Press Release | Stratford Festival unveils 2014 season | Madness: Minds Pushed to the Edge

August 20, 2013… Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino is delighted to announce the 2014 season, in which, through the prism of a dozen plays, the Stratford Festival will explore the theme of Madness: Minds Pushed to the Edge.

“What excites me about this playbill is it contains plays in which the protagonists are driven to extraordinary places,” says Mr. Cimolino. “Extreme stakes lead to great drama.”

“These plays explore minds that are driven out of balance by a variety of forces: love, war, poverty, age, sexuality. In today’s fast-paced global community, we are becoming ever more acutely aware of the consequences of such pressures. The issues behind them are interesting in themselves, but what they do to the human mind – to us – is ultimately the most fascinating thing. When the pressures of life become great enough, our minds give way to other realities. The result is often heartbreakingly tragic, but can also be a trigger for comedy.”

The season coincides with the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare, and to mark that occasion, Mr. Cimolino has programmed five Shakespeare productions, including two versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a play that revolves around the madness of young love.

“For the first time in our history, we will examine a Shakespeare play in two different productions within the same season,” says Mr. Cimolino. “The first will be directed by one of Canada’s most exciting young directors, Chris Abraham; the second by one of the most highly regarded, internationally acclaimed directors of Shakespeare, Peter Sellars: two very different approaches to Shakespeare’s text.”

The season will also feature King Lear; Antony and Cleopatra; King John; The Beaux’ Stratagem; Mother Courage; Hay Fever; Alice Through the Looking-Glass; Christina, The Girl King; and the musicals Crazy for You and Man of La Mancha.

“I’m very excited about the creative teams who’ll be working on this season with me,” says Mr. Cimolino. “In addition to Chris and Peter, our lineup of directors includes the great Martha Henry and others whose work has captivated Festival audiences in recent seasons: Donna Feore, Tim Carroll and Gary Griffin. I’m also looking forward tremendously to the Stratford debuts of artistic leaders from other major Canadian cultural institutions – Jillian Keiley from the National Arts Centre, Alisa Palmer from the National Theatre School and Vanessa Porteous from Alberta Theatre Projects – as well as Robert McQueen, whose work in opera and musical theatre has been acclaimed internationally.”

King Lear | By William Shakespeare | Directed by Antoni Cimolino | Festival Theatre #sfKingLear

The season will open at the Festival Theatre with the Shakespearean masterpiece King Lear, directed by Mr. Cimolino, whose sold-out production of Mary Stuart has been the runaway hit of 2013.

King Lear is the ultimate example of a mind pushed to the edge. When the aging king decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters, requiring each in turn to publicly profess how much she loves him, he sets in motion a train of events that will rob him of his home, his status and his sanity – everything except the honest love and loyalty of his youngest daughter, Cordelia. Meanwhile, the Earl of Gloucester is falsely persuaded by his illegitimate son, Edmund, that his other son, Edgar, is conspiring against him. Both these fathers pay for their misjudgements by being driven to the very limits of human endurance.

King Lear speaks to the simple, naked humanity shared by everyone from a monarch to the poorest of the poor,” says Mr. Cimolino. “It’s from that essential humanity, not the trappings of wealth or power, that we claim our right to exist. After Lear loses everything, he finds that he is no longer who he thought he was. This loss is a liberation. In his subsequent madness he sees his own folly, awakens to empathy and discovers his soul.”

Like Mary Stuart this season, Mr. Cimolino’s 2012 production of Cymbeline caught the public’s imagination, and was twice extended to meet demand for tickets. His production of The Merchant of Venice opened last week to unanimous acclaim. Mr. Cimolino’s other Shakespeare credits at Stratford include Coriolanus with Colm Feore and Martha Henry in 2006, As You Like It with Graham Abbey, Stephen Ouimette and Sara Topham in 2005, King John with Peter Donaldson and Stephen Ouimette in 2004, Love’s Labour’s Lost with Graham Abbey and Brian Bedford in 2003 and Twelfth Night with Domini Blythe, Peter Donaldson and William Hutt in 2001.

Crazy for You | Music by George Gershwin | Lyrics by Ira Gershwin | Book by Ken Ludwig | Directed and Choreographed by Donna Feore | Festival Theatre

Never before produced by the Festival, Crazy for You will be directed and choreographed at the Festival Theatre by Donna Feore, the force behind a growing list of hit musicals at the Festival, including one of this season’s hottest tickets, Fiddler on the Roof, as well as 2012’s You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, 2007’s Oklahoma! and 2006’s Oliver!

Set in the 1930s, Crazy for You is the story of Bobby Child, the scion of a wealthy banking family, whose dream in life is to be a Broadway dancer. Sent by his mother to foreclose on a struggling theatre, he faces a dilemma when he falls in love with a local girl whose affections he will lose if he carries out his mother’s commission. His solution: put on a show and pay off the theatre’s mortgage.

This high-energy romantic comedy – replete with mistaken identities, plot twists and stunning dance numbers – is packed with beloved Gershwin songs, including “I Got Rhythm,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” “Embraceable You” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

Crazy for You presents a joyous view of love and madness,” says Mr. Cimolino. “But the story is secondary to the powerful force of the Gershwins’ music. The bedrock of their work is the music of the Russian and Ukrainian steppes, which led the brothers to write brilliant, entertaining, lively music, with an energy and madness of its own. It is the music of adversity now finding itself in the new world, in what should be the land of milk and honey.”

