Canada's Stratford Festival Names Antoni Cimolino as Artistic Director; Des McAnuff's Tenure Ends in Fall 2012

News   Canada's Stratford Festival Names Antoni Cimolino as Artistic Director; Des McAnuff's Tenure Ends in Fall 2012
Antoni Cimolino, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival's current general director — who rose from being a young actor at the world-renowned Canadian theatre — has been named its next artistic director, the board of governors announced on March 10. He will succeed Des McAnuff starting in 2013.

Antoni Cimolino
Antoni Cimolino Photo by Richard Bain

In the past, "the announcement of a new artistic director has been followed by a season of transition, to give the appointee time to become familiar with the organization," according a statement by the festival. "In this case, however, Mr. Cimolino's thorough inside knowledge of the Festival, both as an artist and as its current general director, makes that transitional season unnecessary. Accordingly, Mr. McAnuff felt it would be fitting to let the celebratory 2012 season mark the culmination of his tenure, and that Mr. Cimolino should assume the artistic directorship for the 2013 season."

Cimolino has played leading classical roles (among them, Romeo) and directed plays (his first was Filumena, in 1997) at the Festival.

"This is a day of enormous joy for me," Cimolino said in a statement. "This great theatre changed my life as it has changed the lives of countless others in its almost 60 seasons. It has given me 25 years of growth as an artist and introduced me to wonderful people, great talents and a world of plays, characters and writing that have brought me as close as any man can be to heaven on earth.

"Today I am being asked to make a new and deeper contribution to the Stratford Festival. I'm thrilled and honores. I'm indebted to the artistic directors who came before me — many of whom I've had the pleasure to work with and learn from. I must particularly thank the late Richard Monette for his mentorship and Des McAnuff for his support."

McAnuff, currently overseeing the Broadway transfer of his 2011 Festival staging of Jesus Christ Superstar, said in a statement, "Last June, when I negotiated a contract through the 2013 season, I believed that I was giving the Board a suitable amount of time to conduct a search for my replacement. With the completion of the search process, it has become possible to announce the next artistic director several months earlier than I had anticipated. This means that we no longer need so lengthy a transition period. "Antoni comes from inside our institution and has been my partner for more than four years. Rather than making him wait until 2014 to take the artistic reins, it is much more sensible for the two of us to pass the baton at the end of this, our 60th season.

"I will direct for Antoni in what will become his first season in 2013 and will be in residence through opening week, and I am committed to give him any support he asks for. He and I know that this will be a graceful and elegant transition."

When McAnuff's tenure ends in fall 2012, it will have included 69 Festival productions, including 19 plays by Shakespeare. McAnuff will have directed 10 of those productions himself, including six by Shakespeare and three (including the upcoming A Word or Two) starring Christopher Plummer.

Cimolino first joined the Festival as an actor in 1988 and played Romeo opposite Megan Follows' Juliet in 1992. Assistant director of Pirandello's The Rules of the Game in 1991, he co-directed The Merry Wives of Windsor in 1995 with then artistic director Richard Monette and directed his first solo Festival production, Filumena, in which Monette played a leading role, in 1997. (Cimolino said at the time that he liked the idea of directing the passionate Eduardo De Filippo comedy, in part, because it was written by a writer with Italian roots — his own heritage.)

He also directed Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair in 2009 (the first professional production of that 400-year-old play ever staged in North America) as well as Shakespeare's Coriolanus with Colm Feore; As You Like It with Sara Topham; King John with Stephen Ouimette; Love's Labour's Lost with Brian Bedford; and Twelfth Night with William Hutt. Among contemporary plays he helmed are last season's The Grapes of Wrath with Tom McCamus and Evan Buliung and The Night of the Iguana with Seana McKenna. His most recent directing credit elsewhere was the Canadian première of Enron, featuring Graham Abbey, which had a sold-out run at Theatre Calgary earlier this year.

This summer, his 25th season with the Festival, Cimolino is directing Shakespeare's rarely produced Cymbeline, with a cast that includes Graham Abbey, Tom McCamus, Cara Ricketts and Geraint Wyn Davies. In all, he has directed, co-directed or assistant directed 20 productions at the Festival, including 11 Shakespeare plays, while also fulfilling a series of leadership roles that culminated in his appointment as general director in 2006. A step up from his previous position of "general manager," the new role had him overseeing a trio of artistic directors; eventually, a sole artistic director emerged in McAnuff.

In the capacity of general manager, he administers an annual budget of $60 million and oversees 1,000 employees. He was instrumental in the formation of the Festival's Endowment Foundation (which has raised more than $50 million to date), the renovation of the Avon Theatre and the establishment of the Studio Theatre.

Given his artistic and administrative history with the Festival (he was named general manager of the festival in 1998), many observers of the company identified Cimolino, a native of Sudbury, Ontario, as a strong future candidate for the artistic directorship.

In 1998, reported, "It's unclear at the moment if this new position aims Cimolino, a passionate director, toward the eventual position of artistic director at the southern Ontario theatre founded by Tyrone Guthrie."

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