Festival mourns the passing of beloved artistic director Richard Monette

It is with profound sadness that the Stratford Shakespeare Festival announces the death last night of Richard Monette, the longest-serving artistic director in its history. Mr. Monette, whose tenure lasted for 14 seasons, from 1994 to 2007, died of a pulmonary embolus in hospital in London, Ontario. He was 64 years old.

“I remember first seeing Richard on the Stratford Festival stage as Berowne in Love’s Labour’s Lost,” said the Festival’s general director, Antoni Cimolino. “He was brilliant – so brilliant that it changed my life and I’m sure the lives of many, many others. He made one of the most difficult parts in Shakespeare seem effortless and a joy. And so he did for the all the great roles he played, from Hamlet to Hosanna.

“As an actor, a director and finally as an artistic director, he was singular. His love for the Festival was the centre of his being. His accomplishments as artistic director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival have set the standard by which all others will be judged.”

“I am deeply distressed by our dear friend Richard’s death,” added the Festival’s current artistic director, Des McAnuff. “I have been Richard’s ardent fan since I first saw him in Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre production of Hosanna, in which he was utterly virtuosic. He was a brilliant actor, a gifted director, an inspiring artistic director and a great Canadian. I will sorely miss his wit, his insight, his advice and especially the warmth and wisdom that were among his many distinguished attributes. The entire Stratford Shakespeare Festival family is in mourning, and we will not fill the immense void left by the loss of our beloved artistic statesman anytime soon.”

Shares your thoughts and memories about Richard Monette.

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38 Responses to Festival mourns the passing of beloved artistic director Richard Monette

  1. Todd Hissong says:

    As a Detroit area high school student in the 70’s, once a year I was shoved onto a crowded yellow bus and driven over the Ambassador Bridge to Stratford – and I couldn’t wait! Probably more than anything else, it was that company of actors who (for good or ill) inspired me to choose the profession. Shining brightly in those memories are the consistently transcendent performances of Richard Monette.

    Sir, you will be greatly missed.

    Todd Hissong
    Screen Actors Guild
    Chicago Branch President

  2. Deb Schmidle says:

    I have been attending the Stratford Festival since 1977. I have witnessed a series of directors, various name changes, the loss of wonderful actors such as Susan Wright, Nicholas Pennell (and most recently, Bill Hutt) and a crisis or two.

    For me, one of the wonderful constants of Stratford was Richard Monette. I will never forget the first time I saw him, playing Parolles with Martha Henry in All’s Well. His talents as an actor and a director were real gifts for theatre-lovers.

    My heartfelt condolences go out Richard’s family, including his many Stratford friends and colleagues.

    Deb Schmidle

  3. Kathy Hippensteel says:

    Like the previous poster, I have been attending the Stratford Festival since the early 70’s, and I have deeply mourned the passing of such wonderful artists as Susan Wright, Nicholas Pennell, and William Hutt. Last year I was grateful to be able to attend the theatre memorial to William Hutt and heard Richard Monette’s eulogy. Never could I have guessed that less than a year later I would be mourning his passing.

    I remember Mr. Monette as Prince Hal, Hamlet, Henry V, Romeo, Caliban, and countless other roles. He was one of the actors I always looked forward to seeing when I made the drive to Stratford. As sorry as I was when he stopped performing and turned solely to directing, I thoroughly enjoyed all of the plays I saw that he directed.

    When Mr. Monette became artistic director, I took great pleasure in watching the theatre continue to bloom under his leadership. I remember calling each year for tickets for the following summer and being placed on what I called “Richard Monette hold.” I never minded waiting, because I could listen to that wonderful voice telling me all about the upcoming season! And I remember his annual visits to “Meet the Festival” sessions, and how happy I was when my trips to Stratford coincided with that visit.

    Richard Monette will be greatly missed by those who love theatre, and by those of us who love the Stratford Festival in particular.

    My condolences to Richard’s family, including his Stratford family, his friends, and his unknown friends and admirers.