Next year, Ms Feore will celebrate her 20th season with the Festival. To her musical credits, Ms Feore adds the choreography of more than 20 productions here, as well as the direction of the captivating production of Cyrano de Bergerac in 2009. Ms Feore’s other credits include directing The Very, Very Best of Broadway with Martin Short and Marvin Hamlisch; the Canadian Stage productions of Rock ’n’ Roll and It’s a Wonderful Life; the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Lecture on the Weather and A Soldier’s Tale with F. Murray Abraham; and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Mozart: A Life in Letters. Her film credits include Politics Is Cruel, Mean Girls, Eloise, Martin and Lewis, Stormy Weather and the opera films Romeo and Juliette and Don Giovanni Unmasked.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream | By William Shakespeare | Directed by Chris Abraham | Festival Theatre

Chris Abraham, hot off his spell-binding production of Othello, will direct his first Shakespeare on the Festival Stage, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

This delightful Shakespearean comedy of unrequited desire is imbued with the same life force that permeates Crazy for You. The madness of love runs riot as Hermia flees to the woods with her lover, Lysander, to escape her father’s command that she marry Demetrius. Demetrius follows, pursued by Helena, whose love he spurns. Their romantic problems intensify when the fairy world intervenes.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream explores the madness of young love – intemperate, powerful, blind, rash,” says Mr. Cimolino. “It is Romeo and Juliet with a happy ending. This young love, however, exists in a male-dominated world where parents want to control their children’s natural desires, causing a series of metamorphoses. Even the natural world revolts at man’s determination to subvert these desires, putting the climate in disarray.”

Mr. Abraham, who is Artistic Director of Crow’s Theatre in Toronto, will mark his fifth season at Stratford, where he has quickly established himself as a director of note with stellar productions of The Matchmaker, The Little Years and For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again to his credit. He has won numerous awards in his career, including a Dora for The Little Years, which he directed at Tarragon after its Stratford run. He also has received Doras for Eternal Hydra and Easy Lenny Lazmon, and a Gemini for I, Claudia, and was the recipient of the Siminovitch Protégé Award in 2002. His other credits include Someone Else, Seeds and BOXHEAD at Crow’s Theatre; The Patient Hour at Tarragon; Blue/Orange at Canadian Stage; Antigone and The Lesson at Soulpepper; and Hedda Gabler, The Glass Menagerie and Salt-Water Moon at the Saidye Bronfman Centre.

The Beaux’ Stratagem | By George Farquhar | Directed by Antoni Cimolino | Festival Theatre

Opening later in the season at the Festival Theatre is George Farquhar’s brilliant Restoration comedy The Beaux’ Stratagem, directed by Mr. Cimolino. It is the first Restoration comedy produced in Stratford since The Country Wife in 1995.

Written in 1707, The Beaux’ Stratagem follows the madly comic antics of two impoverished rakes, who, disguising their identities, arrive in the town of Lichfield seeking to restore their fortunes by wooing wealthy women. As the two connive to relieve ladies of their wealth, they must contend with a suspicious local innkeeper and his band of highwaymen, and with an acquaintance privy to their true identity.

“In The Beaux’ Stratagem, the necessity of coping with the realities of marriage and personal finance give way to a romp,” says Mr. Cimolino. “One of the last of the Restoration comedies, it was written by the amazing George Farquhar, who himself was dying and hoped the play would finance his family after his death. It is very funny and I look forward enormously to directing it.”

Hay Fever | By Noël Coward | Directed by Alisa Palmer | Avon Theatre

Alisa Palmer, Artistic Director of the National Theatre School English Section, makes her Festival debut at the Avon Theatre as the director of Noël Coward’s celebrated comedy Hay Fever.

As stylish as it is intoxicatingly absurd, Hay Fever introduces audiences to the Bliss family: a retired actress mother, novelist father and two children, all prone to their own outrageous eccentricities. The family’s self-absorbed antics astound and ultimately exasperate the various guests that each of them has invited to their country house for the weekend. Driven to distraction by a comic maelstrom of rousing fights, fevered flirtations and histrionic role-playing, the guests eventually flee, leaving the Blisses happily playing and bickering amongst themselves.

“This is one of the great opportunities for energetic comedy within the theme of madness,” says Mr. Cimolino. “Theatre is about taking ordinary situations and pushing them to the extreme – and what could be more delightful than experiencing this through the lives of a theatre family? These people pretend to have an interest in conventional living, in entertaining at their country property. But as we can see by the end, they really are in a world all their own. It’s as if they lived only on the stage – sheer madness!”

Ms Palmer is currently collaborating with Ann-Marie MacDonald and Torquil Campbell on a Festival commission to develop a musical reflection on Hamlet. An internationally award-winning director, playwright and producer, Ms Palmer has worked in a range of genres, including classics, contemporary plays, creation projects, musicals and operas. A former Artistic Director of Toronto’s Nightwood Theatre and long-time director at the Shaw Festival, Ms Palmer has directed across Canada, winning seven Dora Awards for her work, as well as two Chalmers Awards for her plays i.d. and A Play About the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. Her Shaw credits include Pal Joey, The Philanderer, The Women, Belle Moral: A Natural History, Sunday in the Park with George and Diana of Dobson’s. Her other credits include The Children’s Republic and East of Berlin at Tarragon, Cloud 9 for Mirvish Productions, the acclaimed Top Girls at Soulpepper, and Mrs. Warren’s Profession and The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.

Man of La Mancha | Music by Mitch Leigh | Lyrics by Joe Darion | Book by Dale Wasserman | Directed by Robert McQueen | Choreographed by Marc Kimelman | Avon Theatre

Robert McQueen, whose work in musical theatre and opera has been recognized both nationally and internationally, will make his Stratford debut at the helm of Man of La Mancha, to be staged at the Avon Theatre.

Featuring the timeless anthem “The Impossible Dream,” Man of La Mancha follows the saga of the aging Miguel de Cervantes, playwright, poet and tax collector, who finds himself in a dungeon in Seville awaiting trial by the Inquisition for an offence against the Church. When his fellow prisoners try to confiscate his few possessions, including the uncompleted manuscript of his most famous work, the novel Don Quixote, Cervantes defends his masterpiece by proposing that he present it to them as a play. To this end, Cervantes and his manservant transform themselves into Don Quixote and his fiercely loyal servant, Sancho Panza, recruiting prisoners to take on the roles of other characters. What follows is the stirring tale of the mad Quixote and his obsessive quest to attain the impossible dream. It is the lunatic who sees most clearly in Man of La Mancha, as in King Lear.

