Thursday, September 11, 2008

Richard Monette – 1944-2008

Richard Monette, the former artistic director of the Stratford Festival, has died.

Actor and director Richard Monette first went to the Stratford Festival with a friend from Montreal as a 15-year-old schoolboy. As he watched As You Like It, he had an epiphany that he later compared to the conversion Saul experienced on the road to Damascus. “I want to be an actor. I hope I have talent, and if I do, I want to work on that stage and I want to do Shakespeare,” he said to himself, in a moment that he never forgot, a moment he considered akin to receiving a vocation from God.

He achieved his thespian goal and more, creating both classical and contemporary roles including an unforgettable performance in Michel Tremblay’s play Hosanna. Plagued by chronic stage fright, he eventually switched to directing, bringing an actor’s timing, sensibility and emotional range to his work on the other side of the stage. He went on to become the longest-serving and possibly the most financially successful artistic director in the history of the Stratford Festival. “I know I’m maligned in the press for this,” he told theatre critic Richard Ouzounian in 2007, “but I had my priorities straight. I took care of the money, I took care of the audiences, I took care of the future.”

A friend to actors, directors and audiences, he made the festival more artistically daring in the early years of his tenure, and more populist in the latter ones. Before he died last June, magisterial actor William Hutt said of Mr. Monette: “He has prolonged my life and my career.” Another iconic actor, Christopher Plummer, called him “the man who wouldn’t quit” during a gala celebration when Mr. Monette retired as artistic director in 2007. “The single most important thing he will be remembered for is that he saved this theatre,” said Mr. Plummer.

Thank you, Mr. Monette, for all you did for Stratford and for theatre.