    Kathy Hippensteel

  4. Thomas Kay says:

    I would like to relate my only meeting with Mr. Monette. It was June of 1994, right at the start of his directorship of the Festival. This happened on a flight to New York. The plane was filling up except for the seat next to me – but who should sit in it at the very last minute – Richard Monette. I have been attending the Festival since 1974 so I knew who he was. I was too shy at first to bother him as he was reading a volume of the plays of Dumas -I had no idea Dumas wrote plays! Strangely enough. I had that season’s souvenir booklet in my carry-on so I thought I would take it out and look at it. Maybe he would notice it and we would begin a conversation. Didn’t work. So I finally gathered up my courage and introduced myself. I bought him a drink, as he was a nervous flyer, and we had a great chat.
    As the conversation developed, I asked him to consider programming Amadeus. He thought that was a wonderful idea and took out his book and wrote it down. Next season – Amadeus. I am sure it was already in the pipe line but he made me feel that it was my idea. I saw it 3 times!
    I could go on about all the great things he did for the Festival but one of the most important for me was his bringing back Bill Hutt and Martha Henry. The result was that miraculous production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night.
    Thank you Richard for all those wonderful productions and memories.

    Thomas Kay

  5. Sarai says:

    I remember dragging two of my friends to Stratford about 30 years ago
    to see Richard Monette. We stayed overnight – it was a big event.
    I so wanted them to see how wonderful he was. What a darling man.

  6. Mandy says:

    I have been attending the festival for the past 10 seasons, under the direction of Mr. Monette, and was saddened to hear of his passing. He has helped to shape my view of the theatre and understood that young people, such as myself, should have the same access – to these wonderful stories – as everyone else.

    I also know, because of him, I was able to see so much of the Shakespearean canon, and that is a wonderful blessing.

    Thank you Richard for your vision, creativity and passion. My condolences to his family and many friends.

    Mandy Smith & Family

  7. Liz says:

    I’ve lived in the shadow of Stratford and it’s theartre for most of my life.

    When I was in highschool (back in the 70s), I would get so excited about going to the theatre. It was like seeing into another world. Still to this day I love watching plays of all types and look forward to going to the theatre sometime this month.

    Thank you Mr. Monette for pouring your heart and soul into the best theatre in the world. Your legacy will live forever.

  8. my ramblings says:

    […] Share your memories… theatre […]

  9. Sue says:

    My strongest memory of Richard was at the 2006 “luncheon with the artistic director”. He spoke about his book that was still in the stage of being written. Then he started to talk about himself; starting with his Hamlet and on through to the present day. He broke into his remarks with “Buy my Book” regularly. I can hear his voice in my head as I write this. That day I found out how honored I was to hear Richard talk about Richard.

  10. Dorothy Ann Gardner says:

    In 2002 I was taking the Scenic Design course offered at the Festival Theatre and was grabbing a quick cup of tea from the Green Room. As I was returning to the design studio, I met Mr. Monette in the corridor. He stopped, introduced himself, asked my name and if I was enjoying the course and what could be done to make it better. He made me feel like I belonged there, among all those talented people. As an actor, I had enjoyed watching him for years, but I felt I now had a new friend, such was the wonder of Richard Monette.

  11. Budd Dure says:

    What a great loss.He will be missed.What a shame he was not granted more time to enjoy a well earned retirement.

  12. Mary Locker says:

    Richard Monette’s passing leaves such a chasm in the theater world. I started my Stratford sojourns during my high school years in the 1960s. It was always a treat to attend the plays, but the caliber of performances climbed into the stratoshere for me during the time that Nicholas Pennell and Richard Monette came on board. Every season, I would choose what performances to attend by which plays could count either of them among the cast members, and I was never disappointed. When they shared the role of Hamlet, I had to see the show twice. I was equally eager to see the productions that Richard directed, and my life was always enriched by the emotional depth, humanity, nuance and (often) sheer fun that he coaxed out of every actor’s every line. My heartfelt condolences to everyone of us whose lives he touched.

