Abstract: Although he designed one of Canada's best-known buildings, Robert Fairfield is not well known in Canada as an architect. This Ontario-born architect designed one of the most innovative and striking architectural compositions of the mid-2oth century, the Stratford Festival Theatre, which opened in 1957 as the first permanent thrust-stage theatre in North America. In 1958, Fairfield was awarded the Massey Gold Medal for Architecture.
Resume: Bien qu'il ait concu plusieurs edifices importants du pays, Robert Fairfield est un des architectes les moins connus au Canada. Ne en Ontario, cet architecte a concu un des ensembles architecturaux les plus innovateurs du milieu du 2oeme siecle, soit le theatre du Stratford Festival, edifice qui a ouvert ses portes en 1957. En 1958, Fairfield a obtenu la medaille d'or Massey pour l'architecture.
The idea for a Shakespearean theatre for small town Stratford was not that of Robert Fairfield. (1) That credit belongs to Tom Patterson, editor, journalist, and entrepreneur who by personal fortitude and chance brought together two internationally famous theatre people and one young Canadian architect who had "no idea what a theatre should look like." (2) Today, the tent-like building remains a symbol, and an international trademark for the Stratford Festival Corporation.
Robert Fairfield and the Stratford Festival Theatre
At the commencement of the Theatre's fiftieth anniversary celebrations on 12 July 2002, the Stratford Theatre Corporation officially recognized Robert Fairfield as the designer of, first, the tent and, then, the landmark Festival Theatre. Stratford's Artistic Director, Richard Monette paid homage to the founders of the Festival Theatre at a large gathering of Stratford friends in the new river-side Marquee Room. Many responsible for creating the Stratford Festival attended the commemoration of the first production under the big tent. Tom H.T. Patterson, the founding father of the Festival Theatre, was present as were veteran actors, musicians, set painters, one of the first ushers, as well as a workman who had assisted in the pulling of cords and lifting of posts that elevated the canvas roof in place during the summer of 1953.
Robert Fairfield was praised for his talent and his efforts at getting the thrust-stage designed and constructed within a tent completed for the first production of Richard III in 1953. The success of the first season was sufficiently strong for the Corporation to proceed with a permanent theatre. It was Fairfield's imagination that led directly to adapting the tent-like form for the permanent theatre building completed in time for 1957 season. Today, visitors and theatre patrons can view a commemorative plaque in the lobby honouring his contribution.
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Fairfield did not originate the thrust-stage theatre idea. Tanya Moiseiwitsch, a Russian emigre designer living in England, was responsible for this avant-garde open-stage concept. But turning the idea into reality, drawing the building plans, and designing a base structure for seating and appropriate cover was Fairfield's contribution to what Richard Monette described as a "stunning and radical design." (3) He continued by describing how, throughout the building process, Moiseiwitsch...
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