The Stratford Festival held its annual general meeting on Saturday, celebrating the successes of its landmark 60th season, under the joint leadership of Artistic Director Des McAnuff and General Director Antoni Cimolino. This was Mr. McAnuff's final season as Artistic Director. Mr. Cimolino has now assumed that role, with Anita Gaffney becoming Executive Director.
"As befitted the occasion of our 60th season, we gave the world plenty of reason in 2012 to sit up and take notice of our Festival," said David Goldbloom, Chair of the Board of Governors. "Artistic Director Des McAnuff presented a playbill that combined Shakespeare and other classics with an unprecedented variety of new work created by our own Canadian artists. Our productions met with extraordinary acclaim, not only from the critics but also from patrons and Members. The season was a fitting culmination both to Des's tenure and to the first six decades of our history. We thank both Des and Antoni for their exceptional leadership over the past five years together."
Though heralded for its great artistic accomplishments, the 2012 season nonetheless ended in deficit, as the Festival, like other theatres around the world, continued to be buffeted by the struggling economy.
In a playbill featuring Shakespearean comedy, history and romance, along with ancient Greek tragedy, a Broadway musical, Gilbert and Sullivan and an American classic, Mr. McAnuff programmed seven Canadian works, including a new musical commissioned by the Festival and two other new works emanating from the New Play Department. As a special 60th season event, Christopher Plummer presented his one-man show, A Word or Two, directed by Mr. McAnuff.
"I'm particularly proud to have been Artistic Director of the Stratford Festival these past few years and to have marked its 60th season while still at the helm," said Mr. McAnuff. "In our partnership, Antoni and I have accomplished a remarkable amount over these past few seasons, during which time we produced 69 plays. I cannot pretend that the recessionary times didn't get in our way, but all in all, our artists and staff have made a Herculean effort to take the Festival to new heights. While we continue to face financial challenges, it is gratifying to see how theatre art at Stratford continues to flourish."
Mr. McAnuff is currently rehearsing the 2013 production of Tommy in Stratford, a musical he co-wrote with The Who's Pete Townshend. The show swept the Tony Awards in 1993, winning four awards, including Best Director for Mr. McAnuff. However, he was unable to attend the AGM because of a prior commitment to the 30th anniversary celebration of La Jolla Playhouse, where he was Artistic Director for 18 years and is now Director Emeritus. He did prepare a written statement that was read by Dr. Goldbloom.
"I want to thank Des for the tremendous contribution he has made to this Festival during the past five years of our work together," said Mr. Cimolino. "He challenged us to think in new ways, he introduced many artists into our company, he helped boost our international profile, he took us into new areas of repertoire, and he was a tireless champion of new work by our own Canadian playwrights. It is both an honour and a joy for me to have been chosen as his successor."
Among the season's many notable achievements in 2012 was the Broadway run of Jesus Christ Superstar, directed by Mr. McAnuff. The production was nominated for two Tony Awards and two Drama Desk Awards, and Josh Young won a Theatre World Award for his performance as Judas. The Festival opened a new archival Exhibition across from the Avon Theatre and published Stratford Behind the Scenes, a 60th season book and corresponding app for iPad and Playbook that takes readers on amazing journeys behind the scenes.
Maggie Smith returned to be honoured with the Festival's Legacy Award, celebrating her four glorious seasons at Stratford. Mr. McAnuff was twice honoured, with the Governor General's Performing Arts NAC Award and with an Order of Canada. The Festival's film of Twelfth Night, directed by Mr. McAnuff, premièred to great acclaim at Cineplex Theatres across Canada. And the film of The Tempest, also directed by Mr. McAnuff and starring Christopher Plummer, was screened across the U.S. and broadcast on Bravo!, winning a Canadian Screen Award for Mr. Plummer for Best Actor in an Arts Program.