The Stratford Shakespeare Festival's 2011 season is dedicated to the memory of Michael Langham, Artistic Director from 1956 to 1967. Share your thoughts and memories of Michael Langham Read tributes to Michael Langham
Festival mourns the loss of Michael LanghamIt was with profound sadness that the Stratford Shakespeare Festival learned of the death of Michael Langham, the Festival’s Artistic Director from 1956 to 1967. Mr. Langham, 91, failed to recover from a chest infection contracted before Christmas and died at home near Cranbrook, Kent, at midnight on January 15. Tyrone Guthrie, the Festival’s founding artistic director, passed the reins to Mr. Langham in 1956. What Mr. Langham inherited was a summer Shakespeare festival in a tent. Within a year he had overseen the building of the permanent Festival Theatre. He went on to extend the season and introduce student matinees. He established the Stratford Music Festival, originally founded under the leadership of Louis Applebaum, and introduced musical directors such as Glenn Gould. He advocated the purchase and renovation of the Avon Theatre and launched North America’s first film festival. In 1962 he worked with Tanya Moiseiwitsch to modify her original design for the Festival Theatre stage, making possible a more dynamic approach to productions there. During these years he also contributed to the establishment of the Canada Council and the National Theatre School.Read the complete press release.
"Michael Langham was one of the true giants of 20th-century international theatre. For that matter, in the 21st century he was still directing at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, staging Love’s Labour’s Lost right before his 90th birthday in 2008. While great credit rightfully goes to Tyrone Guthrie as Stratford’s founding artistic father, it is important to recognize Michael as the intellectual architect of this theatre’s artistic policy. It was Michael who articulated the approach to Shakespeare’s text – a philosophy he described as ‘living thought’ – that to this day forms the aesthetic foundation of the classical work done at Stratford.""Michael Langham was, without question, one of the greatest directors of his generation, mounting glorious production after production of significant and memorable works. His ingenious stagings of Henry V and Cyrano de Bergerac, starring Christopher Plummer, were quite simply the stuff of legend.""Michael deserves much recognition for his key role as a leader in Canadian national theatre. During the 1950s and '60s, he mentored many theatre artists who went on to pioneer our country's resident and alternative theatre scene. As a mentor and teacher, he had a profound effect on my own career: he called me after seeing a New York production of mine in 1978 and invited me to teach in the Drama Program at the Juilliard School, which he headed at the time. As I got to know him, he encouraged me to direct Shakespeare. Michael's inspiration and my high regard for his work led me to follow in his footsteps as artistic director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. I will greatly miss our meetings and his sage advice. I know for certain that I am not alone." - Des McAnuff, Artistic Director
"For so many of us, for so long, and for the Stratford Festival as a whole, Michael was our father. It was Michael’s vision and attention that enabled Stratford to stand and grow as an institution of international renown. Michael Langham had a shrewd eye for talent. His commitment to so many young, untried but promising actors created Canadian theatre – Christopher Plummer, Kate Reid, Bruno Gerussi, Douglas Rain, William Hutt, Martha Henry, Christopher Newton and Richard Monette, among so many more.""Rehearsal days with Michael were long, arduous but always rewarding. No one left unscathed. From the stars to the apprentices, we were all pushed to our limits. At day’s end our reward might be to hear him mutter, ‘Well that was promising.’ Yet we all returned eager to see what the next day’s work would bring. So often it was marvellous." "While Michael Langham oversaw the building of our permanent theatre, he built something more important than bricks and mortar – he secured Stratford’s artistic foundations. The extraordinary example he set will guide us all in the important work ahead."- Antoni Cimolino, General Director
"Michael Langham more than anyone – even Tyrone Guthrie – solidified, matured and transformed the Stratford Festival into the finest theatre company in North America. He also gave me, quite literally, my career. Without his talent, taste, intellect and wit, God knows where I might have gone with my life. I owe him buckets for his wisdom, his deep friendship and astonishing loyalty – and so does North America, whose culture he so enriched."- Christopher Plummer
"We've lost a great man of the theatre. Michael Langham was a great influence on me. He was a meticulous director and was relentless in his pursuit of an interpretation of a play. He put productions together like a sort of mosaic, paying tremendous attention to what we might think of as minutiae. It drove some people crazy but I don’t think I worked with him on a single production that wasn’t a tremendous success."- Brian Bedford
"1960: Ah, the glamourous, brilliant Mr. Langham (I could never then have called him “Michael”). My first memory is of seeing him in a cricket game on the hill beside the Festival Theatre. In his whites; running, heaving a ball over his head with great force (I also knew nothing about cricket). The women sitting on the grass on the side of the hill, all in beautiful, flowing gowns, be-hatted, gloved – with pittipat applause for this vibrant, dynamic god: “Bravo, Michael, bravo!!” He looked like the Duke of Windsor. No - handsomer.1962: Wonder of wonders: I am accepted into the Festival company and given several tiny parts in Langham’s production of Cyrano de Bergerac, starring Christopher Plummer. First dress rehearsal I am late and next to Desmond Heeley’s magnificent creations, have to spend the whole first scene in my street clothes. Humiliated, terrified, I go to Mr. Langham’s office to apologize and, of course, be fired. “Oh, I think you’ve probably been punished enough.” Later, much later, I realized that the