Richard Monette, Former Stratford Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director, Dies at 64

Obituaries   Richard Monette, Former Stratford Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director, Dies at 64
 
Richard Monette, former artistic director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, died Sept. 10 of a pulmonary embolus in a hospital in London, Ontario. He was 64 years old.
Richard Monette
Richard Monette

Mr. Monette was the longest-serving artistic director in the history of the festival. His tenure lasted for 14 seasons, from 1994 to 2007. During his first season, he turned an accumulated deficit into an $800,000 (Canadian) surplus. His reign also saw the introduction of big-budget musicals, and accompanying record levels of attendance, reaching an all-time high of 672,924 admissions in 2002, the Festival's 50th season.

On Mr. Monette's watch, the Festival received its first Tony nomination, for King Lear in New York in 2004, and Festival artists received three Gemini Awards and two ACTRA Awards honoring the film version of Elizabeth Rex, which premièred in Stratford in 2000.

Among the productions he directed during his tenure were a multi-racial Twelfth Night in 1994; King Lear (1996) and The Tempest (1999 and 2005) with William Hutt in the title role; Camelot in 1997; Much Ado About Nothing and The Miser, both of which transferred to New York's City Center; a hitherto unproduced four-act version of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest in 2000; and, in 2005, Edward II, the first production of a Christopher Marlowe play to appear at the Festival.

His time in office also saw extensive renovations of the Festival and Avon theatres; the founding of the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre; the establishment of a formal program of new play development; the creation of a long-dreamed-of fourth venue, the Studio Theatre; and the building of a $50-million endowment.

Richard Jean Monette was born in Montreal on June 19, 1944, the son of a French-Canadian father and an Italian mother. He attended Loyola College (now Concordia University), where he appeared in several student productions before making his professional stage debut at the age of 19, playing Hamlet for the Crest Theatre in Toronto. He first came to Stratford as an actor, in 1965, when he appeared in Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and in Julius Caesar.

After two seasons at the Festival, he joined a new company, Theatre Toronto, and went to Broadway with its production of the Rolf Hochhuth play Soldiers. He then moved to London and performed in open-air theatre in Regent¹s Park, London, and toured with the Welsh National Theatre. In 1970, he was in the original cast of the erotic revue Oh! Calcutta!.

That same year, he returned to Canada. He played his breakthrough role, a transvestite, in the English-language première of Michel Tremblay's Hosanna. The show transferred to Broadway, and provoked Stratford's then artistic director, Robin Phillips, to invite him back to the Festival. Over the next 15 years, he played numberous leads, including Hamlet.

In 1988, he began directing with a hit production of The Taming of the Shrew. He went on to direct more than 40 Festival productions. He won a Dora Mavor Moore Award for his 1990 production of Saint Joan at Theatre Plus.

In 1997, after a hiatus of nearly 10 years, he returned to the stage as an actor, in a Stratford production of Eduardo De Filippo's Filumena. In 2002, he was to appear as Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, but bowed out due to vocal problems.

Mr. Monette leaves behind his brother, Mark, and Mark's wife, Judy. Details of a memorial service to be held at the Festival Theatre will be announced at a later date.

Richard Monette
Richard Monette Photo by Rannie Turingan/ photojunkie.ca
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