FRIDAY, APRIL 25, 2008
Permanent Changes to Festival Theatre?
Production designs revealed in webcasts involve immense alterations to the Festival Theatre stage and sets that are too big to store in the building. But could there be permanent changes on the horizon for the landmark stage?
"Current festival management, which is contemplating these changes, denies that the original stage design is headed for the scrap heap. Rather, it simply suggests that the 1,800-seat Festival Theatre must become more adaptable to the wishes of the artists working there.
"'I love the original Moiseiwitsch design [pictured below] and we will always return to that whenever it is appropriate,' says Des McAnuff, the festival's new artistic director. 'But I'm interested in creating freedom for artists . . . The thing that's important to me is to create as much flexibility for directors and designers as possible.'
"Among Stratford purists, any radical overhaul of the Festival Theatre stage will be seen as a betrayal of the organization's founding principles.
"Guthrie and Moiseiwitsch wanted to bring the original sensibility of Shakespearean performance to Southern Ontario. Their starting point was an Elizabethan platform stage reaching out into the auditorium and surrounded on three sides by spectators. That was the concept dating back to the festival's earliest days in an outdoor tent.
"But that apparently is no longer enough. Stratford officials are cautious in discussing the future of the Festival Theatre - particularly with controversy continuing over the recent resignations of the organization's other two artistic directors, Marti Maraden and Don Shipley. But general director Antoni Cimolino admits that changes are in the air.
"'We are looking at all sorts of possibilities for the Festival Theatre,' Cimolino says. He emphasizes that 'we'll always have the Tanya Moiseiwitsch design available. What we want is to be able to provide flexibility for the directors and designers that are there. But absolutely, we will always have the Tanya stage.'
"But how frequently will the 'Tanya stage' be used under this new order?
"Sources close to Stratford say the Festival Theatre's future had become an issue of ongoing concern to Maraden and Shipley, although it was not the factor triggering their decision to resign their posts.
"Cimolino argues that periodic modifications have been made to the stage from the beginning and implies that the Moiseiwitsch design will remain - at least in storage.
"'The one thing that's decided is that any change that would be made would of course have to keep Tanya's stage there and available for any team that wants to use it. That's critically important.'
"This view may not pacify the school of thought that believes that the Moiseiwitsch stage is the heart and soul of Stratford.
"Under the regime of Robin Phillips, who served as artistic director from 1975 to 1980, the stage's centre balcony became movable, but Phillips was careful to preserve what he termed the stage's architectural philosophy.
"Phillips believed firmly that the glory of the Moiseiwitsch stage was that it challenged directors to rethink what they were doing, not to try and re- adapt its purpose to suit their particular needs.
"Cimolino, however, argues that the festival is acting responsibly. 'Those are things we have to do . . . part of creating exciting and dynamic theatre.'"
Article written by Jamie Portman for CanWest News Service.