September 13, 2007 / 7:51 PM / 12 years ago

Canada's Stratford Festival artistic head bows out

TORONTO (Reuters Life!) - Before Richard Monette became artistic director of the Stratford Festival of Canada he wasn’t sure if he’d be up to the job of running three stages that attract more than half a million people a year.

Richard Monette in an undated image. Before Monette became artistic director of the Stratford Festival of Canada he wasn't sure if he'd be up to the job of running three stages that attract more than half a million people a year. REUTERS/David Hou/Handout

But his doubts were unfounded because on Monday, after a 14-year tenure, the 63-year-old will take his final bow as the artistic director at a gala to celebrate his career.

“My biggest fear was that I’d never run anything in my life —any theater,” said Monette, who leaves a festival which now has four stages.

“I didn’t know if I could do it at all. The only thing that saved me was that I knew I loved the place and I’d worked here for so many years that I understood how it worked.”

Monette, who recently wrote a memoir titled “This Rough Magic”, spoke to Reuters about his career and plans for the future:

Q: Is there one thing that you can highlight as being the most exciting moment or your biggest achievement as artistic director?

A: “There are several. One of them is the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theater Training. I set this up to teach young actors every year...I am very proud that we renovated the Festival Theater, the Avon Theater and, most especially, that we built the Studio Theater, which is about a 265-seat theater that allows us to do theater that we otherwise could not do.”

Q: What do you think your biggest contributions have been?

A: “Every season was in the black. We came out of a period of great financial strain...in my first year...we had a turnaround from a deficit of C$1.3 million ($1.25 million) the year before to when I took over (to) a surplus of $800,000, which is amazing.”

Q: What kind of legacy do you think you leave?

A: “The audience base has grown enormously...They are fond of calling me in the press a populist, which I take as great praise. They don’t intend it as great praise...I believe in having audiences, so in that sense I am a populist, but the work we do is not remotely populist in my view, and certainly no Shakespeare is. “

Q: What do you say to those who charge you with commercializing the festival? The way some of the productions have been staged has been questioned.

A: “I don’t know what they are talking about to tell you the truth...We are a festival so we do different interpretations of the Shakespeares.”

Q: What do you plan to do next?

A: “I plan not to give interviews, I plan not to go to board meetings, I plan not do a lot of stuff that is very important to the theater, but not necessary to my life. The real short answer is that I don’t know...It will be strange waking up in the morning and not being called by the theater with a crisis, which happens almost every day. There may be a second book — I wake up every morning thinking: ‘Oh my God, oh my God, what will today bring?’ So I literally haven’t thought very much beyond this.

$1=$1.03 Canadian

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