Stage Door News

Stratford: Kelly and Michael Meighen give $5 million towards the new Tom Patterson Theatre

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Stratford Festival is celebrating a major milestone in its Spirit of the Tent Campaign for the new Tom Patterson Theatre Centre with a remarkable $5-million gift from Kelly and Michael Meighen and the T.R. Meighen Family Foundation. In recognition of this gift, the Stratford Festival Forum, which will have a dedicated space in the new theatre centre, will be renamed The Meighen Forum.

“Michael and Kelly have had an extraordinary impact on the development and growth of the Stratford Festival,” says Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino. “Michael inherited his love of Shakespeare from his grandfather, former Canadian prime minister Arthur Meighen, whose celebrated speech on the Bard, first given in 1936, was published as The Greatest Englishman of History. It was Arthur’s enthusiasm that inspired his children and grandchildren to attend the Festival.

“In the mid-1990s, Michael chaired our Act III Campaign to renew the Festival Theatre. Later, Kelly chaired our For All Time Endowment Campaign, which she and Michael launched with a donation of $5 million – by far the largest single gift we had ever received up to that time and a ground-breaking one for the performing arts in Canada.

“In addition, both Michael and Kelly have been long-serving members of our Board of Governors, and both have provided tremendous leadership as Board Chairs.

“Personally, they have become dear friends whose support means so much to me. This wonderful gift secures the future of a key initiative that I undertook when I first became Artistic Director. The Forum has brought new dimensions to the experience of attending the Festival and forged new relationships between Stratford and distinguished thought leaders in a wide range of fields. I could not be prouder to name it for two such extraordinary friends and benefactors.

“Thank you, Michael and Kelly, for giving your personal and very generous support – and your names – to The Meighen Forum.”

This generous contribution brings the $100-million Spirit of the Tent Campaign to a total of $90 million. The campaign will provide the capital to build the new theatre, along with a fund to support the programs it will house, including the Laboratory – the Festival’s research and development arm – education and digital media initiatives, and The Meighen Forum.

The Meighens were inspired to support the Forum because of the way it engages audiences. “The Forum redefines the patron experience in a very positive way,” says Kelly Meighen. “The richness of its programming encourages longer visits to Stratford and unmasks the wealth of knowledge to be found within the Festival environment.

“The new Tom Patterson Theatre Centre is the next iteration – and a beautiful one at that – of Stratford’s wonderful evolution.”

In its new home, The Meighen Forum will expand to offer at least 300 events, allowing for a richer theatre-going experience throughout the entire season. Conceived and launched by Cimolino at the outset of his tenure in 2013, the Forum offers a series of events that expound upon each season’s theme. These events include illustrious speakers, panels, play readings, workshops, special meals, concerts, artist Q&As, tours and special performances.

Past Forum events have included In Conversation with Margaret Atwood; The Fantasticks in Concert with Eric McCormack; Migration, Nativism and Identity with Stephen Toop, director of the Munk School of Global Affairs; and Beyond the Huddled Masses with Harold Hongju Koh, former legal adviser to the U.S. State Department. Each season CBC Radio’s Ideas does a series of Forum events called Ideas at Stratford, this year looking at “The Disrupters” – Darwin, Marx, Freud, Einstein and Trump. The New York Times will lead a week full of Forum events in mid-July, featuring co-chief theatre critic Jesse Green, theatre editor Scott Heller and culture reporter Cara Buckley. The participation of media partners such as CBC and the Times ensures these fascinating events find an audience beyond Stratford.

Designed by award-winning architect Siamak Hariri, the new Tom Patterson Theatre Centre is scheduled to open for the Festival’s 2020 season. The building features a 600-seat auditorium with an elongated thrust stage, the centrepiece of the structure. The main lobby flows, reflecting the river it overlooks, around the auditorium, into various pods that will hold the facilities for The Meighen Forum and the Laboratory, along with a lounge, café and bars – all of which are surrounded by a veil of shimmering glass, hung with thin bronze mullions. A terraced garden, beautiful enough to be a landmark in itself, will complement the site. 

Together with the expansion of The Meighen Forum, the new centre will generate an estimated $14 million per year in economic activity, on top of the $134 million already generated annually by the Festival as a whole.

Illustration: Rendering of the lobby of the new Tom Patterson Theatre. © Hariri Pontarini Architects.