Stage Door News

Stratford: Stratford Festival Board extends Antoni Cimolino’s term through 2024

Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Stratford Festival’s Board of Governors is pleased to announce that Antoni Cimolino has agreed to a two-year extension to his term as Artistic Director, taking him through the 2024 season.

“In the past six seasons, Antoni has opened up new avenues of achievement for the Festival, from the Forum to our film series, to the construction of our new Tom Patterson Theatre Centre, while at the same time bringing to our stages some of the most extraordinary theatre of our time. We owe much to his vision and dedication and look forward to his continued leadership in the years ahead,” said Board Chair Sylvia Chrominska

This year, Cimolino marks his 32nd season with the Festival. He began as an actor in 1988, taking on his first directing projects in the mid-1990s. He soon moved into administration, quickly rising through the ranks to General Manager, Executive Director and General Director, all the while continuing to direct on the Festival’s stages. Highlights of his career include playing Romeo toMegan Follows’s Juliet; directing Richard Monette in Filumena, William Hutt in Twelfth Night, Brian Bedford in Love’s Labour’s Lost and Martha Henry in The Tempest; the creation of the multimillion-dollar Endowment Foundation; and taking the lead on five major construction projects, including renovations of the Festival and Avon theatres, the creation of the Studio Theatre and now the building of the new Tom Patterson Theatre Centre. 

“I fell in love with the Stratford Festival in my teens,” said Cimolino, “and to have the privilege of working here for so much of my career has been a great gift to me. In these wonderful theatres, I have learned, I have grown, and I hope I have been able to contribute in return. This has been my life’s work. I have been so fortunate, too, in building relationships that I treasure, with artists, audience members and donors.

“At a time when we have so many exciting projects in development, when the unveiling of our new Tom Patterson Theatre Centre is on the not-so-distant horizon, and when we are so determined to open up this Festival to greater diversity and new talent, I deeply appreciate this extension of my tenure as Artistic Director. I look forward to working with Anita Gaffney and all my colleagues to make this Festival even more vibrant, inclusive and irresistible.”

During his tenure, Cimolino has brought a continuity of programming to Festival seasons, creating a cohesive experience for visitors to the theatre. His approach has been to provide a thematic structure for each season and then to offer outlets to explore those themes as they affect us in the world today, through daily Forum events.

While programming a wide variety of Shakespeare, he has left directors free to embrace a myriad of approaches, giving life to such productions as Robert Lepage’s Coriolanus, two vastly different productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from directors Peter Sellars and Chris Abraham; the interactive Newfoundland romp that was Jillian Keiley’s As You Like It; Tim Carroll’s original practices Romeo and Juliet and King John; Keira Loughran’s gender-fluid Comedy of Errors; Scott Wentworth’s female-driven Julius Caesar, Cimolino’s own productions, including King Lear and Macbeth, both of which set sales records for the Festival; and Graham Abbey’s development of the Henriad cycle into Breath of Kings.

He has expanded the performed repertoire to include Shakespeare’s contemporaries, the Greeks and classics from other centuries, including such high notes as Keiley’s Bakkhai, Daniel Brooks’s Oedipus Rex, Abraham’s Tartuffe, Jackie Maxwell’s The Changeling, Martha Henry’s All My Sons and Cimolino’s productions of Mary Stuart, The Hypochondriac, The Beaux’ Stratagem and The Alchemist

The production of musicals has hit new heights with Donna Feore moving from one hit to the next – with such productions as Fiddler on the Roof, The Sound of Music, Guys and Dolls, A Chorus Line and the record-breaking The Rocky Horror Show – making Stratford an irresistible destination for musical theatre.

Family programming has become a staple of the playbill, with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Diary of Anne Frank, Alice Through the Looking-Glass, Treasure Island and others. 

New play development has been central to Cimolino’s mandate, with 20 plays currently in various stages of development, and another 20 new plays and adaptations staged since 2013, including Kate Hennig’s The Last Wife, The Virgin Trial and Mother’s Daughter, Hannah Moscovitch’s Bunny, Colleen Murphy’s The Breathing Hole and Erin Shields’s Paradise Lost.

It was in the first year of his tenure that Cimolino introduced the Forum, a series of daily events designed to enrich and enliven the play-going experience. “An immediate success, it has become a key part of a visit to the Festival, bringing to Stratford thought leaders from a wide range of disciplines, illuminating and inspiring audiences and raising the Festival’s profile through relationships with other arts organizations and media outlets,” said Chrominska.

At the same time, Cimolino saw a need for the Festival to expand its research and development work and so introduced the Laboratory, a cohesive platform for artistic experimentation and the creation of new repertoire. “The Lab is now central to what we do,” said Chrominska, “bringing new energies and ideas to the work on our stages and fostering relationships with artists from other disciplines and other backgrounds, including our Indigenous communities. It is fast establishing Stratford as a centre for artistic collaboration and exploration.”

In 2014, Cimolino and Executive Director Anita Gaffney launched an undertaking to film all of Shakespeare’s plays. “Nothing comparable to this project exists in North America,” said Chrominska. “With 12 titles in our series to date, we are well on the way to creating a unique and priceless treasure for audiences and educators – and, in the process, making cinematic history.”

Cimolino and Gaffney have also worked to ensure the Festival’s long-term financial stability. Since the beginning of their shared tenure in 2013, the Festival has reported six straight surpluses, totaling $5.6 million, wiping out a $3.4-million deficit reported in 2012 and contributing to the Artistic Excellence Fund, which provides resources for future large projects – all while overseeing the growth of the Festival’s Endowment Fund to $81 million.

“Antoni’s contributions to Stratford have been monumental and he stands shoulder to shoulder with Stratford’s greatest Artistic Directors, shaping its history and carefully laying the groundwork for generations to come,” said Chromimska.

This past year, Cimolino announced a project dear to his heart, the building of a new Tom Patterson Theatre Centre. As an actor and director, a great deal of his work had been done in the “temporary” facility that the Festival had rented from the City of Stratford since the 1970s. With more than $80 million raised for the project, construction of this unique facility is substantially underway and on schedule for its opening in 2020.

“The new TPT is a vital part of our progress toward a larger, overarching goal. The world is changing, and the Canadian theatre ecology is changing with it – at a rate that is clearly accelerating. I want to make sure that we play our proper role in that ecology, and that the world is aware of it. We’ve already embraced much change here at the Festival in the last few years, but I want to be sure we’re leading the charge into the future, not just keeping up with it,” said Cimolino.

“I want to step up the work of our Lab, boost the professional and creative growth of Canadian artists and expand our development of new repertoire. I want to explore more outreach possibilities, such as touring and transfers. I want us to pursue, even more than we do now, the paths of innovation and inclusion.

“In the years ahead, I want to see us universally recognized as a truly national and international institution: a beacon on the hill, high and bright, that brings light into our lives and sends a signal of welcome to all.”

Photo: Antoni Cimolino. © 2013 Dave Chidley.