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Jack Merigold | 1922 - 2013

Sweeping stage cemented friendship with Tyrone Guthrie

As published in the Stratford Beacon Herald, Thursday, December 12, 2013.
Stage management pioneer Jack Merigold is shown here with St. Marys actor Denise Fergusson when he was awarded ACTRA's life membership in the Canadian Actor's Equity for his outstanding contribution to the arts. (CONTRIBUTED PHOTO)

The Stratford Festival has lost one of its pioneers.

Jack Merigold, part of the Festival’s first stage management team, died Wednesday at age 91 from pancreatic cancer.

He was well loved by many generations of his theatre family and will be greatly missed, the Festival said in a release announcing his death.

“Jack was the dean of Canadian stage managers,” said artistic director Antoni Cimolino. “He worked with the Stratford Festival’s founding artistic director, Tyrone Guthrie, in Stratford, New York and London. Jack’s skill and precision were equaled only by his energy and so he was an asset to any theatre company. But for a new and growing theatre scene in Canada he was a pioneer.”

Earlier this year, Merigold spoke with Beacon Herald reporter Laura Cudworth for a story about the 60th anniversary of the Festival’s opening night in 1953.

He recalled the last rehearsal before the opening it was unbelievably hot. The heat inside the tent was so intense rehearsals ended early. The unionized IATSE crew was released for the afternoon, leaving no one to sweep the stage before the opening.

Merigold left on his bike but only made it as far as the Queen’s Hotel before he turned around and went back to work. Back at the tent he found Guthrie and his wife, Judy, sweeping the stage.

“That night cemented my relationship with Guthrie,” said Merigold, who went on to work as a stage manager for Guthrie for a decade.

Born in Hamilton on Nov. 7, 1922, Merigold served in the RCAF during the Second World War and helped produce the “Sky’s the Limit Air Force” comedy shows. After returning home in 1946, he was accepted into the Royal Conservatory in Toronto for voice and acting. But professional opportunities for actors in the country were scarce, so he and some fellow graduates formed the People’s Repertory Company, which toured in 1948-49 with a converted war-time dental truck carrying eight people and four theatrical sets to town halls and city auditoriums across Ontario. It was with this group that he first stage-managed a production.

Merigold quickly made a name for himself and was hired as assistant stage manager by Guthrie for the inaugural Festival season.

He spent 16 season at Stratford between 1953 and 1976, in a variety of roles. He was the production stage manager for the Avon Theatre and for opera. In 1974, he directed This Is the Rill Speaking at the Third Stage (now the Tom Patterson Theatre).

His acting career included a recurring role on CBC’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town and appearances on the Wayne and Shuster TV specials. He worked with Lorne Greene at the Jupiter Theatre and performed at the Eaton Auditorium, the Royal Alexandra Theatre and the Belmont Theatre. He was the co-creator of a program called Theatre in the Home, which brought professional performances into retirement homes.

Later in his career, after leaving the Festival, he served as the chief administrator of the Bayview Playhouse in Toronto. He was a longtime member of ACTRA and was awarded Life Membership in Canadian Actor’s Equity for his outstanding contribution to the arts.

A storyteller, Merigold recounted tales of working with the greatest performers in the world.

In the July interview, he remembered the stars of the opening production of Richard III.

Of Sir Alec Guinness, he recalled helping him with his soliloquies. He described Irene Worth as more than just glamorous and “ahead of her time as a health nut."

He once met Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, but he said his greatest pleasure was giving young people a start in the theatre.

The Stratford Festival is dedicating the 2014 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Merigold, who played Puck at the beginning of his acting career.

A memorial will follow at a later date.

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