steely glint in his eye was actually quite mischievous.Troilus and Cressida, 1963: I am sent to New York, where Michael is rehearsing The Firebirds by Max Frisch, to audition for Cressida. He has no time so I spend the day with Helen (Burns, Langham’s wife). She is kind and solicitous, taking me everywhere with her, gently grilling me about my personal life. The next day I am allowed to audition for the man himself, in the upstairs lobby of the theatre during one of his breaks. The audition lasts 4 and a half minutes. I’m sent home. I get the part.1963, spring, rehearsals: Langham is a whirlwind – dictatorial, funny, fast, dynamic, brilliant. I have never learned so much in such a short time. But I can’t get the extremity of the reaction he wants when Cressida and Pandarus (Bill Hutt) are watching the soldiers troop by. He’s asking for gleeful abandon. I’m still shy. Determined not to cry, I go at it again, standing on the tumptee around the centre pillar. I feel woefully inadequate. Mr. Langham agrees. We do it for the fourth, fifth, hundredth time. Langham’s sights are re-directed to an unfortunate soul behind me and for a moment I’m off the hook. As he whizzes by to berate the lad upstage, he grabs my hand in passing and squeezes it. I cry for the rest of the day.2008: I’m picking up Michael Langham in front of the Stratford motel where he has been booked to stay while discussing Conservatory casting for the coming season’s production of Love’s Labours Lost. I see him as I pull up in the car: 88 years old, slightly stooped but still one of the most glamourous men in the world. On the drive to the theatre, somehow the 1963 production of Troilus comes up and I recount this story – I imagine - for our mutual amusement. Instead, Michael’s eyes – am I imagining this? – fill with tears. “Oh, dear – was I mean?” So, 45 years later, I’m finally able to tell him what a profound influence he has had on all of us - and that I was always just a little tiny bit in love with him."- Martha Henry
"By the time Michael resigned his artistic directorship in 1967, he had steered the Stratford Festival to the undisputed position it has held ever since: the leading classical theatre in North America.""The five years the youthful Michael spent as a Prisoner of War were incredibly important to his formation. It was here he began to direct plays, but here too that he learnt his amazing powers of concentration, single-mindedness, tenacity and idealism. This same intensity translated into his work as an artistic director. You might disagree, you might hurt, but you could not ignore the blazing light of his vision for his theatre and for the world - conveyed with great power of language, and coruscating wit. What a sense of humour!"- Michael Bawtree, Dramaturge and Assistant Director under Michael Langham, Associate Director under Jean Gascon, and founder of the Atlantic Theatre Festival in Wolfville, N.S.
"Dear Michael,Where would i be now if I hadn't met you?How seminal you were to my life and career. I learned, we all learned so much from you. I met you when I was 15 at Hart house Theatre in 1956 when you were auditioning actors for your 1957 season. You said as I was so small that I would grow out of my costume, that the Festival couln't possibly afford to create another costume mid season for me and that I should come back when I finished growing. After a dispirited ride home with my lovely Mother the phone rang and Tom Brown the general manager said you would like to see me again. On arriving you said you would like to offer me the opportunity to be the first Official Apprentice in a program they were preparing for Canada's young actors. A contract and $35 a week. An experiment. VOILA, I was in.The next season you made me a full grown Equity member. My first play, Much Ado About Nothing and my first Desmond Heely costume. Christopher Plummer, Eileen Hurley. WOW! In the years that followed we had a very fruitful, exciting relationship ... in Stratford, in NY and MLPS. So it was. The course was set. You charted my future on that fateful day on a sunny afternoon in Toronto.Thank you, thank you Michael.With love, ROBERTA"- Roberta Maxwell
"Michael Langham bequeathed us an iconic moment of theatrical magic, a fitting epitaph for his life and career: a few leaves float gracefully from the flies while a fierce wind blows & the stage lights fade to black. Or, in technical terms, the Langham Leaf Drop. This image was always featured at the end of productions of Love’s Labour’s Lost, widely regarded as his signature piece. Beginning in 1961 he directed the play three times at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival alone. In 2008, in his 89th year, Michael revisited the play for the last time with a cast comprised of Festival veterans and young actors from the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre. The production did not begin auspiciously. Shortly before his departure from England Michael fell & broke his leg but refused to abandon the project. Two weeks into rehearsal, flying against the advice of his doctors, he arrived at the theatre and directed from a wheelchair. If there were pain and exhaustion he never admitted it. His fierce courage and even fiercer intelligence drove him and his company through weeks of fascinating and unforgettable discovery. The Leaf Drop was a foregone conclusion. The Tom Patterson Crew had saved the remaining “Langham Leaves” from his 1983 production & rigged the drop box before Michael requested it. At the closing performance, the poignancy of that final image was almost unbearable. The fluttering leaves gently touched the stage, a pure and perfect symbol of his long and productive life in the theatre. Michael will always be with us. The generations of actors he taught and inspired, the directors who are honoured to follow in his footsteps, the techniques he developed for working on the thrust stage, do and will remain. Dear, dear Michael, thank you. I am so grateful and happy to have shared that final journey to Navarre. "You that way, we this way." But as often as a leaf falls from a tree, I will cherish your memory and honour your contribution to our Theatre." - Ann Stuart, Stage Manager, Love's Labour's Lost, 2008
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