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Tuesday, 28 October 2008

More on future of the Tanya Stage

Reports on the possible destruction of Stratford's thrust stage go back aways. Jamie Portman, theatre critic and arts reporter for the Ottawa Citizen, reported this story ("Stage, exit left, for a Stratford icon") back in April, 2008.

In the article, he quotes current Artistic Director, Des MacAnuff, as saying, "I love the original Moiseiwitsch design and we will always return to that whenever it is appropriate."

In the same article, General Manager Antony Cimolino is quoted as saying, "...absolutely, we will always have the Tanya stage."

This runs counter to what is said in Saturday's article in the Beacon Herald (see below) that "we'll hold onto all the pieces".

Monday, 27 October 2008

More on future of the Tanya Stage

According to a recent letter to the editor in Stratford's Beacon Herald, the new administration at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival has plans to demolish the historic thrust stage, designed by Tanya Moiseiwitsch, and replace it with one full of jigs and reels. This article appeared the following day:

What's the next stage for the Festival stage?
by Laura Cudworth
A scenic carpenter at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival is speaking out against any plans that may alter the famous Tanya Moiseiwitsch thrust stage.

Walter Sugden is concerned the stage will be changed or "destroyed" if it's modernized to increase the space underneath it. The stage would have to be pulled up for the excavation underneath to allow for larger trap doors and machinery below the stage, he said.

"My basic feeling is I've worked there for 36 years, I can't consciously feel good with myself if I don't speak out," he said. "All I hope to do is make people aware. If they feel like I do, I hope they'll express to the Festival their feelings."

He admits he may be "romantic about it" but he sees the stage as a critical piece of heritage for both the Festival and Canadian Theatre. In his earlier years he worked with Ms. Moiseiwitsch.
"I love the nicks in the stage that have happened in past productions," he said noting the likes of Maggie Smith, William Hutt, Nicholas Pennell and Jessica Tandy have all walked across the oak stage.

The stage is nearly 50 years old, he said.

General director Antoni Cimolino downplayed the possibility the famous thrust stage would be altered. He acknowledged though an assessment of the Festival auditorium is underway but expects it will take about two years to complete.

The assessment includes lights, acoustics and the backstage area.

"Over time stages evolve," Mr. Cimolino said. "Pillars, locations of doors change over time but it's not our intention to change the stage."

However, he acknowledged the trap in the stage is "too small to bury Ophelia" and ways to increase the space below may be looked at. Should the space underneath be increased attempts will be made to preserve the stage and keep the lumber intact, he said.

"The fact is over the years a lot of that stage has changed. It's a living, working stage. I assure you, we'll hold onto all the pieces and keep them and use them when we can."

He suggested the emphasis of the study focuses on aging wiring and lighting systems rather than the stage.

In order to do the work the Festival would have to undertake a fundraising campaign and get government grants. Whatever work is decided on will likely be done over the course of a couple of winters, Mr. Cimolino said.

"We're in the process of a long-term analysis study -- there's lots of time for consideration before anything is done."

Mr. Sugden praised the new artistic team for the "spectacular season" but also stressed "there's a certain amount of stewardship they have to take on."

"In the business world now the popular talk is about the brand. I think that stage is an important part of the Festival's brand."


This letter to the editor was published in the Stratford Beacon Herald on Friday, October 24:

Save the Tanya Stage
by Walter Sugden

The cultural history of Canada and North America is intrinsically tied to the physical spaces -- the great halls and stages -- in which artists have shared their talent, inspiration and dreams.
Stages are very much alike ... good acoustics and a platform on which an audience can witness words spoken, songs sung, music played and dances performed.

Yet one of these stages is special, unique, to Canadian artistic heritage. It is a place of innovation and deep theatrical history for future generations, a place of immeasurable value. It is the Tanya Moiseiwitsch thrust stage, the flagship stage of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. And it is going to be destroyed.

The original Tanya stage was built at the insistence of Sir Tyrone Guthrie because of its importance to the spoken word of Shakespeare. Through the 1950s it evolved into a piece of brilliance from one of the world's best theatre designers. It is a piece of heritage for the City of Stratford, their tradesmen and volunteers who built it. It is the first of its kind since the late 1600s and has been copied by admiring and respected theatres around the globe.

