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Tom Patterson Theatre

A Performance Space in All Directions

Hariri Pontarini Architects

Tom Patterson Theatre
By Raymund Ryan -

Theater may have originated alongside religious practice. An evocation of awesome gods perhaps or a joyous celebration of life. Like so many European words, the word “drama” is Greek in origin; and the great theaters of ancient Greece – landworks, in modern parlance, such as that at Epidaurus on the Peloponnese – continue to exert a primal influence on playwrights, stage directors and architects today.

In his seminal The Earth, the Temple, and the Gods (1959), Yale professor Vincent Scully argued for the strategic siting of sacred Greek architecture in places that “suggested the presence of a divine being”. The theater had indeed to accommodate comedy and other secular if not blasphemous activities. Nevertheless, there is something essential about many Greek theaters so that topography and ritual and the passage of time seem inextricably linked.

Fast-forward to European cities during the Renaissance and subsequent Baroque eras. Theater was now frequently an altogether profane, even salacious, activity. In Elizabethan London, for instance, Shakespeare’s Globe theater on the South Bank of the Thames was an introverted multi-story structure entirely focused on a stage that in turn was open to the sky. This is the context in which many of the Bard’s plays were first performed and which many later theatrical designers still aim to replicate.

Stratford, Ontario, is many miles from Stratford-upon-Avon, the hometown of William Shakespeare. This Canadian Stratford is a sylvan place west of Toronto with tree-shaded streets and a river, also called the Avon, that here spreads out to become a linear lake. In the early 1950s, a local journalist proposed that the town leverage its name to establish a summer theater festival. He convinced the Anglo-Irish stage director Tyrone Guthrie to travel to Canada. Thanks to local enthusiasm, to Guthrie’s vision and his London connections (Alec...

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