  13. What a tremendous loss to the world of theater. Mr. Monette has helped bring me so much joy in his roles as both Artistic Director and director of individual productions — a quick count suggests I’ve seen thirty different shows he directed over the last two decades I’ve traveled to Stratford. I have written some thoughts at my own blog (http://www.rixosous.com), but wanted to come offer my condolences to everyone in the Stratford community on this terrible loss. His legacy at the Festival and in the many actors trained at the Conservatory as well as the memory of audience members like myself will continue for many decades.

  14. George Friend says:

    I am one of a comparative few who have had the unusual pleasure and fortune of acting with the young Monette: we were the two Gardeners in “Richard The Second” in the Harvard Shakespeare Festival, at the Loeb Theater, Cambridge, Massachusetts,in 1964. That season he also was a stylish and affable Berowne in LLL, in a production in which my then wife, Barbara, played the Queen of France, and I was Constable Dull. Richard was anything but dull–he sparkled, delighted, and engaged us all. (And he was that summer the young man who actually came to dinner chez nous.)

    Our third production then was “Measure for Measure,” with Dan Seltzer and Lynn Milgram, among others, plus yours truly as Clown His Son–and Monette probably in something subsidiary. But he deserved some rest as an undergraduate courtier.

    Rick, as he was then known, was absolutely the BEST NINETEEN OLD ACTOR I HAVE EVER SEEN–and clearly he went on from there. I remember his Mercutio years later at Stratford as brilliant, eloquent, unsurpassable. Could Olivier have been any better? I doubt it.

    I chatted with Richard at his gala last year, and he looked tired, but not mortal. Not about to exit anywhere so profoundly, a mere year later.
    His loss is beyond description.

  15. George Friend says:

    see above, already submitted

  16. George Friend says:

    THE BEST NINETEEN YEAR OLD ACTOR I HAVE EVERN SEEN, gmf

  17. Marc Bondy says:

    Richard was probably the biggest reason I got into the Stratford Festival company. He was very supportive of me as a young actor and always kept the company laughing and in good spirits. I will always remember him coming into our Henry V rehearsal (on the second day of rehearsal) at the Avon Theatre with some of the Board of Directors …. Graham Abbey was playing Henry (the biggest role he had taken on at that time) and Richard said: “Graham … when I played Henry V … I was very good.” Laughter ensued. Richard continued, “Well, I was!”

    He had an uncanny ability to lighten the atmosphere in a room by making a silly remark or a sarcastic comment. He was a very charming and charismatic man. What he did at and for the Stratford Festival will forever be remembered. He will be missed.

  18. A. W. Gray says:

    I was loathe to report this news and now I find I cannot comment on it.

    I don’t know what to say.

  19. What an enormous loss to Stratford and to Canada. As longtime supporters of the Festival, we admired Richard’s vision, his talents as a director, and his ability to connect with “the people.” He will be greatly missed.

  20. Rev. Jen Garbin says:

    One day of each year of my elementary and high school life, late in the fall, I boarded a bus early in the morning to Stratford. We left behind the humdrum everyday life of small town mid-northern Ontario and headed off on a journey to what is probably one of the most magical places on the planet. I remember each of the performances so clearly from those trips…melting into the enchantment on the stage, mesmerized by the colour and pagentry of the theatre.

    My last trip to Stratford was in ’87 where I witnessed the awesome talent of Mr. Monette as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. I remember so clearly being completely amazed by that performance. But what was even more memorable and lasting for me was the discussion we had following the performance, where he sat on the edge of the stage and talked to us about what we had just experienced…about his own deep fear of stepping onto that stage each and every time.

    That intimate “chat” made a lasting impression on me…strengthening my own resolve as I faced fear and dread on the “stage” of my own calling, encouraging me, in spite of fear, to continue to try to bring beauty into the world. I am not sure I have ever been so profoundly moved by someone since. To know that such great and awesome talent was given as a gift at each performance, to each of us, through nothing less than sheer will power and a desire, a passion to bring beauty and art to the world…is simply staggering. Awe-inspiring. Humbling.

    God grant you rest from your labours. Thanks be to God for these gifts Mr. Monette shared so freely with us all.