Man of La Mancha is a beautiful contrast to Crazy for You,” says Mr. Cimolino. “The source material, Don Quixote, is from the Spanish Golden Age, and you can see that period’s theatrical influence on Shakespeare in the Romance plays. Man of La Mancha takes that source material and puts it through the lens of American musical theatre. It depicts a pure, chaste, romantic and mature love – love that elevates the beloved. It is an extraordinary musical because of the story and the characters. Despite dark content, it manages to be inspiring, making us question what is actually the saner choice: to live in filth and despair, or to pursue the romantic ideal.”

Mr. McQueen directed Caroline, or Change, the Acting Up Stage musical that took Toronto by storm in 2012. His recent work includes the direction and dramaturgy of the new musical theatre piece Where Elephants Weep, at the Cambodian Living Arts centre in Phnom Pehn, The Light in the Piazza and Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio, for Pacific Opera in Victoria. In 2009 he directed a Tokyo-based creative team and acting company in a Japanese-language production of Carousel at the Galaxy Theatre in Tokyo. For the Vancouver Opera he served as director and dramaturge for The Magic Flute. The project, for which he also adapted the libretto, was a collaboration with a 15-member creative team of Canadian aboriginal and non-native visual artists and theatre-makers. His other work includes directing La Bohème for the Canadian Opera Company and serving as associate director of the Broadway and national touring productions of Mamma Mia, as well as the direction of the Mexico City, Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires productions.

Alice Through the Looking-Glass | Adapted by James Reaney | Directed by Jillian Keiley | Avon Theatre

Twenty years after its Stratford première, the Festival is pleased to present Lewis Carroll’s wildly inventive fantasy Alice Through the Looking-Glass, in an adaptation commissioned by the Festival from nationally renowned playwright and poet James Reaney, a native son of Stratford. So popular was the 1994 production that it was re-mounted in 1996 to the great delight of audiences of all ages.

Jillian Keiley, Artistic Director of English Theatre at the National Arts Centre, will bring her remarkable creative vision to the piece, to be staged at the Avon Theatre and produced in association with the National Arts Centre.

“The underlying material for Alice Through the Looking-Glass is, of course, iconic and examines a fantasy world filled with some of the greatest and most familiar nonsense verse,” says Mr. Cimolino. “The characters – the Walrus and the Carpenter, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Humpty Dumpty and the Jabberwock – are the inhabitants of the farthest reaches of a child’s imagination.”

Deciding to explore the alternative world she sees inside her living-room mirror, Alice finds a place that in some aspects resembles her home yet differs from it in ways as delightful as they are surreal.

Ms Keiley won the 2004 Siminovitch Prize for her “startlingly original and radically imaginative” directing style, making her an ideal candidate to take on the sublime nonsense of both Lewis Carroll and James Reaney. She is also the recipient of the Canada Council’s John Hirsch Award. Her credits include Tempting Providence, which she created in collaboration with playwright Robert Chafe, and which, over a 10-year run, toured across Canada and abroad, as did Afterimage. She and Mr. Chafe, the co-founders of Newfoundland’s Artistic Fraud, also collaborated on Oil and Water, at Factory Theatre. Ms Keiley made a big splash with her first project as Artistic Director of the NAC, Metamorphoses, a play by Mary Zimmerman, which re-imagines 10 classical myths. Set around a giant swimming pool, this theatrical event allowed audiences to experience the consequences of humanity’s deepest desires. Ms Keiley’s Stratford connection dates back to 2008, when she was selected as a participant in the International Master Directors Summit.

Mother Courage | By Bertolt Brecht | Directed by Martha Henry | Tom Patterson Theatre

Considered one of the greatest plays of the 20th century – and perhaps the greatest anti-war play of all time – Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage will be directed by one of the Festival’s most celebrated artists, Martha Henry, returning for a remarkable 40th season with the Stratford Festival in 2014. Ms Henry’s contributions to the Festival include the direction of numerous critically acclaimed productions, including this season’s Measure for Measure, 2009’s Three Sisters, 2007’s Of Mice and Men and 2002’s Elizabeth Rex.

Mother Courage was written in 1939 as a response to the Nazi invasion of Poland. Set in 17th-century Europe and spanning 12 years, the story follows Mother Courage as she struggles to make a living and to protect her three children during the Thirty Years’ War. By the end of the play, having lost everyone she loves and almost everything she owns, she has truly been driven to the edge – yet somehow she finds the will to carry on.

“Mother Courage presents a world in which the madness of war becomes not only day-to-day but something that the people can’t live without,” says Mr. Cimolino. “It represents profit. It represents the new normal. In that respect it is like our world today. As the characters cynically take advantage of the opportunities for commercial gain that the war provides, they lose anything of real worth, including their souls. They lose their children, they lose their freedom, they lose their self-respect and eventually they lose their lives.”

A Companion of the Order of Canada and a recipient of the Governor General’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Ms Henry boasts a career without parallel in this country. Her work opposite the great William Hutt was truly the stuff of dreams, beginning with her portrayal of Miranda to his Prospero and also including Mary to his James Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey into Night. Her Shakespearean roles include Titania, Lady Macduff, Helena, Luciana, Cressida, Viola, the Countess of Rossillion, Cymbeline’s Queen, Lady Anne, Queen Eleanor, Cordelia, Goneril, Rosaline, the Princess of France, Thaisa, Desdemona, Lady Macbeth, Queen Margaret, Isabella, Beatrice, Paulina and Volumnia. As Director of the Festival’s Birmingham Conservatory, Ms Henry is training a whole new generation of classical actors.

