Richard Rose

​Richard Rose, theatre director, producer (born 18 January 1955 in Maracaibo, Venezuela). Richard Rose is a highly versatile director who has been responsible for many of the most memorable theatrical productions in Canada over the last three decades.

Richard Rose
Image: Richard Rose/Tarragon Theatre.

Richard Rose, theatre director, producer (born 18 January 1955 in Maracaibo, Venezuela). Richard Rose is a highly versatile director who has been responsible for many of the most memorable theatrical productions in Canada over the last three decades. He is known particularly for matching intellectually ambitious scripts with innovative staging techniques.

Early Career and Necessary Angel

Rose first came to broad attention in 1978 as the founding artistic director of Necessary Angel Theatre in Toronto. The name “Necessary Angel” was taken from a collection of essays by the American poet Wallace Stevens, who argued that “reality is a cliché from which we escape by metaphor.” This pointed to one important aspect of the work Rose developed with his theatre company: a preference for productions rich in figurative imagery rather than work that cleaved closely to naturalistic staging. Furthermore, at a time when the majority of important theatre produced in Toronto arose from the several companies housed in permanent theatre spaces, Rose made a virtue out of Necessary Angel’s lack of a permanent home by staging a number of site-specific productions, and by staging his other productions in whichever space seemed most suitable amongst the city’s broad variety of performance venues. Although the first production by the new company, of Aeschylus’s The Oresteia, in 1978, was not a critical favourite, it boldly announced Rose’s ambitions for the company.

An early critical and popular success for Rose with Necessary Angel was his production of Tamara, written by playwright John Krizanc. The play is about the Polish Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka and her circle. Rose first staged the work at Strachan House in Trinity-Bellwoods Park, Toronto, in May 1981. Audience members could choose which character to follow from room to room in the house, so that each individually chosen path would provide a unique selection from and experience of the play’s many scenes. Rose would the production in other houses and in other cities over the years. The entrepreneur Moses Znaimer attempted to produce a long-running commercial version of Rose’s production, although the inherent limitations imposed by the staging upon the number of audience members who could see any given show made it difficult to turn Tamara into a greatly profitable venture.

Another highly regarded site-specific production was Rose’s 1989 staging of an adaptation he had written with D.D. Kugler of Michael Ondaatje’s Coming Through Slaughter. The production was mounted at the Silver Dollar Room, a blues club on Spadina Avenue in Toronto. Ondaatje’s story centres on the legendary New Orleans trumpeter, Buddy Bolden, whom many regard as one of the seminal figures in the history of jazz. Rose’s production strongly evoked the atmosphere of a New Orleans jazz club and featured live music performed by a band that included singer Salome Bey.

Among Rose’s many other successes with Necessary Angel were four works by British playwright Howard Barker — The Castle, Seven Lears, The Europeans and The Possibilities — as well as many premieres of work by Canadian playwrights such as David Young: Glenn, Clout and Inexpressible Island (restaged by Rose at the Savoy Theatre in London, England, as Antarctica); Jason Sherman: It’s All True and Three in the Back, Two In the Head; Rose and D.D. Kugler’s original script, Newhouse, and their adaptation of Timothy Findley’s Not Wanted on the Voyage; Colleen Wagner’s The Monument; and Colleen Murphy’s Beating Heart Cadaver.

While still artistic director of Necessary Angel Theatre, Rose directed at many other theatres in Canada, including Theatre Calgary, Manitoba Theatre Centre, Great Canadian Theatre Company, Neptune Theatre and the Charlottetown Festival. He also directed 13 productions at the Stratford Festival of Canada including several of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as adaptations of Robertson Davies’s Tempest-Tost and World of Wonders, and of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. For three seasons, from 1994 to 1996, he was director of the Stratford Young Company.

The Tarragon Theatre

In 2002, Rose was appointed artistic director of the Tarragon Theatre, one of Toronto’s most distinguished theatres dedicated to the production of original work. Since taking this position, the flamboyance characteristic of many of Rose’s previous productions has been somewhat toned down by the physical and financial constraints associated with producing a subscription series in a relatively small theatre, but he has continued to direct many critically acclaimed productions, including David Young’s adaptation of Alistair MacLeod’s novel No Great Mischief, Wajdi Mouawad’s Scorched (the English translation of the French original, Incendies) andStephen Massicotte’s The Oxford Roof Climber’s Rebellions. While for the most part there has been strong critical support for Rose’s programming choices as artistic director of Tarragon, there was some controversy stirred in February 2012 when he declined to produce Michael Healey’s Proud — the third part of the trilogy which began with Generous and Courageous. Although Rose refused to explain his decision publicly, Healey claimed in interviews that Rose had cited a legal opinion that the play might be regarded as libellous by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Healey resigned his position as playwright-in-residence at Tarragon, electing to produce the play elsewhere in the city that autumn. In general, however, Rose’s tenure at Tarragon has been characterized by, on the one hand, his continuation of the reputation Tarragon had earned under previous artistic directors, Bill Glassco and Urjo Kareda, as a “playwrights’ theatre,” and, on the other, his embrace of somewhat less realistic and more figurative work than his predecessors had favoured, which is effectively a continuation of the legacy he built with Necessary Angel.

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