This Rough Magic: The Making of an Artistic Director

"I must have been about 12 or 13 when I saw my first play: a romantic comedy called Jenny Kissed Me, by Jean Kerr .... I have no reason to suppose that the production, an amateur one, was in any way distinguished, but there was one thing in it that took my breath away. The plot concerned a plain Jane who becomes beautiful when she falls in love, and it was at the moment of her transformation, which the actress achieved by the time-honoured tradition of taking off her glasses and shaking out her hair, that I fell in love with the theatre." -- exerpt.

How does a shy, lonely, French-and Italian-speaking child of non-artistic parents make a career of giving voice to the greatest writings in the English language? How did Richard Monette escape a painful upbringing in Montreal -- his family ravaged by alcoholism and mental illness -- to become a Shakspearean actor, director, and ultimately, the artistic director of North America's largest classical theatre company, the Stratford Festival of Canada?

This Rough Magic is the witty, candid and compelling story of Monette's determined rise through the ranks of classical theatre in Canada and abroad. He tells of his professional stage debut -- as Hamlet, at the age of 19 -- and of the three seasons he spent at the Stratford Festival under the tutelage of such masters as Michael Langham, David William and John Hirsch. Unafraid of controversy, he then appeared in the Toronto and New York premieres of Rolf Hochhuth's Soldiers, and helped make British theatrical history in Kenneth Tynan's groundbreaking erotic revue of Oh! Calcutta!

Here is the inside story of Hosanna, the role that made Monette a star back in Canada, of his return to the Stratford Festival and of his ambivalent relationships with directors and colleagues who could be brilliant, enigmatic and infuriating -- sometimes all at once. Here too, are his own accounts of his notorious public outburst -- "You    pig!" -- during the Festival's succession crisis of 1980, and the mysterious stage fright that afflicted him in 1988, effectively ending his acting career and setting him on a new path as a director. He reveals the events that lead to his appointment as artistic director -- a position he would hold for 14 years, longer than any of his predecessors -- and the struggles he faced in mounting his debut season in 1994: a last-minute triumph that pulled the Festival back from the brink of financial disaster and inaugurated an era of stability and growth unprecedented in its history.

But this is more than the story of one man's astonishing achievement. Crammed with more than 40 years' worth of anecdotes, thumbnail sketches of major figures in Canadian and British theatre, and mature reflections on the nature of the art itself, this book is essential reading for anyone who has ever been enchanted by the "rough magic" of the stage.