King John | By William Shakespeare | Directed by Tim Carroll | Tom Patterson Theatre

King John, the story of a monarch trying desperately to maintain his grip on power, will be presented at the Tom Patterson Theatre in a production directed by Tim Carroll.

King John looks at a mind driven by the dangerous combination of ambition and insecurity,” says Mr. Cimolino. “John commits horrible acts to secure a position he rightly holds. There is a wonderful range of characters in this play who navigate, with varying degrees of success, the pressures of politics, ambition, legitimacy and loss. From Hubert the mercenary, asked to commit an atrocity, to Constance, who wishes she were mad to escape the pain of her child’s murder, it is the Bastard (a very different bastard from Edmund in King Lear) who comes through the play with the most honour and integrity.”

Tim Carroll, who this season gave audiences the opportunity to see a Romeo and Juliet as Shakespeare might have presented it at the Globe Theatre, will transport audiences to the Blackfriars Theatre in a candlelit production of King John.

Mr. Carroll, former Associate Director of Shakespeare’s Globe in London, directed a sold-out production of Twelfth Night, starring Mark Rylance, which transferred from the Globe to London’s West End, garnering four Olivier nominations this year, and which will open on Broadway in the fall. Mr. Carroll is one of the world’s most respected directors of Shakespeare. His Globe credits also include Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, The Two Noble Kinsmen, The Tempest and The Golden Ass. For the RSC he directed The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. His international credits include Fair Ladies at a Game of Poem Cards, The Duchess of Malfi and Victory for the Barka Theatre in Budapest; All’s Well That Ends Well for the National Theatre in Craiova, Romania; Amadeus for the National Theatre in Portugal; and A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Sydney Opera House. He is a founding member of The Factory, in London, for which he directed three theatre experiments: Hamlet, The Seagull and The Odyssey. Mr. Carroll made his Stratford debut as director of the wildly popular Peter Pan in 2010.

Antony and Cleopatra | By William Shakespeare | Directed by Gary Griffin | Tom Patterson Theatre

Gary Griffin, Associate Artistic Director of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, will return for a fifth season to direct Antony and Cleopatra at the Tom Patterson Theatre.

The play, produced just four times before at Stratford, follows the relationship of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, with Mark Antony, who, having defeated Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar, is now one of the three rulers of the Roman republic. Criticized for neglecting his political and military responsibilities – and his wife in Rome – as he dallies in Alexandria with Cleopatra, Antony attempts to break free of Cleopatra’s spell, and returns to Rome to help crush an incipient rebellion. Once there, his wife having died, he agrees to a political marriage, enraging Cleopatra. But Antony cannot long endure his separation from the bewitching Egyptian queen: when war breaks out, he abandons his new wife and returns to Egypt, a choice that leads to his own and Cleopatra’s tragic ends.

Antony and Cleopatra examines older love and the pressures of being madly in love when you know better,” says Mr. Cimolino. “This play has some of the most incredibly lyrical and intense love poetry ever written, along with beautiful observations on life that speak to us today, in a world where second and third marriages have never been more common.”

Mr. Griffin has a string of hit productions to his credit at Stratford, including 42nd Street, Camelot, Evita and West Side Story. He won an Olivier Award for outstanding musical for his production of Pacific Overtures at the Donmar Warehouse in London. On Broadway, he was the director of Oprah Winfrey’s production of The Color Purple and of The Apple Tree. His Off-Broadway credits include Music in the Air, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Pardon My English and The New Moon for City Center Encores!, Saved at Playwrights Horizons; and Beautiful Thing at the Cherry Lane. He has won numerous awards for his work at Chicago Shakespeare, where his credits include Amadeus, Passion, A Flea in Her Ear, A Little Night Music, Sunday in the Park with George and Pacific Overtures.

Christina, The Girl King | By Michel Marc Bouchard | Translated by Linda Gaboriau | Directed by Vanessa Porteous | Studio Theatre

The Festival is delighted to present Linda Gaboriau’s translation of Michel Marc Bouchard’s Christina, The Girl King. Written by one of Quebec’s most celebrated playwrights, the play will make its English-language première at the Studio Theatre, directed by Vanessa Porteous, Artistic Director of Alberta Theatre Projects.

Commissioned as a translation by the Festival in 2010, the play is the story of Christina of Sweden, an extraordinarily modern character who was born just 10 years after Shakespeare’s death. Hers is a story of bringing sanity to an insane world. The enigmatic ruler showed a passion for philosophy, literature and the arts but her lifestyle and refusal to marry proved sources of great concern at court. Rather than bow to pressure to conform to the expectations of others, the 26-year-old queen abdicates in order to be free to pursue her own aspirations. Is this an act of madness? Or is Christina’s the story of a modern woman born out of her time – one whom the 17th century simply couldn’t contain?

“Michel Marc Bouchard has such a great gift for helping us understand the situation of the person who does not fit in,” says Mr. Cimolino. “In Christina, The Girl King, he has beautifully brought to life the story of a historical figure who had the courage to step outside of the society that attempted to bind her in. As the daughter of a Protestant warrior king – himself one of the driving forces of the Thirty Years’ War depicted in Mother Courage – she was expected to get married, have children and adhere to the spartan values of the Swedish nation as it was then. Instead she introduced foreign, and then radical scientific and philosophical ideas, and strained to remain unmarried and independent.

“Bouchard examines the pressures inherent in her sexual and personal self-discovery in a highly compelling play. The pressures in her life push her to the edge. Rather than give over to madness, which would be the only outcome of staying on as queen, she leaves her throne and her country, moving to Rome where she is free to live outside of marriage as a patron of the arts.”

