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Slaight Family Makes $5 Million Gift to Shaw Festival Academy

Media Release #13

Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, May 21, 2009…The Shaw Festival is thrilled to announce the establishment of The Slaight Family Academy at the Shaw Festival. A transformational gift of $5 million from the Slaight Family will endow The Academy and sustain it long into the future.

The Academy at the Shaw Festival was formed in 1985 during the tenure of Allan Slaight, the Chair of the Board of Governors, and past Artistic Director Christopher Newton. Created to foster the growth of the Company, it began as an informal skills exchange among Company members. Under the leadership of the Shaw’s current Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell, the Academy has retained the important function of skills exchange and mentoring, and has grown to become an enrichment centre for further developing artists’ skills. The Shaw is one of the few institutions in North America with a strong commitment to the training of theatre artists attached to a permanent acting ensemble.

For over 25 years The Slaight Family has had a profound impact on The Shaw Festival through their leadership and generosity.  In addition to establishing The Academy with Christopher Newton in 1985, Allan Slaight served as a Board member at The Shaw from 1982 to 1988 and as Board Chair from 1985 to 1986.   In addition, he and Newton founded The Shaw Boxing Evening, the largest charity fundraiser of its kind in the world, which has raised more than $5 million for The Shaw.

An exemplary leader and patron as well, Ada Slaight served on the Board from 1990 to 1998 as a Governor, National Governor and Honorary Governor.

The investment made by the Slaight family will be used in four ways. The Mandate Intensive, a new training initiative, will provide apprentice actors, and actors new to the Company with two weeks of immersion in the world of The Shaw’s mandate before the start of rehearsals, with classes in text, voice, and a detailed course in the “manners” of the Mandate – information available virtually nowhere else. Training programs for the Acting Ensemble will be enriched including voice, dialogue, singing, movement and acting. At present the Shaw Festival and other theatre companies must recruit coaches from outside Canada. The Slaight gift will help The Shaw develop Canadian professional trainers through Apprentice Teacher positions in Voice and Dialect and Alexander Technique.

Finally, the Slaight gift will allow the Shaw Festival to establish The Shaw Theatre School, which will open in the fall of 2009. Drawing on The Shaw’s professional artists and resources, and augmented by other theatre instructors, The Shaw Theatre School will initially offer a ten-week drama course designed for young people (Grades 4 – 12). Classes will be offered in such areas as: Acting, Improvisation, Choreography, Voice & Dialect, Musical Theatre, Mask Work, Stage Combat, Monologues, Scene Study and Warm-up Techniques. 

On presenting the gift to The Shaw, Allan and Ada’s son Gary Slaight said: “The Shaw Festival is an organization close to the heart of the Slaight family, one that my parents served with joy and commitment as Board members. We’re delighted to be part of the story of the Festival and to make this investment in The Shaw’s Academy.”

In announcing the Slaight Family gift, Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell said: “We are tremendously grateful for the Slaight Family’s generosity, and thrilled to be given this opportunity to enhance the programs of our renowned Academy.”

Shaw Festival Campaign Chair, Richard D. Falconer, acknowledged the Slaight Family’s generosity: “The Slaight Family’s magnanimous gift provides transformational leadership that is particularly critical during this period of economic difficulty. The gift supports the Shaw’s Festival’s campaign for the future – A Splendid Torch – a $20 million campaign to grow The Shaw’s endowment and other financial resources to a level that will allow The Shaw to create innovative theatre without compromise, unencumbered by financial constraints.”


In the spirit of George Bernard Shaw, the Shaw Festival provokes the mind and stirs the soul through a theatre experience so compelling that, year after year, ever-broadening groups of artists, audiences and supporters are drawn to our work in Niagara-on-the-Lake and beyond.

Please visit our website at www.shawfest.com/news for other Shaw Festival media releases. For more information, or to download images from our image bank to accompany this release, members of the media may contact:

Odette Yazbeck
Public Relations Director
(905) 468-2153 or 1-800-657-1106 ext. 2222

Jenniffer Anand
Public Relations Coordinator
(905) 468-2153 or 1-800-657-1106 ext. 2224

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