Maggie Smith to receive Legacy Award | Festival honours her great contributions from 1976 to 1980

May 31, 2012… Dame Maggie Smith will be the 2012 recipient of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s Legacy Award and will be honoured at a gala at Toronto’s new Four Seasons Hotel on Monday, September 10.

“Here in Stratford, Maggie Smith holds a special place in our hearts,” said Artistic Director Des McAnuff. “One of our Festival’s founding principles was that we should be a home for artists of international stature as well as for our own Canadian stars, a principle spectacularly embodied in the four seasons Dame Maggie spent with us between 1976 and 1980. Her performances on our stages made an immense contribution to our artistic legacy and are still treasured in the memories of all who experienced them.

“As brilliant in her many celebrated screen roles as in her classical work on stage, Dame Maggie is known around the globe as one of the truly legendary artists of our age. It gives me tremendous pleasure to have this opportunity to express to her our admiration and our gratitude for the extraordinary body of work she has bestowed not only upon us but upon the world at large.

“Having spoken to her recently, I know that Dame Maggie is really looking forward to coming back to Canada, where she enjoyed so much substantial success.”

In her four seasons at Stratford, Dame Maggie gave some of the most memorable performances in the Festival’s history, including Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra, Rosalind in As You Like It, Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, Mistress Overdone in Measure for Measure, Queen Elizabeth in Richard III, Titania/Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Lady Macbeth.

Her non-Shakespeare roles at Stratford were equally noteworthy: Masha in Three Sisters, The Actress in The Guardsman, Judith Bliss in Hay Fever, Amanda Prynne in Private Lives, Irina Arkadina in The Seagull and Mrs. Millamant in The Way of the World, for which she won her second Variety Club Best Actress Award. Her performance in the title role of the world première of Edna O’Brien’s Virginia was one of her most lauded. The production went on to the Theatre Royal Haymarket, winning Dame Maggie her first Olivier nomination and her second Evening Standard Drama Award for Best Actress.

“Maggie Smith joined the Festival company under Artistic Director Robin Phillips,” says General Director Antoni Cimolino. “She had become a bright star in Britain at an early age, enjoying enormous success in the West End and at the National Theatre under Laurence Olivier, before rising to international fame with her Oscar-winning performance in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. It was a coup for Robin to have lured her to Canada for the 1976 season and audiences flocked to see her. She won a second Oscar in 1978, but decided to continue her collaboration with Robin, giving the Festival four years at what we thought then was the height of her career. In fact, she has remained at those heights in the years since.

“It is our honour to celebrate Maggie Smith’s legacy at Stratford, remembering her witty portrayals of the heroines of Shakespeare, Congreve and Coward as well as her heartfelt dramatic roles in a range of Shakespearean and other classics. We look forward to creating a tribute worthy of her contributions to our stages.”

Dame Maggie won the 1969 Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the title role in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. She won a second Oscar – as well as a Golden Globe and a BAFTA award – in 1978 for her supporting role in Neil Simon’s California Suite. Her performances in Othello, Travels with My Aunt, A Room with a View and Gosford Park also garnered Oscar nominations.

Dame Maggie’s star has shone continuously throughout her career, with each new generation finding appreciation for her brilliant characterizations – from her early career at London’s National Theatre, where in 1963 she played Desdemona opposite Laurence Olivier’s Othello, to her mid-career success in film and on stage, to her recent turns as Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter films and Violet, the Dowager Countess, in Downton Abbey.

Among her dozens of awards are a Tony and an Olivier, two Oscars, seven BAFTAs, two Emmys, two Golden Globes, a SAG award and five Evening Standard Theatre Awards. She was awarded the Hamburg Shakespeare Prize in 1991, is a fellow of the British Film Institute, was awarded a Silver BAFTA in 1993, is an Hon. DLitt of Cambridge University, and St. Andrews, and is a patron of the Jane Austen Society.

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival is extremely honoured that she has agreed to accept its Legacy Award and looks forward to her return to Canada where the Festival’s finest performers will celebrate her magnificent career.

The Legacy Award Gala committee is co-chaired by Barry Avrich, Beth Kronfeld and Florence Minz. To order tables and tickets or to receive information, please contact Rachel Smith-Spencer at 519.271.4040 ext. 2402.

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