Ms Porteous makes her Festival debut with this production.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream | By William Shakespeare | A Chamber Play Directed by Peter Sellars

Peter Sellars, renowned for his transformative interpretations of artistic masterpieces, comes to the Festival for the first time to stage his reimagined version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. With a cast of four actors playing all of the roles, this staging will offer an intensely focused approach to Shakespeare’s examination of the role-playing, mercurial mood swings, delusional fantasy, deep hurt, and forgiveness and release at the heart of human relationships.

“What is extraordinary about Stratford is not that we do 12 plays in one year, but that we do them all at the same time, giving theatre-goers an opportunity to experience one play in light of another. Next season, for the first time ever, we will offer a chance for audiences to experience the same title in two very different productions, along with further opportunities for exploration in The Forum,” says Mr. Cimolino.

“I look forward to welcoming Peter to the Stratford Festival,” he adds. “I have greatly enjoyed his work in opera and Shakespeare for its beauty, vulnerability and intelligence. When Peter spoke to me about his ideas for Dream, I sensed an opportunity to create not only an exploration but a celebration of this great play.”

Mr. Sellars has worked with an extraordinary range of creative artists over the past three decades. His landmark staging of Sophocles’ Ajax, set at the Pentagon, was invited to tour Europe and ignited his international career. Other noteworthy theatre projects include a 1994 staging of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice set in southern California with a cast of black, white, Latino and Asian-American actors; a production of Euripides’ The Children of Herakles, focusing on contemporary immigration and refugee issues and experience; and, in 2009, Othello, inspired by and set in the America of newly elected President Barack Obama. Desdemona, Sellars’s recent collaboration with the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison and Malian composer and singer Rokia Traore, has been performed in Vienna, Brussels, Paris, Berkeley, New York, Berlin, Amsterdam and Naples, and was presented in London as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

Tickets for the 2014 season of the Stratford Festival go on sale to Members on November 11, 2013, and to the general public on January 4, 2014, with a special advance sale on Facebook beginning January 2.



 2014 Playbill Post 2


What Shakespeare Can Teach Us About Leadership

The following is a speech delivered by Antoni Cimolino to the Richard Ivey School of Business on Wednesday, January 26, 2011

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.”

Even if you’ve never been to a Shakespeare play in your life, or cracked open a copy of his works, I’m sure you all recognize those often-quoted words. They occur in the riotous comedy Twelfth Night—which, as it just so happens, we’re doing this season at Stratford.

The production stars Brian Dennehy, whom many of you will recognize from his film and TV roles, but who’s also a two-time Tony Award-winning stage actor who has just been inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame.

Twelfth Night also features Stephen Ouimette, Tom Rooney, Andrea Runge and Sara Topham, and tickets are available by calling 1.800.567.1600.

Okay, so there’s the first lesson I’ve learned from my career in Shakespearean theatre: never pass up a opportunity to promote your business. But I guess you don’t need me to tell you that.

Perhaps some people are indeed born great: into that category you could put someone like Mozart, who showed such extraordinary talent at a ridiculously early age. And I dare say there are people who have greatness thrust upon them by circumstance, though it’s harder to come up with obvious examples.

Perhaps one would be Rosa Parks, the department-store seamstress who was an active but relatively unremarkable figure in the American civil-rights movement until one day in 1955, when she created a turning point in her nation’s history by refusing to give up her seat on a bus.

But I think most of the people we consider to be great leaders in their field—like Shakespeare himself—have in some way achieved that status by working at it over a considerable period of time. We’re naturally intrigued by how they did it.

And perhaps even more intriguing than the journey up to a pinnacle of achievement is the sometimes precipitous journey down: we’re fascinated by the fact that you can be the head of a corporate empire one day and a convicted felon the next. How do smart people come to make such mistakes, we wonder?

I myself have learned a lot about leadership from Shakespeare. I don’t think I could have taken on my current job if I hadn’t spent so much time on stage as an actor, speaking and listening to Shakespeare’s language, or in the rehearsal hall as a director, trying to translate the words on the page into action on the stage.

Working as an actor or a director accustoms you to the process of trying to get underneath the surface, to recognize patterns, to understand why things happen the way they do. And having that kind of insight is essential, I think, to effective leadership.

But you don’t have to work in the theatre to benefit from it. Being an engaged audience member can also help you cultivate some of that sensibility.

The best way to gain insight is from experience, and the theatre offers us a safe way of undergoing experience at its most extreme. Attending a Shakespeare play lets you get caught up in wars and revolutions and deadly dynastic disputes without getting hurt. It lets you be an eyewitness as people vie for kingdoms, commit murder and take revenge, plan stratagems that blow up in their faces. And at the end, you come out unscathed but perhaps a little more aware of the challenges, complexities and ambiguities that attend any human enterprise.

Human nature hasn’t really changed in the 400 years since Shakespeare stopped writing for the stage, nor have the basic dynamics of rise and fall, conflict and resolution, in the stories of human lives. So the more you get to know Shakespeare’s plays, the more you’ll see our own world reflected in them.

Leadership is largely about the exercise of power—and power is a central theme in Shakespeare. All of his history plays, from King John to Henry VIII, and his Roman plays—Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra—are about aspects of political power: how it is obtained, how it is used and misused, how it affects the user, how it is lost.

Shifts of power lie at the heart of the tragedies, too, from King Lear, in which the title character makes the fatal mistake of letting go of power while still expecting to enjoy the respect and privileges it commands, to Othello, in which a subordinate, Iago, brilliantly uses the power of suggestion to turn his commanding officer into his puppet.

The struggle for power is a significant theme even in the comedies, which we think of as being more about love than about war or politics. It’s certainly central to The Taming of the Shrew, but it’s there in other comedies too. The action of As You Like It, for instance, takes place in the wake of—and largely in consequence of—a palace coup: the amiable Duke Senior has been deposed by his nasty brother, Duke Frederick, and has gone off to lead a government-in-exile in the Forest of Arden.

And when Rosalind, Duke Senior’s daughter, flees to find her father in the forest, she dons male disguise. Like other cross-dressing Shakespearean heroines, she is empowered by assuming a male role: she can act with a freedom and authority that would have been denied her had she stayed in a dress.