  21. Julia Figueras says:

    For several years, when my deepest desire was to be an actress, my parents would take me to Stratford for the 5-play marathon. And what we saw! Brian Bedford, Maggie Smith, Colm Feore, Jessica Tandy, William Hutt…The sets, the costumes, the theater. I was transported, and knew that was where I just had to act.

    The best to my young eyes, though, were Richard Monette and Nicholas Pennell. I was simply smitten; swept away by their fabulous acting and dashing good looks. And then my folks took me to see a play I had always disliked–The Taming of the Shrew. Imagine my surprise at how very funny and very warm the production was. It was then that I fell in love with the next stage of Mr. Monette’s career.

    I didn’t grow up to become an actress (although I did have the honor of stage managing for Vivian Matalon, whose work I also enjoyed at Stratford). What I took away from those years was something greater: a deep and abiding love for Shakespeare, for theater, for the spoken word, and for art. Today, with a tween and a teen, my husband are talking about taking them to Stratford for the 5 play marathon. Perhaps they, too, will fall in love with the dashing brunette on the stage.

    Thank-you for giving me some of the best days and most important moments of my life, Richard. You left a far more beautiful world behind.

  22. Adrienne Sauriol says:

    As a Stratford theatre goer, I saw many inspiring authors and plays, thanks to M. Monette’s vision. In an era where it seems to be lacking, it was refreshing and uplifting. , I certainly will remember his sometimes audacious but greatly appreciated choices as an artistic director; the simplicity and profound understanding of the staging as a director and the rich color and texture of his acting.
    I know he will be always remembered.

  23. Pat says:

    I am in shock and devastated. I first saw Richard Monette in Judgement and I was just blown away. I have been a fan of his since that moment and saw many of his performances after that. His contribution as Artistic Director, unprecedented for its tenure, is beyond words. He has made the Stratford Festival the best in the world. He will be missed terribly and the theatre world will never seem the same again. My heart goes out to his many friends, fans and his family.

  24. Carol Keeler says:

    I read Mr. Monette’s wonderful book last year. What a life!!! He will be missed. My condolences to his family & friends.

  25. Chloé Harwood says:

    I am deeply saddened and surprised to learn of this news. I am a lover of the theatre and of the Stratford Festival, and have been going since I was a kid. Part of my experiences at the Stratford Festival inspired me to become a Drama teacher. Richard Monnette was an incredible Canadian in that he contributed so much to our artform and indeed raised the profile of the Stratford Festival on an international level. The fact that he started a program for young artists is simply wonderful and i sure hope that the new administrators keep this program around for a long, long while.
    He will be sorely missed by those who knew him, and those who didn’t.
    My condolences to his family and friends.
    ~Chloé Harwood

  26. Donald J. Pedley says:

    I have supported Stratford for over 25 years and enjoyed almost everything I have seen there. I had seen Richard Monette the actor a number of times but it was after seeing untill his direction of The Taming of the Shrew that I looked for everything under his direction and relished it all as pure genius. I want to thank Antoni Cimolino for his tribute to richard Monette in the Saturday September 13 edition of The Globe and Mail. It brought tears to my eyes and I recommend to all who missed it: “Look it up”

