Richard Sheridan Willis new St. Lawrence Festival artistic director
PRESCOTT - The St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival is proud to announce that Richard Sheridan Willis, the experienced and talented stage performer, has accepted the position of new artistic director.
For the past three seasons, Willis has performed on the festival's outdoor stage in several classic roles. He has now agreed to provide artistic direction to the company over at least the next year.
He replaces previous artistic director Rona Waddington who did not renew her contract after three seasons during which she directed five mainstage productions and three community shows. Waddington has called the festival's waterfront stage "the most beautiful theatre space I've ever seen." The festival board of directors wishes Rona the best in future projects.
''We're thrilled that Richard will provide the artistic vision to allow us to continue to expand our product once again,'' said chair Jo-Anne Beckstead of the 16-year-old festival. ''His impressive stage credentials enhance the vision he brings to his new role in Prescott.''
"Richard knows the festival intimately," Beckstead said: "It's like promoting from within when choosing someone who's already familiar with the space and many relevant details of the company. The learning curve is reduced dramatically."
As many Prescottonians know from witnessing Richard and his young family exploring the town over the past three summers - including almost daily swims in the St. Lawrence River - Willis has formed a bond with the festival and its surroundings.
''I have come to deeply respect the company, the festival and the people of Prescott,'' he said, adding that his motivation in accepting the job comes from a ''genuine wish to help the festival adjust, take stock, and forge a way forward.''
He stated that it has been his dream to run a theatre company with strong links to its community... ''as SLSF certainly has... As a lifelong theatre man, with my genuine love for Prescott and the festival, I'm excited by the opportunity to help the company take a forward step in its theatrical journey.''
Beckstead said Willis' appointment confirms the mid-summer St. Lawrence Festival as among the most unique in Canada: ''You don't get people of Richard's experience agreeing to come on board unless you have something special to offer.'' The board will hold its first meeting with Willis in early November to review plans for the 2018 season.
Richard Sheridan Willis has worked internationally as an actor, director and teacher for some 50 years, growing up in the theatre with a father who was an artistic director in the UK: ''It was through him that I learned how a theatre is run... hard work, perseverance, collaboration, respect for your budget and an intimate knowledge of your audience.''
Starting out as a young TV star in Britain, upon graduating from London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Willis went on to tackle many of the meatiest Shakespeare roles, co-founding and running London's Merriman Theatre Company, spending eight years as Associate Artist at New York City's Aquila Theatre Company, and later managing his own theatre projects, not to mention starring in diverse productions for a wide variety of companies.
Willis is currently working in Toronto as director of ''A Midsummer Night's Dream'' for the Chekhov Collective which opens in February. One of his first major duties for the St. Lawrence festival early in the New Year will be to audition and cast actors, as well as hire key crew members.
With the artistic director position filled, Beckstead said the board will turn its attention to hiring new company management staff to replace former GM Ingrid Bjornson who resigned following the 2017 season after five years of dedicated service.