Shakespeare remained preoccupied with issues of leadership and power to the very end of his career. The Tempest, which we believe to have been the last play he wrote on his own, is—among other things—an extended meditation on various kinds of power. Its central figure, Prospero, is another ex-duke who has been deposed by his brother, having allowed himself to get distracted from the practical business of ruling by his interest in the “magical arts”—which, if you feel so inclined, you can interpret as a metaphor for being too wrapped up in the life of the imagination. In the end, Prospero exercises what may be the hardest power of all to acquire: the power to forgive.

Perhaps Shakespeare’s most exhaustive study of leadership is found in the two great cycles of history plays—four in each cycle—that together tell the story of how the Tudor dynasty (the family of his own monarch, Elizabeth I) came to power. Shakespeare didn’t write these in chronological order: like George Lucas with the two Star Wars trilogies, he did it backwards, writing the second cycle first and then returning to the subject later to write the first one.

The first cycle of plays begins with Richard II. Then we get two plays about the reign of Henry IV, and we finish with Henry V. Then in the second cycle we get three parts of Henry VI, plus Richard III.

It’s all right; there won’t be a test on this. And I’m not going to talk about all eight. Let’s just look at the first one for now.

Richard II is one of the prime Shakespearean examples of an ineffective leader. He seems to have no strategy, no clear idea of what he wants to use his power to achieve. He acts as if the rights and powers that accompany his office as king were privileges of his own person. He acts without regard to law—assuming that he himself is the law.

As a result, he makes arbitrary and impulsive decisions that earn him the enmity of the very people whose support he should most be cultivating: the nobility—his senior staff, if you like. One of the people he alienates is the man who will prove his downfall, his cousin Henry Bolingbroke.

Bolingbroke, as decisive and clear-headed as Richard is vacillating and self-absorbed, launches a rebellion and deposes Richard, assuming the throne himself as King Henry IV. To Richard, who still thinks he’s God’s anointed, this change in his fortunes is incomprehensible, and he reacts to it by wallowing in self-pity.

“For God’s sake,” he says, “let us sit upon the ground / And tell sad stories of the death of kings.” He calls for a hand mirror and gazes wistfully into it, asking, “Was this the face / That like the sun, did make beholders wink?” before smashing it on the ground. He goes so far as to compare himself to Christ delivered to the cross—and, indeed, he does end up being imprisoned by the new King Henry and, inevitably, murdered.

Richard’s problem is that he’s a narcissist with a fatal sense of entitlement. He believes in what was called the Divine Right of Kings: the idea that if you were king, you held that position because it was God’s will.

I admit I’ve never actually heard anyone speak of a Divine Right of CEOs, but I’m prepared to bet there are plenty of leaders in the corporate world who subscribe to the circular logic of entitlement: I am in this position, therefore I deserve this position, and nothing I do can be wrong. But it ain’t necessarily so.

Richard II is by no means a bad human being; he’d probably be quite charming company at a cocktail party. He’s imaginative, his language is gorgeously ornate, and in his own self-absorbed way he’s a philosopher. But he’s in the wrong job, and isn’t shrewd enough to realize it.

Nor is he able to play the part effectively. There’s an old theatrical joke that the key quality in a good performance is sincerity—and if you can fake that, you’ve got it made. Leadership is to some extent a role that you have to play, a persona you have to adopt, but the performance has to be a very carefully judged.

Richard lays on the histrionics, but he doesn’t understand the essence of his role: he thinks it’s all about him personally rather than about the office he happens to hold. And like many a bad actor, he can’t judge the effect that he’s having on his audience, so he goes too far.

Bolingbroke, by contrast, shows contempt for putting on a show. He comes across as an absolute non-actor—although, of course, it may just be that he’s infinitely better at faking sincerity than Richard. For Bolingbroke, things work out well enough: he becomes Henry IV and gets two plays of his own, then dies peacefully in his bed, which is quite an achievement for a Shakespearean monarch.

But there are dangers for the non-actor too, as the Roman hero Coriolanus discovers in the play that bears his name.

Coriolanus is about as different from Richard II as it’s possible to be. He is a consummate leader of men—at least on the field of battle. But leadership qualities in one field don’t necessarily translate into another, and the tragedy of Coriolanus is that of a great military hero who makes the fatal mistake of going into politics.

To get the people’s votes, he has to hit the campaign trail. He has to press flesh. He has to actually ask people for their support. And if you think Michael Ignatieff or Stephen Harper lack the common touch. . . .

Coriolanus refuses even to attempt to manipulate his audience. He sees playing the game of politics as beneath him. He doesn’t realize that the only leaders who survive, regardless of their sincerity, are those who master the art of political performance.

He utterly despises the common people, and can’t bring himself to pander to them. He knows he’s a better soldier than anyone else in Rome, and so the whole idea of casting himself in the role of supplicant for votes is anathema to him. He makes a stiff, half-hearted attempt, but it’s not long before his true feelings reveal themselves. “You common cry of curs,” he snarls at the populace, before going into exile.

Coriolanus is arrogant—and has indeed has every reason to be—but he cannot grasp that arrogance is not a quality that’s going to endear you to the electorate. His campaign is a public-relations disaster.

It’s not that he’s an ineffective communicator, far from it; it’s just that the message he delivers is unpalatable: “You know I’m the greatest warrior you’ve ever seen; why should I have to bow down to you in order to get your blessing as a civilian leader?”

Coriolanus learns the hard way that leadership is a contract that both sides have to buy into. It’s not enough to be way better than anyone else at what you do; if you want to lead people, you have to gain their trust and allow them some room for their own feelings of self-worth.

