"The Stratford Festival is a first-class organization and I wanted to do what I could to support its tradition of excellence, and the theatre's future," Birmingham said in a statement. "I hope our gift will ensure the skills of classical theatre continue to be passed on to the finest young actors on the continent."
The Ontario festival's artistic director, Richard Monette, said he's "overwhelmed" by Birmingham's generosity in supporting the future of the Festival's training program for actors and directors. "The Conservatory was a dream of mine — a dream that has come true, and that will continue to flourish thanks to the support of donors such as Bruce," Monette said in a statement.
The Birmingham donation brings the Foundation's overall total to $36.5 million. The Endowment Campaign was launched in 1999 and aims to have a $50-million endowment in place by 2008 to support the conservatory, new play development, actor development, music composition, theatre artisans training, enhanced production values, Studio Theatre programming, education initiatives and archives.
The conservatory, to date, has supported 78 young actors and directors in six sessions. While the first session in 1999 studied for eight weeks, the program has now expanded to 17 weeks of intensive training in classical theatre performance, for which the actors are paid. Those actors then receive offers to join the Festival company in the season following their training.
Up to 1,000 applications are received annually and auditions are held across Canada and the U.S. for the 12-14 spots available. Conservatory graduates such as Nazneen Contractor, Michelle Giroux, Jonathan Goad, Dana Green, Dion Johnstone, Thom Marriott, Sarah McVie, David Snelgrove, Michael Therriault and Sara Topham have gone on to leading roles at the Festival and in other Canadian theatres. Tom Orr, chair of the Festival's board of governors, said that in recognition of Birmingham's gift, the Conservatory will be known in the future as the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre Training at the Stratford Festival.