Stratford Festival unveils plans for new Tom Patterson Theatre

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Stratford Festival artistic director Antoni Cimolino describes the idea for the proposed new Tom Patterson Theatre as building “a jewel on the Avon.”

The facets of that jewel were made public Tuesday evening with the unveiling of its design concepts and the introduction of the new theatre’s architect, Siamak Hariri.

The architect’s stunning design takes its inspiration from the proposed theatre’s riverside setting, incorporating features that reflect the beauty and serenity of the Avon. The new $60-million theatre will feature rippling walls of shimmering glass adorned with thin bronze dividers, as well as a terraced garden that stretches the length of the site.

“Siamak’s design took my breath away,” Cimolino said in a release. “This theatre will be a thing of great beauty and an attraction in itself.”

A principal with the acclaimed Toronto-based Hariri Pontarini practice, Hariri and his frim have designed a number of celebrated buildings, including the Governor-General’s Medal-winning Schulich School of Business at York University, the Baha’I Temple of South America and the new Richard Ivey School of Business at Western University.

“We approached dozens of firms from around the world, but the work of Canada’s own Siamak Hariri stood out and was the board’s unanimous choice,” said Dan Bernstein, the chair of the Festival’s board of governors, in a press release.

“Siamak is passionate about the transformative potential of architecture. We are all very keen to proceed with this project and create a treasured landmark for generations to come.”

Hariri said the opportunity to work with the Stratford Festival on the design of the new theatre was an “honour.”

“We aspire to turn what is beloved within the theatre outward to reflect the joy and spontaneity that delights audiences of the Stratford Festival in architectural form,” he said.

While the design concepts for the proposed theatre are striking, the intent of the project is to create a state-of-the-art theatrical production facility that corrects the shortcomings of the current venue, the release stated.

“The Stratford Festival began leasing the current Tom Patterson Theatre almost 45 years ago,” executive director Anita Gaffney said. “It has become a much-loved theatre, but it is woefully inadequate for the calibre of performance and experience our patrons have come to expect.

“The Festival must continue to grow and develop in order to remain a vibrant part of the culture and the economy of this country. To do so, we must be proactive in the upkeep of our facilities, always staying at the forefront of the cultural industry.”

Since announcing an intent in the fall of last year to build a new Tom Patterson Theatre, Festival officials have been blunt about the current facility’s constraints. The present theatre lacks enough backstage space for actors and technical support while the structure’s roof isn’t strong enough to support an expansion of its lighting grid. The theatre’s seating is also uncomfortable and has limits in terms of accessibility.

Because of the building’s age and condition, extensive renovations aren’t a viable option.

“This project will expand the Festival’s creative options, allow us to accommodate a wider repertoire and significantly change our cultural landscape,” Cimolino said. “It will also give us facilities for digital media, education activities, the Forum and the Laboratory for new play development.

“The new theatre will expand on the magical qualities of the existing Tom Patterson auditorium. It will be uniformly intimate. It will have vastly improved acoustics and a much greater sense of comfort for audience members. It will take the strengths of the current theatre and make them bespoke – tailored with the finest materials and craftsmanship.”

Currently, the provincial government has already pledged $20 million of the expected $60-million price tag, with Festival officials optimistic the federal government will pitch in a similar amount. The balance will be paid for through a capital campaign that should be launched in the near future.

There are a few other obstacles the Festival must navigate before shovels hit dirt. The Festival must obtain the permission of the City of Stratford to move forward with the constructions since the site is municipally owned. There has also been some backlash from users of the Kiwanis Community Centre, which shares the site with the Tom Patterson Theatre. Some members of the centre’s user groups, particularly the Stratford Lakeside Active Adults Association, aren’t keen on being displaced.

Right now, the association executive is considering temporary quarters at the Stratford Agriplex before moving to a permanent home, possibly as part of the community hub proposed for the long-dormant Cooper Block.

If these obstacles are cleared, the Festival executive hopes to start construction of the new theatre at the completion of this theatrical season in October.

“Sixty-five years ago, the opening of the Festival transformed our community,” Gaffney said. “The new Tom Patterson Theatre promises to add a whole new dimension to the Festival and the community. It will set us apart from the other world-calss theatres and help us to attract audiences from around the globe.”

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