Rejected by his own people, Coriolanus ends up going over to his old enemies, and joins with them in an attack on his own city—and that proves to be an even bigger mistake, because he has put himself in an impossible position where his loyalties are inevitably going to be divided. He has declared that he’s going to sack Rome—but then his mother, Volumnia, comes out and begs him to reconsider.

There’s a lesson here for participants in political coalitions: before throwing your lot in with your opponents, try very hard to envisage in advance what the sticking points for your conscience are going to be.

Mention of conscience brings us to another military hero who seeks a larger role for himself. Macbeth is the prime Shakespearean example of the leader who sacrifices all principle in the pursuit of power and thereby plants the seeds of his own destruction.

Like Coriolanus, Macbeth starts out as a war hero, universally praised and heaped with high honour by King Duncan for his key role in putting down a rebellion. But he becomes obsessed by the idea—planted in his mind by that very dubious trio of career counsellors, the Weird Sisters—that he’s destined for even greater things: the kingship itself. That thought, coupled with the taunts and urgings of his wife, overcomes his better judgement and leads him to murder Duncan in his bed.

Well, you don’t need me to point out the inadvisability of murder as a means of career advancement. But even leaving the killing out of it, this play offers a vivid illustration of the corrosive effect of seeking power for its own sake.

When Bolingbroke deposes Richard and causes his death, he is at least seeking power in order to achieve an end: to turn around the state of the country, which has gotten into a sorry mess under Richard. But there’s nothing in Macbeth to suggest that Duncan is a bad or weak king; quite the contrary. In committing an act of assassination, Macbeth does not believe, as Brutus does in Julius Caesar, that he is acting in the best interests of the country; he is quite clearly acting in what he imagines to be the best interests of himself.

Once he has achieved the throne, Macbeth’s thoughts are not “whither Scotland?” but solely about consolidating his own power. “To be thus is nothing,” he says, “But to be safely thus . . .” Thus ensues the wholesale termination of anyone he suspects could be a threat. And that’s “termination” in the Schwarzenegger sense, not the slightly gentler Human Resources Department sense.

Power, the old saying goes, tends to corrupt. But power is essential when it’s a means to an end; it’s when power is pursued as an end in itself that it becomes corrosive, sterile and self-defeating.

Any discussion of Shakespeare’s treatment of the theme of leadership sooner or later gets round to the most obviously brilliant leader in the canon: Henry V.

Unlike Richard II and Coriolanus, Henry V knows exactly how to get people on his side. He’s a brilliant performer, a brilliant communicator. His speech rallying the troops before the Battle of Agincourt is one of the most famous set pieces in all of Shakespeare, and rightly so. Henry scoffs at self-interest: I don’t care about wealth or status, he says—but I do care about honour. If we’re going to die here today, he says, so be it. But if we pull it off and survive, we will live forever in the annals of history:

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother.”

It’s an extraordinary statement for a monarch to make to his subjects: you will be my brother. But it’s exactly what the fearful, dispirited and hopelessly outnumbered army needs to hear: that they are united with their leader in an enterprise that has the potential to be glorious. Henry goes so far as to tell them that if they don’t want to be part of this battle, they can leave with a golden handshake and no recriminations; he makes it their choice to stay.

Unlike Richard, Henry knows his audience; knows exactly the effect his words will have. He knows in part because he has done his research: he has spent time with ordinary people.

Indeed, in the two parts of Henry IV, when his father was on the throne and he was just Prince Henry—Prince Hal to his friends—the future Henry V spends his time hanging out in taverns with the lowest of the low. This makes him the despair of his father—but, as he confides to us in a soliloquy, it’s all part of a strategic plan.

“Herein,” he says, “will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wondered at.”

Hal knows he’s going to be king some day. And he knows that if the bar of expectation is set too high, nobody, however brilliant, can measure up to it. Maybe you could call that the Barack Obama syndrome.

So what Hal does is deliberately create low expectations of himself, so that when he reveals his true magnificence as king, he’ll seem all the greater in contrast with his former playboy prince image.

And even when he is king, he continues to keep his finger on the pulse of his people. On the eve of Agincourt, he goes round the camp incognito, drawing the men out on their true feelings about the campaign they’re engaged in and his own role as their leader.

Henry, in other words, is the kind of CEO who never loses touch with the shop floor. He takes every opportunity to shoot the breeze with the employees, get to know their names, find out what makes them tick.

Henry is a man of incredible ability, beyond all question. In 1989, when I was an actor, I played the role of the French Dauphin in a production of Henry V. I spent a six-month season watching the title character at work. At every performance, I’d watch Henry analyze, assess and act. I’d see him deal with dissention and disloyalty; I’d hear him use language brilliantly to rally support; I’d observe him going out into the rank and file to learn what they really think.

I was reminded over and over of the difference, in terms of seriousness of purpose, between Henry and my character: the difference between a mere braggart and someone who is in touch with something far greater. It was an instructive lesson.

If you’re looking for a role model in Shakespeare for effective leadership, look no further than Henry V: he has it all, and his reign is a triumphant success. In terms of how to succeed in rallying others to your cause, nobody does it better.

But what about the cause itself? Is it beyond question? And if there are questions about the cause, what does that say about its proponent? And here we run into the mystery you always encounter with Shakespeare: what does he really want us to make of all this? Henry V seems to be the hero of his play. But are we actually meant to admire him? Is he a force for good in the world?

There’s an early scene in Henry V that has tremendous resonance for us in view of our own recent history. Henry is conferring with the leaders of the church about his proposed invasion of France. He wants to know if it can be justified on legal grounds. In a long and complicated explanation of something called the Salic law, they assure him that it is.

No audience today can hope to follow the details of that explanation, and I rather suspect nobody could in Shakespeare’s day either. In any case, after about 60 lines of tortuous genealogy from the clerics, Henry cuts to the chase with the direct question, “Can I with right and conscience make this claim?”—which can get a laugh, depending on how impatiently the actor delivers it.