  27. Jenny Brooks says:

    I have been coming to the Stratford Festival since I was 6 years old. The most vivid memory I have of Richard Monette happened when I was 9 years old. My aunt, a high school English teacher and longtime Stratford patron, took me to a Meet the Festival at the Avon Theatre. The guests were Antoni Cimolino and Richard, who had recently been appointed as the new Artistic Director. My aunt, near the end of the discussion, asked about the Family Experience program and applauded the theatre for creating an initiative that allowed young people to enjoy the theatre. She went on to say that I had been coming with her to the Festival for a few years and that such a program would allow me to attend more productions and develop an even greater love for the theatre. Richard thanked her for her comment then looked at me sitting in the seat beside her and said “You look just like Alice. Stand up so everyone can see you.” I stood up and turned to face the rest of the people in the Avon Theatre. He then, and this just shows the size of his heart and his passion for introducing young people to the theatre, asked my Aunt and I to be his “dates” for the opening of “Alice Through the Looking Glass” the following summer. It was incredible! Afterward, we were interviewed by the Globe and Mail and we felt like celebrities. Throughout the course of the year leading up to the opening, Richard kept in contact with my aunt and I through letters and cards, which I have kept and treasured to this day. Tragically, my aunt passed away from breast cancer 2 months before the opening of “Alice” and my mom took over her spot. Richard was so incredibly kind to my family and to me and I have never forgotten his generosity in extending that invitation to my aunt and I or his kindness at the opening. It was a truly magical experience. It is partly because of this experience that I have developed and been able to nurture, summer after summer, an absolute passion for the city of Stratford and its theatres. Thanks to Richard Monette and his introduction of the Play On program, I have been able to continually enrich my life with great art. Little did I know when I was 9 years old, that the Stratford Festival would become the place in my life about which I am the most passionate. I attribute most of this to Richard and the opportunities he created for young people to attend the theatre during his tenure as Artistic Director . He was a national treasure, a man who lived and breathed Stratford and theatre and an artist who has left a remarkable legacy. He will truly be missed.

  28. eugenie beall says:

    I proudly claim that I was in attendance at the first Stratford season. Virtually every year since then I have attended with my spouse (on our honeymoon – through this season), my four children, my grandson (for the first time this season, my students at Oakland University in Michigan. Richard Monette inherited a great but somewhat troubled theatrical company. He brought to his task his artistry, his business acumen, his charm and his dedication to the theater. How saddened we were to learn of his death. How grateful we are that as individuals, as a family and as members of a learning community, he has enriched our lives.

  29. Nancy Edmunds says:

    My oldest son was nine when he told me he wanted to see a play by Shakespeare. Although I was skeptical about whether or not he would enjoy Shakespeare at that age, we came to Stratford and saw Much Ado About Nothing; we were hooked! For the next twenty years we attended faithfully, and the energy brought to the Festival when Richard took over as artistic director was contagious. We came more and more often to see more and more plays. We were blessed to get to know Richard through our work with the Michigan Members group and his generous support of our efforts. His productions were the most fun, the most provocative, the most innovative! His work led us to include many other friends and family in our enthusiasm and patronage of the Festival. We are so grateful to have been able to share in his vision and his love for the theatre.

  30. al says:

    As Andrei Vukhov in Barry Collin’s Judgement in 1978!

    That Richard Monette performance is seared in my memory…his face pleading for mercy, his eyes glassy with grief

    For approximately 2 hours 45 minutes without a break, Mr. Monette gave a harrowing portrayal of a person who was alternately ridden with guilt and justified his cannibalistic existence, justified the cannibalism of 5 colleagues…a glass of water as his only prop, if one discounted the table and chair

    And then to see him as perhaps Romeo the next day

    You will be missed Mr. Monette!

  31. Kathleen Grudnoski says:

    I like the silliness in the plays he directed. Some days one just needs to be silly and to delight in recognizing that others are also silly while also being magnificently wonderful. Doesn’t take away from the genius actor or director; adds to it somehow. Good to know there are other people in the world who are just a little ‘bent’. Makes this trying, complex world a bit more acceptable.

    I started at the Festival in 1962, infected my husband and have now infected our nephew and his wife – what a lovely disease to pass on.

  32. Barbara Pollard says:

    I am so proud of what he has done, with his life,his talents, and the festival.
    I first saw him in Hosanna but we worked together in the 25th anniversary
    season of All’s Well That Ends Well. I played Dianna. And he was in my very
    first scene ever at the festival; the remount of Robin Phillip’s brilliant Measure
    for Measure, I played the nun that introduced Martha to the show. I came on,
    had a tiny scene: he spoke: “I replied” it is a man’s voice, and on the scene went.
    The next night we did the show he told me he was going to do something, just
    to wait. He spoke, I replied: “It is a man’s voice>” Pause. (one can just imagine
    his take to audience) BIG LAUGH. and on we went. Always original, never forgettable.
    Barbara Pollard

