Michael Langham, the famed Stratford artistic director, dies at age 91

Michael Langham, the famed Stratford artistic director, dies at age 91

Langham served as the artistic director of the Stratford Festival from 1956 to 1967

The celebrated Stratford Festival director Michael Langham died Saturday in his home in the U.K. due to complications from a chest infection. He was 91 years old.

The second artistic director of the festival, Langham took over from Stratford founder Tyrone Guthrie in 1956 and shaped an artistic vision for the company that would endure until well after he stepped down in 1967. Under Langham’s watchful eye, Stratford moved from a tent into the permanent Festival Theatre. Langham tutored innumerable future Canadian stage greats through the festival’s early years, including Christopher Plummer, Kate Reid and William Hutt. In 1957, Langham directed a 26-year-old Plummer in a production of Henry V that is now the stuff of legend. In a statement, Plummer said of his old director:

Michael Langham more than anyone—even Tyrone Guthrie—solidified, matured and transformed the Stratford Festival into the finest theatre company in North America.

Others, like veteran British actor Brian Bedford, spoke of Langham’s striving for theatrical perfection:

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.

Langham went on to serve as artistic director at numerous American companies and schools, including the prestigious Juilliard School in New York. Through it all, he remained a steady influence on Stratford, directing right up until 2008, when he helmed a production of his signature work, Love’s Labour Lost. It was the first play he directed for the company, back in 1961, and was, fittingly, also his last.

“While Michael Langham oversaw the building of our permanent theatre, he built something more important than bricks and mortar,” said Antoni Cimolino, the festival’s current general manager. “He secured Stratford’s artistic foundations. The extraordinary example he set will guide us all in the important work ahead.”

Langham is survived by his wife, actress Helen Burns, his son and daughter-in-law and five grandchildren.

Famed Stratford director Michael Langham dead at 91 [Globe and Mail]
Former Stratford director Michael Langham dies [CBC]
Michael Langham: Former Stratford Artistic Director dies at 91 [Toronto Star]