But after the laugh has to come the thought: weapons of mass destruction, anyone?

In this scene, Henry is seeking the stamp of legitimacy for what he is about to do: invade France in order to give the people at home a common cause to rally behind and thus defuse the potential for further insurrection in England. But is he truly concerned that his cause be legitimate—or only that it appear so? It’s a question Shakespeare leaves open, and it’s up to the director and the actor playing Henry to answer it as best they can.

There are some uncomfortable things about Henry. At one point in his campaign, he’s besieging the town of Harfleur, which refuses to yield. Henry issues an ultimatum: surrender now, and you’ll be treated humanely; resist, and I will give my soldiers licence to rape, burn and pillage. You will see, he says,

“Your fathers taken by the silver beards,
And their most reverend heads dash’s to the walls;
Your naked infants spitted upon pikes. . .”

He could be bluffing, of course. But you get the impression Henry isn’t the sort of man not to follow through on what he says he’ll do.

Perhaps Henry’s ends justify his means. If the worst thing that can happen to a country is civil war—complete with sons killing fathers and fathers killing sons—and if Henry’s foreign adventures have managed to prevent that, then perhaps he could succumb to infant-spitting and still be seen as a hero. But what are his motives?

You think back to that strategic role-playing of his in Henry IV, when he hangs out with the likes of Sir John Falstaff in the taverns of Eastcheap. And then you think back to his brutal repudiation of Falstaff, his old crony, once he becomes king. He does exactly what he said he’d do, so no quarrel there. But what does it say about him as a human being? What Henry does is certainly expedient. But is he being guided by any kind of moral compass? Practically speaking, he’s good at ruling. But does he in fact have the moral right to do it?

The question of who had the right to rule was a crucial one in Shakespeare’s time—hardly surprisingly, given the historical convolutions by which his own monarch had come to the throne. The desire for a legitimate heir had driven Henry VIII’s endless series of marriages and executions. And Elizabeth’s own lack of an heir threatened to open up the can of worms all over again.

Questions of legitimacy are central to the last Shakespeare play I’m going to mention. King John, which I directed in 2004, is a drama of survival in a cutthroat world that could just as easily take place in the corporate corridors or political lobbies of today.

In many ways, it’s a play about temptation. There’s a core group of characters, each of whom is offered something he or she really wants. To get the things they want, all that each of those characters has to do is something truly immoral.

By the end of the play, most of the tempted characters do the immoral thing and are destroyed—but there are a couple of exceptions. And one of those exceptions, ironically, is a character called Philip the Bastard, whose name reflects his parentage, not his personality.

Philip professes himself to be guided solely by the profit motive. “Gain, be my lord,” he says, “for I will worship thee.” But early in the play he also says this: “I am I, howe’er I was begot.” In other words, “Who cares if I was born on the wrong side of the blanket? I’m still me, and that’s all that matters.”

In that simple phrase, “I am I,” Philip the Bastard reveals a clear sense of self that can’t be claimed even by Bolingbroke, who is haunted throughout his reign as Henry IV by his angst about his legitimacy as a ruler who has taken the crown by force.

Philip, though, is secure enough in his self-knowledge that nothing else really matters. Ultimately, he doesn’t want anything so badly that he’s prepared to do anything, however self-destructive, to get it. He has found a firm place to stand in the muck of the world. In other words, he has integrity.

He doesn’t get to become king or anything like that, though he does pick up a knighthood early in the play. But even in his own eyes, that’s not the measure of his success. Where he really triumphs over almost everybody else in his play, and indeed over most of the rulers in Shakespeare, is in maintaining his integrity, his moral leadership.

Let me go back to the words I started with: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.” To which we can perhaps add a fourth category: “And some redefine greatness in their own terms”—not as wealth or public acclaim, or worldly power, but as inspiring examples of how to be the best of which human beings are capable.

Shakespeare’s plays are full of characters who are, or aspire to be, leaders of one kind or another. Few, if any, of them are wholly admirable, and perhaps that’s the single most important lesson to be learned about leadership from those plays: treat it with a healthy dose of skepticism. Serious questions hang over even the most accomplished of Shakespeare’s leader figures.

There is ultimately only one kind of leadership that I think emerges from Shakespeare’s plays without taint, and it is not the kind that necessarily leads to glory, wealth or worldly power. It is the moral leadership of Philip the Bastard in King John; of Cordelia, in King Lear, who loses everything by daring to tell truth to power; of Prospero in The Tempest, who makes the momentous decision not to take the revenge for which he has so long and painstakingly prepared; of Hermione in The Winter’s Tale, who bears herself with grace and dignity through the most arduous and unjust of tribulations and is still able to love and forgive the insanely jealous husband who so needlessly inflicted them on her.

Such characters are our beacons in the darkness of the universe, and if there is a single lesson about leadership to be drawn from be drawn from the works of William Shakespeare, it is that through acquaintance with those characters and their kin and their kin that we that we will find our firmest way through the mazes and thickets of the world.

I realize I have rambled on at too great length and have barely even scratched the surface of my topic. Nor have I grappled, as I believe was advertised in the invitation to this talk, with the question of what Shakespeare might have thought about the most recent financial crisis.

I haven’t, because it’s an unanswerable question: we can’t actually be sure what Shakespeare thought about anything. Although his plays teem with ideas, those ideas are all articulated by dramatic characters, none of whom can safely be identified with the playwright himself.

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be”: that’s from Shakespeare all right—but it’s Polonius talking, in Hamlet, and does Polonius know what he’s talking about? Depends on how you play him.

So if you came hoping to hear my top 10 Shakespearean tips on how to succeed in business or politics, then I fear I will have disappointed you. But if I have at least planted in your minds the idea that experiencing the plays of Shakespeare will offer you some insight into the ways in which the world worked in his time, still works today, and will continue to work till the end of humanity as we know it, then perhaps our time has not been spent entirely in vain.

Thank you.