Stage Door News

Stratford: Stratford Festival unveils the new Tom Patterson Theatre in a series of mini-documentaries

Monday, June 14, 2021

The Stratford Festival offered a first look inside its new Tom Patterson Theatre last week with a series of short documentaries that premièred at its Thursday night viewing party, already attracting more than 30,000 views over just three days. The event served as a virtual unveiling of the magnificent facility, designed by world-renowned architect Siamak Hariri, of Toronto-based Hariri Pontarini Architects, who was selected after an international search. The result, says Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino, is “a work of art, not a conventional building.”

Hariri designed the building to complement its riverside location, with all of the spaces flowing from one to another, surrounded by a glass curtain offering boundless views of the beautiful Avon River. The organic shape of the building itself echoes the curvature of the adjacent waterfront.

At its centre is a gently curving wall of warm brick, sonically protecting what’s at the heart of the building: one of the most unique auditoriums in the world. The theatre was meticulously designed to create an optimal experience for both actor and audience, with careful attention to sightlines, acoustics and comfort, as well as to providing the essential elements of theatre that are often missing: real silence and total darkness.

Like the Festival Theatre’s original thrust stage, the Tom Patterson Theatre’s elongated thrust configuration provides patrons with a theatregoing experience of unsurpassed intimacy.

“I remember the agony with which you took on the details of the theatre itself and I really admired that,” Hariri says to Cimolino in the documentary Beyond Beautiful: The Inspired Design of a Riverside Gem. “You were going back and forth on even the distance from the edge of the stage to the first seat. Your aspiration was that from every angle, you could see everybody in the room and they could see the whites of your eyes, and they could hear you at a whisper at every moment.”

The documentaries, which are now available on the Festival’s YouTube Channel and subscription platform, Stratfest@Home, explore the technology with which the state-of-the-art theatre is equipped, including many world firsts, as well as the architect’s inspiration for the design, and the Festival’s aspirations for the new facility.

“In making theatre, we work with the ephemeral,” says Cimolino. “When the play is over, it’s a memory. One of the beautiful things about architecture is how it endures. It has an ability to tell future generations who we were. When people come here in 10, 20, 30, 40 years from now, they will know that there were people once who built this theatre who aspired to create something extraordinary, who wanted to create something that was beautiful, and that would endure – and that these people who made this had care and aspiration. As beautiful as it is, what’s even more beautiful, is the part of all of us that made it happen: that speaks to the beauty of humanity.”

The Tom Patterson Theatre was made possible by a $100-million fundraising campaign, which included grants of $20 million each from the federal government and the province of Ontario. Lead donor Ophelia Lazaridis gave $15 million, and lead donors Claire Foerster & Dan Bernstein gave $10 million. More than 3,200 people have contributed so far to the campaign, which is expected to conclude with the official in-person opening of the theatre in 2022. The theatre itself came in at $70 million; $30 million will be held in the Endowment fund to contribute to the building’s upkeep and programming.

“The major donors to the campaign, including both levels of government, gave us all confidence as we realized that our dream would be realized, and their commitment cannot be overstated. However, equally important is the support we received from thousands of patrons who made gifts simply to support the Festival and this extraordinary vision for its future,” says Senior Director of Advancement Rachel Smith-Spencer. “And we were guided and inspired by the campaign leadership provided by co-chairs Ophelia Lazaridis and Dr. M. Lee Myers, working with Michael Meighen, the honorary campaign chair. Their belief encouraged us all to do our best work and led to this gift to our city, our patrons and the future.”

Seating approximately 600 people, the Tom Patterson Theatre is the third-largest of the Festival’s four theatres, the others seating roughly 1,800, 1,100 and 260. It has been designed to allow space for enrichment programming and social gathering.

“While the auditorium forms the heart of the building, the public spaces enable a fully immersive experience,” says Executive Director Anita Gaffney. “The generous public spaces are a defining feature of the building and provide opportunities for both formal and informal gatherings before and after performances.”

The public spaces include a second performance space, Lazaridis Hall, the home of the Meighen Forum, the Festival’s season-long series of special talks, performances and other events presented each season. The Dinner Rooney Workshop provides an unparalleled space for the development of new work and theatre practices, as well as for education activities. Each of these spaces flow seamlessly from the expansive lobby areas, but can be quickly and elegantly enclosed as events require. The glass-enclosed Spriet Members’ Lounge features a contemporary fireplace in a dramatic space with wraparound glazing that gently tapers beneath a wood-clad ceiling.The Theatre Café, a gift from Raphael & Jane Bernstein, is open to everyone – no theatre ticket required – and from its Alonzo Terrace, overlooks the breathtaking gardens and the Avon River. 

In describing his brief for the project, Hariri remarks to Cimolino: “The imperative was way beyond just meeting the program and the budget. It was speaking to the emotional reaction that you were after and what it takes to really do that is not for the faint of heart. I was really captivated by the process that you took us on. It was a journey. To get to the soul of what you were after was something really interesting.”

Because of the pandemic, the theatre is scheduled to open in 2022, two years after its completion. It was to have been officially dedicated at a ceremony on June 11, 2020, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Tom Patterson, the founder of the Stratford Festival. Instead the viewing party marked the hometown hero’s 101st birthday.

As Cimolino and Hariri stand alone in the building for Beyond Beautiful, Cimolino notes poignantly: “It’s all ready to go. It just needs the public.”




Inside the Jewel: Discover the Experience that Awaits You

Take a guided video tour of the breathtaking amenities of the new Tom Patterson Theatre, from its beautiful and welcoming public spaces to the magnificent auditorium at its heart.


A Space of Significance: Architecture that Stirs the Heart

Meet the experts and visionaries behind the Tom Patterson Theatre as they discuss the components of the new building, its architectural influences and the challenge of designing a venue so rich in emotional resonance.


Beyond Beautiful: The Inspired Design of a Riverside Gem

Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino and architect Siamak Hariri discuss the ideas and inspirations behind the new Tom Patterson Theatre, and walk us through the exciting journey from concept to completion.


Machinery of Magic: The Technology that Supports the Art

Technical Director Greg Dougherty pulls back the curtain on some of the state-of-the-art technology that operates behind the scenes at the new Tom Patterson Theatre to create the magic on stage.