Stratford company making documentary on legacy of Sir Tyrone Guthrie

A Stratford production company is planning on shooting a documentary next year on the impact Stratford's theatrical development had on theatre around the world.

Irene Worth, Tom Patterson and Tyrone Guthrie at a reception in Stratford in 1953. Photo by Peter Smith, courtesy of the Stratford Festival Archive

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A Stratford production company is setting out to retell the story of a man who not only helped to put Stratford on the theatrical map, but also held the city up as an example to groups in other towns and cities embarking on their own theatrical dreams.

Thanks to $50,000 in funding from Northern Ireland Screen and the Canada Media Fund, Ballinran Entertainment will soon begin production on the documentary feature, Tyrone Guthrie: The Stratford Experiment, in association with the National Film Board of Canada, Belfast’s Finepoint Films, and Toronto-based White Pine Pictures.

“Outside of theatre circles the story of Tyrone Guthrie has largely been forgotten,” wrote Craig Thompson, Ballinran’s founder, in an email from China, where he’s currently working on an unrelated project.

“He’s remembered in the UK and Ireland for his work there. In the U.S., his name is associated with the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis and here in Canada he is credited with putting the Stratford Festival on the map as its first artistic director. I want to connect those dots and demonstrate how the success of his ‘Stratford experiment’ is still having an impact today.”

The idea for the documentary was inspired by the the National Film Board’s 1954, Oscar-nominated documentary, The Stratford Adventure, which shared the against-all-odds story of how a small town in rural Ontario was taking on the theatre world with a summer Shakespeare festival under the artistic direction of Guthrie, an English theatre director.

“In 1953, as first artistic director of the Stratford Festival, Tyrone Guthrie pioneered a revolutionary new way of staging Shakespeare and other classic dramas,” said current artistic director Antoni Cimolino in a press release.

“The innovative thrust stage that he conceived with designer Tanya Moiseiwitsch has been a defining feature of the festival for more than 65 years and has inspired such other venues as the Guthrie Theater, the Chichester Festival Theatre, and Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater. Guthrie’s experiment in Stratford sowed the seeds for a new approach to classical theatre around the world.”

According to Thompson, the film will not be a biopic of Guthrie’s life. Instead, it will tell the story of his influence and how the success he fostered in Stratford continues to impact stage and screen across North America. Using the original film as a foundation, the documentary will highlight parallels between then and now.

“If you look at the original, the story was balanced between what was happening in the community and the preparations for the new theatre festival. We will be taking the same approach but extending the story beyond Stratford,” Thompson said.

“… It’s the right time to update the story because we are at another turning point where both the Festival and the city are focused on the future. This international approach to the story of Stratford will examine the role of arts and culture as an economic driver — a subject that still sparks debate today. ”

The film’s producers are planning to spend the next five months researching, planning, and raising money to complete the documentary. Shooting is expected to begin this October, and will take place in Stratford, the U.K., Ireland, Minneapolis, New York City, Hollywood, and other U.S. locations.

Thompson said the documentary will make use of immersive augmented reality to provide audiences with an interactive experience. The Stratford Experiment  is expected to hit film festivals in the fall of 2020, which will be followed by theatrical, television, and streaming releases early the following year.

“With the establishment of the now world-renowned Stratford Festival in the 1950s, the foundation was laid here for an economic transformation, built around arts and culture,” said Stratford Mayor Dan Mathieson in a press release.  “It’s a remarkable story and one that’s worth telling.”

gsimmons@postmedia.com

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