Thursday, February 24, 2005

Tom Patterson

Tom Patterson, the founder of the Stratford Festival of Canada, has died.

Mr. Patterson was the man who in 1953 convinced Tyrone Guthrie to put on Richard III and All’s Well That Ends Well on the banks of the Avon River in Stratford, Ontario, in an attempt to generate tourism for this little farming town 60 miles west of Toronto. It has now become one of the most important theatre companies in North America.

In some ways I owe my love of theatre to this man that I never met. I remember my first trip to Stratford in July 1970 to see three plays: Hedda Gabler, The School for Scandal, and The Merchant of Venice, and I was hooked. I’ve been back countless times since and seen more theatre there than any place else and with such luminaries as Peter Ustinov, Brian Bedford, Maggie Smith, Irene Worth, and the rest of the incomparable company of fine actors who have trod the boards there, including William Hutt, Barry McGregor, and Mervyn Blake.

When I go back in August, we’re going to have a picnic on Tom Patterson Island in the middle of the river and raise a glass to his memory.