha Henry and also subsequently filmed. His tenure also saw extensive renovations of the Festival and Avon theatres; the founding of the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre; the establishment of a formal program of new play development; the creation of a long-dreamed-of fourth venue, the Studio Theatre; and the building of a $50-million endowment.

"A recipient of the Queen’s Golden and Silver Jubilee Medals, Mr. Monette received honorary doctorates from the universities of Windsor and Western Ontario, and from his alma mater, Concordia University. He was named a Member of the Order of Canada in 1997, and in 2006 he received the Herbert Whittaker Drama Bench Award for Outstanding Contribution to Canadian Theatre from the Canadian Drama Theatre Critics Association.

"His retirement in 2007 was marked by a gala celebration of his tenure in the Festival Theatre, an exhibition on his life and career, and the publication of his memoir This Rough Magic: The Making of an Artistic Director.

"Mr. Monette leaves behind his brother, Mark, and Mark’s wife, Judy, along with many friends, colleagues and admirers. Details of a memorial service to be held at the Festival Theatre will be announced at a later date. "

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