However, the new artistic leadership at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival has blueprints ready to turn the Tanya stage into a "modern" facility in which they hope to mount "modern productions of spectacular proportions." These plans involve the destruction of the Tanya stage, the platform of well trodden oak, capable of lasting centuries, on which acting titans like Christopher Plummer began their careers.

If these plans go ahead, no "replacement replica down the road" will be able to replace the heritage lost. It will not be original, it will not be special. The great pride and awe it inspires will be greatly diminished. The community around the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis knows something about this. They had one designed for them by the same brilliant designer. It was ripped out in the '80s.

Ours is the last one in existence, a North American icon. The kind of stage on which Shakespeare was meant to be performed, and unless artists and their supporters raise a cry of outrage, this unique Tanya stage will be destroyed to make way for a "modern" one, something akin to a Cirque du Soleil stage of sub-floor machinery and pyrotechnics of every possible design.

Unfortunately many artists are hindered from speaking out because they rely on the seven- or nine-month contracts that the Stratford Shakespeare Festival provides.

Although I am employed at the Festival as a stagehand and scenic carpenter, I feel I must speak out. It is my belief that the Festival's artistic director and senior management are given stewardship over the Festival's stages and history, not just licence. They may feel strongly that these planned changes are for the theatre's viability, but I beg to differ.

Shortly after I began working at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in 1973, I stole a moment to step out onto the centre balcony of the Tanya Moiseiwitsch stage. A feeling hit me so strongly, of being the focus, that it was frightening. Every actor appearing on that stage must feel like they've come to Mecca. You cannot hide. It is just you and the spoken word, and you must rise to the occasion, and challenge, that this stage offers you. I was awestruck and amazed that I would be working for that experience, building and servicing their shows.

I am a stagehand and scenic carpenter. I am not an artist but a skilled craftsman that helps all the artists' work come alive on that magical stage. I've had the honour of keeping it "in good nick" over the years, to watch its patina grow warm under the artists' feet. The artistic spirit of acting giants like Dame Maggie Smith, Bill Hutt, Jason Robards, Jessica Tandy, Alan Bates, Nicholas Pennel, Pat Galloway, Brian Bedford and dozens more is imbued in that strong oak stage for future generations.

This is my voice. Please lend yours to persuade the current artistic management and board of directors at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival to let Canada keep her flagship stage. It has never been broken. It has never needed fixing. It is a marvel that can last for generations who have yet to discover a love for theatre on this stage.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Further Casting 2009 Stratford Festival

Contrary to swirling rumours, Lucy Peacock is returning to the Festival in the 2009 season. The Stratford Shakespeare Festival announced today that Lucy Peacock, Irene Poole and Adrienne Gould will play the leads in Chekhov's The Three Sisters.

They are joined in the cast by Tom McCamus, James Blendick, Gordon S. Miller, Juan Chioran, Sean Arbuckle and Kelli Fox.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Further 2009 Casting at Stratford

Another press release issued October 9th states that Seana McKenna will indeed be playing the lead in Phedre, translation by Timberlake Wertenbaker. The cast will also include Jonathan Goad, Adrienne Gould, Sean Arbuckle, newcomer Claire Lautier, and the returning Tom McCamus. The production will be directed by Carey Perloff, who is currently the artistic director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

The Rumour Mill Grinds Away...

The local grapevine in Stratford is saying that some Festival favourites have not been invited back for the 2009 season, including Peter Donaldson, Lucy Peacock, Scott Wentworth, and Diane D'Aquila. Another favourite, Steven Sutcliffe, has been lured to the Shaw Festival next season.

More Casting 2009 Stratford Season

According to an October 7th press release from the Stratford Festival, Geraint Wyn Davies is performing in three shows next season. He will be the title character in Julius Caesar, Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Duncan in MacBeth (opposite Colm Feore in the title role).

Also appearing in Julius Caesar are Yanna McIntosh as Calpurnia, Cara Ricketts as Portia, Jonathan Goad as Marc Antony, Tom Rooney as Cassius and Ben Carlson as Brutus.

Also appearing in A Midsummer Night's Dream are Laura Condlln as Helena, returning Dion Johnston as Oberon, Tom Rooney as Puck, Sophia Walker as Hermia, Gareth Potter as Lysander and Yanna McIntosh as Titania. No word yet as to who is playing Demetrius.

Yanna McIntosh, Dion Johnston, Gareth Potter and Sophia Walker will all be appearing in Macbeth as well, as Lady Macbeth, Macduff, Malcolm and Lady Macduff, respectively.

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