  33. Mary Raithel says:

    At Mr. Monette’s retirement were many, many accolades, as well as those he received throughout his professional life. When someone dies so young, it is a comfort to know they were so honored during their lifetime.
    Mr. Monette, as everyone knows, possessed exceptional, versatile talents. I recall his graciousness. For an 8th grade class assignment at Bernotas Middle School in Crystal Lake, IL, my son chose to write to Mr. Monette and thank him for the play choices he’d seen as a 6th & 7th grader. Many students did not receive replies; but my son received a lengthy response from Mr. Monette. Mr. Monette was always willing to give an autograph, always waved hello when he saw patrons, always stopped for a chat.
    I have been coming to Stratford since 1972 as a junior in high school and now I bring my own children, nieces, nephews, their friends, my co-workers, and my students. Mr. Monette’s playbill choices were always incredible and varied. I remember particularly “The Diary of Anne Frank”, “Shakespeare’s Will”, “The King & I”, “Fanny Kemble”, the absolutely mesmerizing “Pentecost” and “Harlem Duet”, to which I brought some of my African-American students from Chicago’s west side. Not to mention the rare chance to see ALL of Shakespeare’s plays that he gave to Stratford audiences.
    My son, recipient of Mr. Monette’s kind letter, is now a father and we look forward to introducing Ely to Stratford in the years to come. The Festival, I am sure, will still be there, still be benefitting from all the educational programs and training programs Mr. Monette put in place, as well as all the new plays he made sure will be written and performed in this fantastical, magic place, along with the classics.
    It appears from reading Mr. Cimolino’s tribute in the Globe & Mail that Mr. Monette was spared a terrible battle with cancer. As shocking and as saddening as his untimely leaving was, our family is glad he did not have to suffer such an end. We wish we could come to his Memorial, but it’s probably not possible. Perhaps it will be taped or televised, for those of us who cannot be there.
    –Mary Raithel, family, students & co-workers, Crystal Lake and Chicago area, Illinois

  34. Nicole M. Young says:

    I remember meeting Mr. Monette at Down the Street Bar and Restaurant in 2002. Susan, the owner, heard about how big of a fan I was of his work. She introduced me to Mr. Monette one night in her restaurant. We had a GREAT conversation about color blind casting in both the United States and Canada. It was such a delight speaking with an artist of this caliber who was so nice, humble and down to earth. It was very special for me for Mr. Monette to have taken this time to talk with me. I really miss visiting Stratford. 2002 was my last summer attending the festival. He was an amazing artist, arts administrator, advocate for the arts and person. Both this experience and the festival have shaped my career as an artist and administrator. Mr. Monette will dearly be missed but I’ll always have this conversation as a fond, cherished and important memory.

    Nicole M. Young, Audience and Community Development Coordinator, New WORLD Theater (Amherst, MA)
    originally from Detroit, MI

  35. Ken Stephen says:

    What a tragic loss! My memories extend across many of Richard’s performances and directing stints, and it seems to me that everything he did was touched with his own personal brand of energy and love of the theatre. My favourite? His role as Sebastian, particularly the storm scene, in the 1982 production of The Tempest.

  36. Rand Dyck says:

    I am old enough to have had the pleasure of seeing Richard in his two famous early roles, Hosanna and Judgment, which I can remember like yesterday. I have also been a Stratford fanatic for over 40 years, and enjoyed his acting and directoral roles. Stratford is the annual highlight of my life, and I thank Richard for keeping it alive and making it such a wonderful experience.

  37. janis says:

    As a young boy my son would participate in school trips to Stratford..and like Richard. realized this was the place he should be..and so his goal was accomplished…Richard became his mentor for six years…he genourously shared his acting gifts, and passed down his knowledge…
    he also made members of the actors family feel they were part of the Stratford family..another gift…and I thank you Richard, for allowing me to know you, if only for a short time..I sorely will miss running into you on the street, or sharing a glass of wine after a performance… but your spirit will most certainly be with us

  38. Chick Reid says:

    Still missing Richard’s sparkle, his pep, his wit, his knowledge, his laugh, his heart.xoxo

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