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Canada Former Stratford director cites creative interference as reason for stepping aside

The high backstage drama at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival may have opened a second act.

Refusing to exit silently, Marti Maraden says her resignation as co-artistic director 12 days ago was the result of creative interference and an agenda imposed by general director Antoni Cimolino despite earlier assurances that the unusual triumvirate arrangement that was put in place 21 months ago would work as a partnership.

In an exclusive interview, Ms. Maraden said she was "misled" about the unconventional leadership construct that she, Don Shipley, Des McAnuff and Mr. Cimolino agreed to in 2006.

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"It was supposed to be a partnership, a shared leadership, and Antoni would intervene only if it was urgent, and it came not to be that," Ms. Maraden said. "We were misled as to how we were actually functioning."

In effect, she said, hers had become an associate's job, without real artistic decision-making authority. "There was no protocol for decision-making, no clearly defined method either written or spoken by which we could all know when a choice of project or artist had a green light," she wrote in an e-mail yesterday.

Mr. Cimolino announced on March 13 - just weeks before the season's opening - that Ms. Maraden and Mr. Shipley had resigned and that Mr. McAnuff would assume sole artistic director responsibilities. The ensuing controversy, affecting one of Canada's pre-eminent cultural institutions, has engulfed the theatre community.

In a formal statement issued Saturday, Ms. Maraden contradicted the festival's account of how the resignations unfolded and gave fresh details about how the festival's leadership unravelled.

According to her contract, she was to share the "creative responsibilities and authority of an artistic director," Ms. Maraden wrote in her statement. "Though Antoni clearly held ultimate authority, he repeatedly told us that we three ... were to make artistic decisions ... while he looked after the festival and sought the means to make our dreams ... a reality. However, [his] increasing involvement in artistic decision-making on large and small matters, especially as the 2009 programming began, and ... a virtual unilateral imposition of [his] agenda made it impossible for me to continue. ... I cannot be an Artistic Director in name only. ... Either a leadership is shared or it isn't."

Mr. Shipley has so far declined to speak publicly, but Ms. Maraden's version of events will doubtless form part of the formal review that Stratford Festival chairman Richard Rooney is scheduled to undertake.

Responding to Ms. Maraden's statement, Mr. Cimolino said yesterday that he intervened only when the tripartite group failed to come to terms. He said the group's consensus model had "worked for a very long time." But twice since November, no consensus could be reached on a major point. "It was then my role to be the arbiter ... to end an impasse for the sake of the festival. That's difficult, but necessary."

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In her statement, Ms. Maraden also contradicted the earlier version of the timing of the resignations. "Impressions have been created ... that Don Shipley and I resigned in a sudden and impulsive manner," she wrote. In fact, she insists that she told Mr. Cimolino on Dec. 3 that she wanted out, citing "the lack of protocol for decision making."

She cemented her decision to leave on Feb. 15, but wanted to delay formal announcement until late summer, to minimize disruption.

However, she agreed to reconsider if "certain fundamental conditions could be agreed upon." As late as March 12, the day before the resignations were announced, Mr. Shipley was still proposing talking points aimed at ending the artistic gridlock. "I wasn't optimistic, but agreed it was worth a sincere effort," she wrote.

Mr. Shipley shared those talking points with Mr. McAnuff on the night of March 11, including a proposal to change how the trio made decisions - from absolute consensus to majority rule.

On March 12, after rehearsal, Ms. Maraden was called to Mr. Cimolino's office and advised that both resignations would be announced the next day, she wrote.

"Antoni told me that settlement papers had already been drawn up. I was very surprised. I certainly wasn't expecting ... an immediate announcement. ... No precise timing had been discussed."

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In the interview, Ms. Maraden declined to cite specific examples of creative decisions she felt were being usurped, nor details of how Mr. Cimolino's agenda conflicted with her own. Almost certainly, it involved the choice of plays, directors and acting talent for the 2009 season.

Mr. Cimolino said the timing of the resignation announcement was determined by two factors. The first, he said, was a de facto ultimatum from Mr. Shipley saying that a decision had to be made by the end of day, March 12, on whether to change the decision-making protocol. "I had otherwise agreed with Marti that waiting until the end of summer made a lot more sense," Mr. Cimolino said.

The second factor was a pending New York Times article expected to trumpet the success of the triumvirate's relationship. With no new protocol agreed upon, Mr. Cimolino said he realized "there was simply not enough trust to be able to continue." The subsequent resignations would prove the Times' salute to harmony as "patently untrue and would be damaging to everyone personally and to the festival as an institution. It all came together, the ultimatum and the Times story. We had to acknowledge where we were at."

Mr. McAnuff said yesterday that "we all understood there had to be some generosity and we could not demand to have our own way. There were probably less than handful of times where Antoni had to get involved. It was understood from the beginning that he would be involved in artistic decisions, that he was the CEO and we reported to him."

Mr. McAnuff believes that the failure of Stratford's grand experiment may ultimately have been the result of human chemistry. "We didn't know each other and trust did not build up."

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