Jack Merigold, part of the Stratford Festival’s first stage management team, died Wednesday, Dec. 11 at age 91 from pancreatic cancer.
“Jack was the dean of Canadian stage managers,” says Festival 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."
Merigold was born in Hamilton on November 7, 1922. He served in the RCAF during the Second World War and helped produce the Sky’s the Limit Air Force comedy shows. When Merigold returned to Canada in 1946, he was accepted into the Royal Conservatory in Toronto, where he completed a two-year program in voice and acting. There were virtually no professional opportunities for actors in the country at that time, so upon graduation, he and some fellow graduates of the program formed a touring group called the People’s Repertory Company, which toured from 1948 to ’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 an assistant stage manager by Tyrone Guthrie for the Festival’s inaugural season in 1953. He soon became Guthrie’s stage manager and their working relationship stretched beyond Stratford to include 12 productions in New York and four in London.
Merigold was with the Festival for 16 seasons between 1953 and 1976, in a variety of roles. He was the production stage manager for the Avon Theatre and for opera, and later served as the purchasing agent. He was the assistant to the director on 1960’s HMS Pinafore and 1961’s The Pirates of Penzance, a production in which he also appeared as an actor. 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 TV’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.
Merigold was always happy to share a story or two about his life in the theatre. He recounted tales of working with the greatest performers in the world and of meeting Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, but he said his greatest pleasure was giving young people a start in the theatre. Indeed many remember Jack as a great mentor, who gave them guidance that served them throughout their careers – as well as some very good laughs.
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. Details of a memorial will follow at a later date.