Set and costume designer Tanya Moiseiwitsch, the founding designer of Canada's Stratford Festival, died February 18 in London; she was 88. Though she designed over 40 productions at the Festival, Moiseiwitcsh is best known for designing the Festival Theatre's thrust stage.
“Tanya loved Canada and she gave something to her adopted country that will go down as part of world theatre history,” says Tom Patterson, the founder of the Stratford Festival, in a statement. “The Stratford stage has been copied around the globe and we Canadians will be ever grateful to her. She was not only a talented artist of the first rank, but a wonderful person who gave generously of her talents to the younger generation. We shall all miss her greatly.”
“Tanya Moiseiwitsch was one of the 20th century's great theatre artists,” says Stratford artistic director Richard Monette. “Apart from the brilliance of her productions, she left behind a unique and enduring legacy: the thrust stage she designed for the Stratford Festival of Canada. That stage revolutionized the performance of Shakespeare throughout the world, and it also revolutionized the way in which plays are written. For this alone she has earned her place in history. Yet though her talent was immense, it was matched by her modesty. She will be greatly missed.”
Tyrone Guthrie asked Moiseiwitsch to design a stage for the Stratford Festival back in 1953, the year he accepted the directorship. He wanted one that would break away from the convention of the proscenium arch and return to the thrust style of stage on which Shakespeare's own company played. The design was revolutionary because it was the first thrust stage built in the Western theatre since Shakespeare's time, according to the festival.
Her design for the Festival stage, first housed in the theatre tent and now covered by the permanent building, has since been widely imitated. Later, she designed variations on the Stratford stage for the Guthrie in Minneapolis and the Crucible Theatre in England.
Moiseiwitsch was born in London in 1914, the daughter of pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch and violinist Daisy Kennedy. She attended London's Central School of Arts and Crafts and apprenticed in scene painting at the Old Vic. She then worked at the Westminster Theatre, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, and the Duchess Theatre in London's West End before her first collaboration with the Stratford Festival's founding artistic director, Tyrone Guthrie, at the Old Vic in Liverpool in 1945.
In addition to her work for the Stratford, Moiseiwitsch also designed for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre in England, the Old Vic, the Abbey Theatre, the Guthrie Theatre, the Royal Opera at Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera, and London's West End. She served as principal designer at the Guthrie, consultant designer at the Crucible, and associate director laureate at the Stratford.
The Stratford Festival plans to hold a memorial service in her honor during the Festival's 2003 performance season.