Stratford Festival famed actor and groundbreaking director Marti Maraden died on Thursday, while visiting family in Sweden, having suddenly fallen ill.
She was 78-years-old.
“Marti was a much-loved member of the Canadian Theatre,” said Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino in a news release. “She acted alongside an extraordinary group of talents from Bedford and Smith to Henry and Hutt among many other Festival favourites. She was a pioneer as she was among the first women in Canada to work regularly as a director. At the Stratford Festival her contributions as an actor, director and artistic director will be remembered with great appreciation and affection. She was a valued colleague and I’m deeply grateful to her for our work together. My thoughts are with her family and many friends who will miss her dearly.”
Maraden joined the Stratford Festival as an actor in 1974, under the artistic directorship of Jean Gascon, playing Katharine in Love’s Labour’s Lost and Antiochus’s Daughter in Pericles, along with other roles.
With the arrival of Robin Phillips as artistic director, she was given more chances to shine.
During his first two seasons, her remarkable talent and versatility were clearly evident, the Festival said. In 1975, she played Mary Warren in The Crucible; Cecily Cardew in the legendary production of The Importance of Being Earnest, featuring William Hutt as Lady Bracknell; Juliet in Measure for Measure, with Martha Henry and Brian Bedford; and Olivia in Twelfth Night, also with Brian Bedford.
The following year she played Miranda to William Hutt’s Prospero in The Tempest; Ophelia in Hamlet, playing opposite both Richard Monette and Nicholas Pennell, who shared the role; Irina in John Hirsch’s famous production of Three Sisters, alongside Maggie Smith and Martha Henry; and she reprised the role of Cecily in The Importance of Being Earnest.
Maraden played Juliet to Richard Monette’s Romeo (1977); Sonya in Uncle Vanya (1978); Perdita in The Winter’s Tale (1978); and Regan in Peter Ustinov’s King Lear (1979).
After the 1979 season she moved back to the U.S., the country she and her husband, Frank, who was also a member of the Stratford company, had left in the late 1960s during the Vietnam war. There she pursued work in New York and soon began to teach and direct. She returned to Canada and quickly became one of the country’s most highly respected directors, equally accomplished in classical and contemporary repertoire.
After working at the Shaw Festival as both an actor and director, Maraden returned to Stratford in 1990, directing a dozen productions, including Les Belles-Soeurs, featuring Janet, Susan and Anne Wright; Homeward Bound by Elliott Hayes; Alice Through the Looking Glass, featuring Sarah Polley; Macbeth, featuring Scott Wentworth and Seana McKenna; and The Merchant of Venice, featuring Douglas Rain.
In 1997, Maraden was appointed Artistic Director of English Theatre for the National Arts Centre, a role she held until 2006, during which time she also co-founded the Magnetic North Theatre Festival, the first national festival dedicated to Canadian work.
In 2006 she was appointed co-Artistic Director of the Stratford Festival, along with Don Shipley and Des McAnuff, with Antoni Cimolino as General Director, taking over after Richard Monette’s final season in 2007 and serving in the role for one year.
In 2008, Maraden directed All’s Well That Ends Well, featuring Brian Dennehy; and The Trojan Women, featuring Martha Henry, Seana McKenna, Yanna McIntosh, Kelli Fox and Nora McLellan. Her final production for the Festival was The Winter’s Tale in 2010, featuring Ben Carlson and Seana McKenna.
In addition to Stratford, Shaw and the NAC, Maraden directed for such organizations as Canadian Stage, the Manitoba Theatre Centre, the Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts, Chicago Shakespeare Theater and the Drayton Theatre Festival.
The Stratford Festival will dedicate one of the 2024 Shakespeare productions to her memory. Plans for a memorial will be announced at a later date.